Tag Archives: Digital Transparency

Back to School: Ultimate Spider-Man #26-27

USM26CoverBack to School is a weekly issue by issue look at the beloved superhero teen comic Ultimate Spider-ManIn this week’s installment, I will be covering Ultimate Spider-Man #26-27  (2002) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, and colored by Digital Transparency

Ultimate Spider-Man #26 starts by showing the fight between Spider-Man and Green Goblin from SHIELD’s POV where Nick Fury gives the order to fire on the Goblin after Mary Jane is dropped. Then, it cuts to Mary Jane waking up in Peter’s arms where he tells her go to an abandoned warehouse to be safe while he and the SHIELD helicopters battle the Green Goblin. Spider-Man is holding back at all against the Green Goblin, and he is a little freaked out between trying to balance, dodge helicopter gunshots, and fight the physically stronger Green Goblin. However, the Goblin’s Oz formula is starting to wear off so he returns to the penthouse for a cocktail of injections and runs into his son, Harry. The Green Goblin makes Harry pass out by saying the trigger word “cellar door” and then become veinier and Hulk-ier and throws Spider-Man through a window. The comic ends with Harry slowly waking up and seeing the Green Goblin clutching an unmasked Spider-Man while there are SHIELD helicopters outside. Someone has some splainin’ to do.

Ultimate Spider-Man #27 opens from Harry’s POV, and he realizes that his father is the Green Goblin and Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Green Goblin is about to squeeze Spidey to death, but he has enough energy for one last kick before webbing a piece of debris as the Green Goblin takes the fight outside to the civilians. Spider-Man pleads with him to keep the fight contained before Harry unexpectedly impales him with a piece of rebar presumably killing him as the Green Goblin reverts back to Norman Osborn. Finally, Nick Fury and SHIELD agents come to clean up and collect both Osborns. Nick Fury tells Peter that he did an okay job and shouldn’t confide so much of his life as Spider-Man to Mary-Jane, who is confirmed to be safe. Then, he says that as an “illegal genetic mutation” that Peter will become a property of the U.S. government and SHIELD, which he’s obviously not a big fan of. Furious, Spider-Man swings away, which Fury is cool with after he dropped that bombshell. The issue ends with Peter and Mary Jane embracing, and then Mary Jane telling that he didn’t do a good job communicating his problems with the Osborn. Mark Bagley and Art Thibert draw them seated apart on the final, silent page showing that their relationship is now strained, the complete opposite of their total adoration in Ultimate Spider-Man #13.

SpiderPunch

In the final two issues of the “Legacy” arc, writer Brian Michael Bendis takes a step back for a bit and lets Bagley and Thibert flex their action chops and draw a Spider-Man, who isn’t holding back one bit after Mary-Jane almost died. The speed lines come fast and furious as Spidey tries to beat the crap out of a physically stronger opponent in the Green Goblin and even makes the presumably jaded agents of SHIELD shudder a little bit. With the exception of some cluttered panels, Bendis, Bagley, Thibert, and the colorists at Digital Transparency Studios bring in Goblin’s drug addiction, Spider-Man’s fear and anger at his family being threatened, and SHIELD non-interference interference into play during several extended action sequences. The more Oz he takes, the dumber and stronger the Green Goblin gets. I’m more of a fan of the smarter, conniving Osborn a la Dark Reign so it’s refreshing to get dumb Goblin for only a few pages versus a couple issues in the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man.

There is a real sense of danger in the battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man #26-27. For the most part, he’s substituted strategy for rage and emptying his web cartridges, and Bendis’ clipped, freaked out inner monologue plays off this feeling along with him losing his costume yet again. He’s had his share of victories, but Spidey is still kind of winging at a superhero. Trying to avoid bullets and Goblin fireballs, holding onto a building, and stopping civilians from being crushed by debris is tougher than it looks. This is why Bagley and Thibert draw Spider-Man constantly on edge trying to contort his body and stay one step ahead of the Green Goblin. He’s still just a kid.

