Marvel’s Ultimatum event was hot garbage; evidently the entire universe agrees about that, based on the overwhelming consensus I’ve seen online since posting that rant. And while nothing can make that particular book not completely terrible, I’ve finally finished reading the original run of Ultimate Spider-man through the “death” of Peter Parker, and was pleased and surprised to discover that it did, at least, redeem the event itself somewhat.
Over the course of a few issues, Peter Parker struggles through the event and its aftermath to the best of his ability, dealing with the apocalyptic flooding of Manhattan by doing his compulsive hero thing. It’s the same event as the one Jeph Loeb wrote about, and yet here it’s not a slapdash effort to rack up a body count as breezily as possible but rather a study in character development. It’s about Peter’s (and his supporting cast’s) responses to the crisis – what they find important, how they treat one another, a test of mettle.
And it’s really good. It’s almost metatextual, actually, with Peter’s response in the face of the devastating flood feeling almost like a metaphor for the devastation inflicted on the book by an awful mandated crossover event. The impact of the flood on Dr. Strange’s home breaks a seal holding a magical being in another realm, and his escape inflicts nightmares upon his victims. “Flooded and saddled by nightmares” pretty much describes what happened to the series’ meticulously crafted story lines once Ultimatum was unleashed…
But the event works here, because it’s not about the event. Again, it’s about the cast. The characterization. Where the core book just stacked up dead heroes like cordwood, the few deaths we see here are treated with meaning. Spider-man mourns the death of Daredevil, a man he looked up to, and the solemnity of the man’s demise even causes the Hulk to revert to Banner for a moment. Where Ultimatum turned Dr. Strange’s fate into a gruesome three-panel non-event, here the impact of the sorcerer’s disappearance lasts for two issues. Even J. Jonah Jameson has his own soul-searching moment as he looks out into the floodwaters and sees Spider-man diving headlong into the waters to rescue the flood’s victims.
I realize there’s quite a bit more to Ultimate Spider-man after Ultimatum, but I’m kind of tempted to stop reading here. My reading experience seems like a fitting end to the Ultimate saga: Greatness destroyed in an instant by an evil monster, but redeemed in the end by the noble self-sacrifice of the gawky kid who took the idea of being a hero seriously. If nothing else, it’s been an important reminder that any story idea can be a good idea, but it all comes down to how you write it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the man who managed to re-envision the steaming pile that was the Clone Saga into the most pivotal and emotionally affecting arc of Ultimate Spider-man could salvage Ultimatum, too… at least in his own small way.