Ultimatum redemption

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.

8 thoughts on “Ultimatum redemption

  1. All of this reminiscing about Ultimate Spider-Man makes me want to catch up on it. I was largely reading the trades through a combination of reading my brother’s copies and the public library, but I stopped a little after the Clone Saga. Meant to keep going, but couldn’t find the time.

  2. Yeah, all the reminiscing over Ultimate Spider-Man really feels kinda bittersweet. On one hand the reboot was really fresh and felt so different and, I can’t think of the right word here, but earnest. The love for these characters really showed.

    One of my favorite scenes from Ult. Spider-Man was early on when Parker meets Jean Grey in her skin tight suit and to paraphrase she says I know you are thinking of me naked. I mean what 15 year old guy wouldn’t be thinking that when he has am attractive chick in front of him. But they play it off for a few panels of Peter saying okay I’m stopping, and Jean saying, I can still see what you are thinking. Peter basically has to say I’m trying, really.

    None of the movies or even really older Spider-Man comics really captured that moment of Peter being a regular teenager quite as well as that particular encounter in my opinion.

    Of course, the suits have run this reboot thing into the ground so any future reboots will be so focus group tested that they will have no soul.

  3. Quit reading if you want, but the next protagonist is really his own character with his own story, his own powers, and some of the time his own rogues. I’d avoid the “Spider-Men” mini where Miles hangs out with 616 Peter, just because that’s such a goofy wish fulfillment premise that I can’t take it seriously, and the age gap between the two characters makes it all the weirder.

    But they actually did something rare in comics, which is to move on from a prolific “dead superhero” without the lingering feelings that this will all be set back to normal in 6-12 months.

    • So “Jessica Drew” doesn’t feel like a reset button waiting to happen? No OH WHOOPS MY X CHROMOSOME or anything?

  4. I would like to recommend the Mile Morales stuff, but given how decompressed Bendis’ writing is, I still feel like it hasn’t had a chance to fully come into its own yet (the line was just shaken up… again… by another Galactus event), at least not in the way the original USM was able to move ahead without the intrusion of line-wide events and whatnot. It’s still a solid book though.

  5. You’d be surprised how Bendis handles Jessica Drew. Just sayin’.

    Also – I’d keep reading.
    Skim Ultimate Fallout (just read the Spider-Man pages).
    Then realize that the next series is a new twist on Spider-Man, but is still a cool story.

    But if you stop here, at least read the Spider-Man pages in Ultimate Fallout.

  6. Glad you liked it. That moment with Jameson watching Spider-Man saving people outside the Daily Bugle windows is one of my all time favorite comic book moments. And the silent issue was really good too. I almost wish it had ended there instead of petering (ha!) out over another dozen issues.

  7. It is tempting to drop Ultimate Spider-Man there, but I say go on, the series does a really good job of picking up the pieces from Ultimatum, also if you thought that ending was hard, well wait to you see what happens next to poor Ultimate Peter Parker

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