GrossGoblin

I wouldn’t say that the Green Goblin is scary per se in Ultimate Spider-Man #26-27, but Bagley leans on some horror influences and draws him super grotesquely. Throughout both issues and even when he’s verbal, the Green Goblin is always slobbering some disgusting green mixture that is either like an animal foaming at the mouth or an addict vomiting during an overdose. To be honest, it looks like the ooze that gave the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles their abilities, but Digital Transparency uses the most unappealing shade of green so that pizzas and underground lairs are the last thing on your mind. It complements his hellish red eyes and shows how inhuman Norman Osborn has become in his quest for power. Like a rabid dog, maybe it’s time for him to be put down.

Even though he doesn’t explicitly call Peter “son” like he did in Ultimate Spider-Man #25, the father/son dynamic between Norman and Peter and Harry plays a crucial role in the conclusion of the “Legacy” arc, and by extension, two years of Ultimate Spider-Man stories with long breaks for Kingpin and reality show contestants. However, Norman’s attention switches to Harry in Ultimate Spider-Man #26 and #27 when he accidentally sees him slavering and taking the Oz drugs. Unlike Spider-Man, who he wants to groom as an ally and possible heir apparent to his genetic mutation “throne”, Harry is just an afterthought. He’s an embarrassment to Norman, who wants him to know as little as possible about his real work. That ends in an intense six panel grid of Harry realizing what’s going on before Norman puts that hypnotherapy to work and uses a kind of killswitch to make him faint.

HarryKillsNorman

But Harry isn’t just an innocent victim, who gets saved by Spider-Man. He has been inducted into a world of superhumans and mutations that he has witnessed with his own, two, heavily medicated, yet still human eyes. And, in Ultimate Spider-Man #27, he actively joins the narrative when he kills the Green Goblin with a sharp piece of wood to stop his friend Peter from being crushed to death by his father. Bagley goes full epic with his art during this moment surrounding the page with reaction shots of Peter, SHIELD Agent Quartermain, and even the Goblin himself while Harry is the picture of remorse on his face. In this moment, he goes from being a side character with little or no agency to a double for Spider-Man. Peter Parker was partially responsible for the death of his father figure, Uncle Ben, and now Harry Osborn is solely responsible for his own father’s death because he wanted to save his friend and hero. Except he doesn’t get catharsis or any kind of , but gets shuffled off by SHIELD

SHIELD in Ultimate Spider-Man #26-27 reminds me of the military in Doctor Who. They are reactive, mostly ineffectual, and then bulldoze in and take all the credit for everything. At least, their leader looks like Samuel L. Jackson. The opening of Ultimate Spider-Man #26 shows that SHIELD almost got Mary Jane killed, and their job for most of the issue is to piss off the Green Goblin by constant helicopter gunship and sniper fire. It’s the tactical equivalent of using guns to fight the Hulk. SHIELD really only gets their act together after the Green Goblin has been taken down and proves that they’re basically a more expensive, less discreet version of Mike Ehrmentraut from Breaking Bad with plasma shields and anti-grav boots.

FuryTruthBomb

Nick Fury and SHIELD reach peak dickishness in Ultimate Spider-Man #27 when Fury drops the bomb that Peter Parker is government property once he’s of voting and cigarette smoking age. This makes sense with the whole Superhuman Test Ban mentioned in Ultimates, which considers him to be a WMD. And Bagley and Thibert draw Peter like only someone whose freedom is going to be taken away in a few years with his face a mix of sadness, anger, and the feeling that he wants to do to Nick Fury what he just did to the Green Goblin. This is yet another instance of the Parker luck as Spider-Man only has a limited time to be a friendly neighbor superhero before Fury puts him on a superhuman black ops team with the murderers Hawkeye and Black Widow and the incestuous, ex-terrorists Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. At least, he makes one hell of an exit, swinging through a window, and scoffing at Fury’s “big boy’s club” aka superheroes, who do George W. Bush’s dirty work.

PeterMJSad

Instead of ending with a teaser for the next villain or an epic superhero battle, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley close out the “Legacy” arc with a character moment. Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship has hit some snags in this past arc, and Peter/Bendis finally let her speak and confront Peter for not telling her anything about Norman Osborn’s abilities and plans. When he told her his secret identity back in issue 13, Peter was supposed to be open about his life as Spider-Man and confide in her. But he has shut her out, and this didn’t make her safe, but put her in danger. And Peter is still pretty reticent to talk about what happened to Harry, and thus we get our final page of Peter and Mary Jane spaced apart and not speaking. It’s not a breakup, but Peter’s double life as Spider-Man has hurt their relationship. This issue is kind of like a sad version of Ultimate Spider-Man #13, which was when they grew closer in attraction and being honest about their feelings plus Peter’s life as Spider-Man.

Some of the panels in the action scenes are a little busy, but Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, and Art Thibert end the rematch between Spider-Man in a grotesque, slightly unexpected way that still riffs off the “father/son” theme they have building since Ultimate Spider-Man #1 and gives Ultimate Harry Osborn his big moment for better or worse. Plus there’s bonus satire of SHIELD and Mark Millar’s take on the Ultimate Universe in general, and Bendis and Bagley show the consequences of Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man on his closest friend and lover, Mary Jane Watson and don’t hold back at all.

P.S.: “Back to School” is going on hiatus because I have returned to (graduate) school, but it will return…

Back to School: Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25

USM25CoverBack to School is a weekly issue by issue look at the beloved superhero teen comic Ultimate Spider-ManIn this week’s installment, I will be covering Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25  (2002) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, and colored by Digital Transparency

Ultimate Spider-Man #24 kicks off with Ultimate Nick Fury (Aka the one who looks like Samuel L. Jackson.) slowly dematerializing in the counselor’s office at Peter Parker’s school. Things are very serious with the Green Goblin, and Fury says that he will get Spider-Man to try to assassinate him or Mary Jane and Aunt May will die. Peter freaks out about Fury and SHIELD knowing about his secret identity and learns some crucial backstory about Norman Osborn like that he lost a super soldier serum contract with SHIELD, which is why he tested the Oz drug on himself. Unfortunately, SHIELD can’t help Spider-Man out unless he actually threatens a civilian thanks to the rules of engagement and a prohibition on spying on Americans on American soil. Later, Norman Osborn’s limo is about to pick up Aunt May and Peter for dinner at his house, but Peter dissuades her and says he’s a creepy, bad man. Peter wants to keep her safe so he swings around as Spider-Man hoping to put an end to the Green Goblin once and for all. Unfortunately, he runs into his nemesis, who has kidnapped Mary Jane, who is Harry Osborn’s dinner guest.

After a gripping double page spread of Spider-Man and Harry’s surprise at Mary Jane being kidnapped, Ultimate Spider-Man #25 flashes back to Harry’s hypnotherapy sessions. His therapist, Dr. Warren, is a little hesitant about planting subliminal suggestions, but Norman waves him off, and then we get to see his transformation into the Green Goblin from his POV as he grabs Mary Jane and leaps into action to fight Spider-Man and a SHIELD helicopter. It’s super trippy, and he sees Spider-Man as an actual spider. They fight for a while until Green Goblin drops Mary Jane off the Queensboro Bridge, which is when the SHIELD sniper in the helicopter finally starts firing at him. In an homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died”, Spider-Man catches Mary Jane with his web just as she’s about to go splat, and her fate remains ambiguous as the issue ends.

GoblinTrippy

Other than a badass extended and logical to the overall plot Nick Fury cameo, the big highlight of Ultimate Spider-Man #25 is getting to see the world from the skewed scientific, religious, and very drug addled perspective of Norman Osborn. Oz truly fucks you up. Artists Mark Bagley and Art Thibert also channel their Clone Saga days and have Norman see Spider-Man as more spider than man with all kind of weird appendages and extra arms. The colorists at Digital Transparency add to the hallucinations with cloudy little goblin babies whispering the chemical formula for Oz with the help of eerie lettering from Richard Starkings.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis leaves the usual banter, quips, or villainous speeches and instead of makes the subconscious of Norman Osborn conscious with all kind of character defining buzz words. Lines like “He’s your son” for his relationship with Peter to “Fire eyes” about his abilities help flesh out Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin persona and the added angle of him as a failed military contractor and scientist makes him a more interesting foe than the non-verbal Hulk-lite of the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man. It also more than makes up for the multiple reused panels during Harry’s hypnotherapy session although that could have been a storytelling choice to show how impassive, compliant, and basically buzzed out on lithium he is.

NoTheyDidnt

No they didn’t…

The Green Goblin shares blood with Spider-Man, and Peter Parker used to look up to Norman Osborn and is friends with his son. This deep connection makes him an excellent arch-nemesis, and adding SHIELD and a glimpse at the larger Marvel Universe is like having an ice cream after dinner. However, in the endgame of these middle issues, Bendis and Bagley go for the typical damsel in distress deal with Mary Jane instead of letting Peter and her have a genuine conversation about their relationship. Then, they do an homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” (Except trading Gwen for MJ, and the George Washington Bridge for Queensboro.) with a similar angle and sidelines all of these relationship complications plus some fun banter with Harry at his house into a typical Peter saves MJ situation a la the entire Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy .

Even though the nod to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” was a little too on the fanservice-y side and using a female character to just further a male character’s arc is a big problem with superhero comics, it makes story sense for Bendis and Bagley Green Goblin to come after MJ and raise “Legacy’s” tension level as an arc. The Green Goblin knows Spider-Man’s secret identity as Spider-Man and has clearly threatened Aunt May and MJ with death if he puts the costume on again. So, when he sees Spidey in action, the Green Goblin instantly grabs Mary Jane, who is a guest at his house. The constantly inviting Aunt May and Mary Jane to dinner is just a cover to basically hold them hostage and blackmail Spider-Man. Norman Osborn is pretty clever when he isn’t injecting untested Oz formula directly into his veins multiple times every day. Also, Mary Jane getting kidnapped and Aunt May being threatened cause Spider-Man to have second thoughts about being a hero, and the usual happy web swinging double page spread is having a total existential crisis about the cost his double life has on his loved ones. And Mary Jane’s kidnapping and possible death definitely throw gasoline on the current garbage fire that is his superhero life.

CalmDownHotshot

So, Nick Fury shows up in Ultimate Spider-Man #24, and it’s pretty cool once Peter Parker stops jumping around and saying super goofy stuff like “I would like to see some form of identification.” Fury’s presence is an ice cold dose of reality in young Peter’s face and a reminder that he doesn’t do his superhero thing in a vacuum. Even though he’s defeated the Kingpin, Doc Ock, and Kraven the Hunter plus numerous small fry baddies, Spidey has gone about in a sloppy way so it’s been easy for them to keep tabs on him. The appearance of Fury and his little history lesson about the super soldier serum and Norman Osborn make Spider-Man seem small and insignificant in the big picture of the Marvel Universe. However, he’s also kind of a scientific miracle, which is why Fury and SHIELD would be experimenting on him if he wasn’t a minor. For once, Peter’s youth and inexperience do him some good.

Nick Fury’s big plot point in Ultimate Spider-Man #24 is that he and SHIELD can’t take down the Green Goblin unless he has physically attacked a civilian aka MJ or Aunt May. This is because SHIELD aka the NSA with ray guns isn’t allowed to spy on Americans on American soil. This made me laugh darkly because, in 2002, President George W Bush signed an order to allow the NSA to monitor telephone calls and emails of American citizens. Bendis and Bagley do some spot on political satire in the middle of a Spider-Man and Green Goblin story and continue to write Spidey and Peter as a pure example of heroism in a profession dominated by backstabbers, liars, and sociopaths like the cast of Mark Millar’s Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men. Bagley gives Peter some very angry expressions on his face when Fury keeps telling him that SHIELD isn’t allowed to attack Norman Osborn or bring him in. He’s the ordinary human who is hemmed in by a slimy web of deceit and political machinery in cahoots with corporations for mutual benefit so the slap he delivers to Fury when he lectures about “optimism” is well-earned.

ResponsibilityWTF.JPG

However, Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 aren’t all about politics, and Bendis fits in Fury and SHIELD’s presence in the story like a well-placed in a superpowered jigsaw puzzle. They don’t wear out their welcome. It makes a lot of sense that a Hulk-level threat would be on their radar. Above all, “Legacy” is a crucial, personal part of Spider-Man’s heroic journey, and the hallucinations in Ultimate Spider-Man #25 plus his repeated use of the word “responsibility”  confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt my theory that Norman Osborn is the dark mirror of Uncle Ben. Spider-Man’s powers came from the Oscorp spider and Osborn’s failed experiments, but his heart and devotion to using abilities responsibly to protect society come from Uncle Ben’s words to him in the first story arc. The only responsibility that Osborn knows is to further his power and rebuild his corporate empire by any means necessary, including kidnapping his son’s friend, hypnotizing his own son, and causing general mayhem. And, in his eyes, Spider-Man is just a means to enforce his will and also physical proof that, hey, maybe this Oz thing actually worked. He thinks Spider-Man owes something while Ben loved Peter selflessly even when his nephew acted like a jerk to him. *Pause for feelings here*

The homage to “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” in Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 is pretty obvious, and I’ve mentioned it a few times. However, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley also riff off another classic Spider-Man story, the infamous Harry Osborn is a junkie story in Amazing Spider-Man #98 that Stan Lee and Gil Kane published without the Comic Code’s seal of approval. But this time, Norman Osborn is a drug addict, and Bendis and Bagley don’t tell the typical “drugs are bad” PSA and tell the tale of a one percenter whose corporation is flagging so he turns to substance. Except instead of fine grade cocaine, his drug of choice makes him a hulked out psychopath kind of like Jose Canseco with a Marvel twist and no baseball ability. There’s this whole interplay between drugs, power, and corruption that turns the Green Goblin into Tony Montana with horns and is a more interesting, or at the very least, entertaining look at a drug addiction story in a superhero context. Sorry, Stan and Gil.

Ultimate Spider-Man #24-25 are solid middle chapters of the “Legacy” arc as Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley show the world from the Green Goblin’s POV for a few pages and add some political satire and big picture stuff in a Nick Fury guest appearance. The ending of issue 25 is very “Women in Refrigerators” as Bendis goes from developing MJ’s character to victimizing her although luckily there are two issues left to possibly improve on this…

Back to School: Ultimate Spider-Man #14-#15

USM14CoverBack to School is a weekly issue by issue look at the beloved superhero teen comic Ultimate Spider-ManIn this week’s installment, I will be covering Ultimate Spider-Man #14-15 (2001-2002) written by Brian Michael Bendis, penciled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert, and colored by Digital Transparency

Welcome to “Back to School”, a weekly column where I break down the fan favorite superhero series Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, and several other artists that was a huge influence on the recent, critically acclaimed Spider-Man Homecoming film. When I first read Ultimate Spider-Man in 2010, I was a high schooler and just a couple years older than Peter Parker in the comic.  Almost seven years later, I’m really excited to see what my older, if not necessarily wiser self thinks about this teen soap opera meets longform superhero epic starring Peter Parker and later Miles Morales as Spider-Man. (Also, I’m heading to graduate school in the fall so this column title is semi-autobiographical in a way.)

I tried to write about Ultimate Spider-Man in its entirety 2013 for Sequart, a publisher of excellent books and documentaries on comics creators like Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Chris Claremont. Unfortunately, I only made it to issue 13, a classic story where Peter Parker reveals his secret identity to Mary Jane Watson. This is why I’m starting “Back to School” with issue 14, which kicks off the “Double Trouble” storyline, not issue 1.

And who really wants a rehash of a rehash of Spider-Man’s origin…

Ultimate Spider-Man #14 kicks off with Peter Parker’s civics (I guess) teacher giving them the on the nose assignment of delivering an oral report as either a real life superhero or one of their own creation. It cuts to Otto Octavius, who we find out is being held in a secret installment, and has eight arms of an exoskeleton he patented grafted to his body. He was injured in the Green Goblin’s attack on Oscorp several issues ago. Back at Midtown High, it’s pep rally time, and no one is invested. Instead, Peter has a discussion about superheroes with Mary Jane, Kong, Flash Thompson, and Liz Allen, who doesn’t like mutants because of something with her uncle. Then, Gwen Stacy makes her first appearance and shows them up in intensity and knowledge. In the super secret lab, Dr. Octopus realizes that the scientists who were supposedly saving his life were actually experimenting on him with his own tech, and he goes on a violent rampage. The issue closes with Kong laying on his bed and putting together the pieces that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

SuperheroAssignment

Ultimate Spider-Man #15 begins with a rather hackneyed take on a slasher movie when Dr. Octopus kills a sweaty, blonde woman, who is living in his old apartment. Then, it’s back to school where Kong is playing Agent Scully and feeding Flash and Liz evidence that Peter Parker is Spider-Man like the fact that he was bitten by a spider, randomly became good at basketball, and beat Kong and Flash up. However, Peter’s cover remains intact when he takes a literal kick to his ass from Kong instead of dodging it with his powers. Gwen Stacy won’t stand for this and ends up threatening to stab Kong with a switchblade that falls out of her pocket. This leads to the principal calling her dad John Stacy, who is the primary detective investigating the previously mentioned blonde woman’s murder. There is also a Daily Bugle subplot where Spider-Man pretends to attack J. Jonah Jameson, and he faints. On a more serious note, Ben Urich is writing a story about the murders and thinks Dr. Octopus is a suspect because he was the previous owner of the apartment and also didn’t actually die in the attack on Oscorp. Jameson is skeptical, and the issue ends with Doc Ock ready to go on a rampage. Uh oh!

I could say this about most issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, which is a predominantly character driven book except when Bagley drew a whole issue of Spidey fighting Venom because symbiote power, but he and Bendis do a great job of making the non Mary Jane supporting cast interesting. First up is Kong, who gets to be the page end cliffhanger despite not being a nefarious supervillain.

HolocaustMetaphor

Kong is pretty clueless and insensitive towards both Peter Parker and mutants. He can’t really process their existence and thinks something should be “done” to them. Bagley shows this by giving him awkward facial expressions and gestures during the conversation about the superhero assignment unlike Peter’s determination to defend mutants and superbeings. However, like Shakespeare’s Fool, he has the wisdom and insight to see the rise of superheroes as a harbinger of the apocalypse, which ended up happening in the terrible 2009 Ultimatum storyline.

This insight extends to Kong piecing together the events of the past 14 issues and realizing that Peter Parker is Spider-Man in a great flashback sequence that looks like an old VHS tape thanks to the colorists at Transparency Digital. Memories are like a movie in my head, and Bagley and the colorist transpose this feeling to the comic. The most obvious clue is Peter Parker going from Carlton Banks to LeBron James in basketball skills as well as the broken desks and the fact that he flat out broke Flash’s hand. Even though Liz and Flash don’t believe him, kudos to the big guy for his common sense and deductive skills. And of course, he has this epiphany while a copy of Maxim magazine is lying across his chest.

GwenStacyYo

Mark Bagley gives Gwen Stacy quite the intro in Ultimate Spider-Man when she jumps into Peter and his frenemies’ discussion about superheroes and mutants with a thoughtful monologue about how they’re like the meteor, and we’re like the dinosaur. (This would later be disproven, oops.) She literally fills the page. But Gwen’s not a doomsayer and thinks that the dawn of superheroes will motivate human beings to be the best at whatever they’re good at and not be lazy bums. “Everyone has superpowers” is her thesis statement.

This well-articulated theory of superheroes sounds a lot like Grant Morrison, especially his then-contemporary work on JLA and New X-Men. The mutant as meteor metaphor seems ripped from Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “E is for Extinction” storyline of New X-Men where it’s revealed that humans are going extinct and will be replaced by homo superior aka mutants. The whole everybody having superpowers spiel reminded me of the ending of Grant Morrison’s JLA where the entire population of Earth gets special abilities to fight the villainous, Mageddon. It’s also a sentiment that wouldn’t be out of place in his Supergods aka the best self-help book ever written disguised as a memoir/history of superhero comics.

Sounding like someone who has read Grant Morrison comics instantly makes Gwen Stacy the coolest character in Peter Parker’s supporting cast. She isn’t the shy, blushing, headband wearing girl from the Stan Lee and John Romita Sr, but immediately plays an active role in the school plotlines, including standing up for Peter against bullies. Bendis and Bagley also introduce an interesting family dynamic between her and her policeman father John Stacy, who had previously appeared in the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man. The combo of a bright, yet rebellious punk rock daughter and hard nosed single dad cop father could make an interesting comic in and of itself.

John Stacy is the connective tissue between the Dr. Octopus murders and the high school drama plots, but has quite the personality just like his daughter, Gwen. He tells off Midtown High’s principal on the phone when their tone gets “accusatory” and points out the ridiculousness of her being sent home when he’s at work and can’t discipline or talk to her. Bagley draws John as a strong jawed, go-getter homicide detective like Jimmy from The Wire, but he’s a little exasperated when he gets his case interrupted by a call from the school and the press.

JohnStacyDaddy

Yes, John Stacy and ace reporter Ben Urich, who recently wrote an article that caused the Kingpin to go into exile, face off in Ultimate Spider-Man #15, and it’s delicious. Ben is trying to do a story for the Daily Bugle on the murder, but John doesn’t serve up any quotes, only sass. He tells Ben off for the Kingpin article and said that “300 goombahs” are running loose and wreaking havoc around New York. It goes back to the old question of if organized crime is better than chaotic, disorganize crime in the scheme of things. These one-liners establish John as a hard edged, seasoned police detective who isn’t idealistic, and just does his job well. He’s the kind of guy who would call open murder cases “red balls” and easily solved ones “dunkers”. (Oops, most of my knowledge of homicide detectives comes from the works of David Simon.) The inclusion of John and Daily Bugle figures, like Ben Urich and J. Jonah Jameson in “Double Trouble”, show that Brian Michael Bendis hasn’t abandoned his roots in the crime genre even though Ultimate Spider-Man is a bright, splashy superhero comic.

OckOck

For the “origin” of Dr. Octopus, Bendis and Bagley dip into the horror genre to make him a slightly sympathetic figure.  There’s a little bit of Frankenstein’s Monster and a little bit of Cronenberg body horror when he first pops up in Ultimate Spider-Man #14. Bagley makes sure you can see some of his innards and his almost blind eyes from the optic nerve trauma he suffered in the Green Goblin’s attack. The reveal of the arms show that Octavius isn’t a patient recovering in a hospital, but an experiment to be poked, prodded, made fun of, and eventually profited on. He’s a brilliant scientist, who became a monster. And this monstrousness is being exploited for gain and not being cured or treated at all. Dr. Octopus is a killer, but his first murders are kind of justified revenge killings of people that treated him like a lab rat and not a human being beginning by calling him Dr. Octopus and not by his real name.

On the flip side, Ultimate Spider-Man #15 uses the horror genre in a pretty cheap way. There’s an opening scene where Dr. Octopus slaughters an unnamed, attractive blonde woman, who is exercising. There’s tension or fright to the scene because it’s one we’ve seen hundreds of times. Bendis and Bagley are trying to do the first ten minutes of Scream with a Spider-Man villain, but it feels more like one of those slasher flicks that is packaged onto those “10 Great Horror Movies” DVDs and sold for $5 at your local Walmart. The scene is a bad one, but it also makes Octavius less of a sympathetic villain and more of a serial killer with an octopus gimmick, which is selling him very short.

In the first couple issues of “Double Trouble”, Brian Michael Bendis exhibits some cleverness and turns a dangling plot thread and a possible plot hole into, well, a plot. Otto Octavius popped up in the first arc of Ultimate Spider-Man as one of Norman Osborn’s scientists, and he gets brought back in the nick of time as a scientist/villain, who was forcibly experimented on instead of Osborn, who took on the Oz formula (Super soldier serum) of his own free will. The U.S. government in the Ultimate Universe is pretty shady, and reporter Ben Urich knows this when he uses anonymous sources to find out that Octavius was held in a black site called (*groan*) the Octagon. These places are yet another reason why Peter Parker has only told Mary Jane about his secret identity because the government would likely run experiments on him like they did with Otto Octavius or force him to join the Ultimates and use his powers to help fight the George W. Bush era War on Terror.

The connection to Oscorp is also an organic way to create a villain instead of just having a random mad scientist with octopus arms show up. Peter and Octavius also met when Harry brought him over for a tour of Oscorp so there’s a personal dimension to be exploited when they square off later.

I already mentioned that Kong, who is the not the smartest student at Midtown High, realized that Peter Parker was Spider-Man all by himself. This is Brian Michael Bendis sort of covering his own ass because Peter Parker has done a terrible job keeping his secret identity under wraps, especially with the whole miraculously being good basketball thing. But he plugs the plot hole in one fell swoop when Peter takes a drop kick from Kong straight in his behind complete with painful facial expressions and speed lines from Mark Bagley and Art Thibert. It’s also a growing moment for him as he gets hurt for his secret identity and sets up Gwen Stacy as an anti-bullying badass. This one kick covers up a multitude of “sins” in the annoying Cinema Sins sense…

In Ultimate Spider-Man #14-15, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley draw attention to the varied supporting cast of Peter Parker and also incorporate the crime and horror genres into their teen superhero/romance saga. It’s a hell of the way to start the “Double Trouble” arc, and they make a hallway drop kick more suspenseful than a man with mechanical octopus arms wrecking a random apartment.