Spider-Man is one of Marvel Comics’ most visually dynamic characters. He can walk up walls, use his spider-sense and heightened agility to make astounding leaps and web-swing across New York City. Over the years those qualities have inspired a slew of highly talented artists tasked with bringing to life Spidey’s monthly adventures. The most prolific of these pencilers may well be Mark Bagley, who drew most of the ’90s era issues of “Amazing Spider-Man.” In 2000 Bagley teamed with writer Brian Michael Bendis to create and launch the new ongoing “Ultimate Spider-Man” series, which took place in the “Ultimate” Universe and starred a teenage Peter Parker who donned the familiar webs during the series’ opening arc.
Bagley and Bendis collaborated on “Ultimate Spider-Man” for a record-breaking 111 issues. In 2007 the artist left the title and spent the last several years drawing books for DC Comics including “Trinity” and “JLA.” Recently though, Bagley made his return to Marvel Comics and his first assignment back was to once again bring to a life a Spider-Man adventure. It would be a Spidey adventure unlike any other though. That’s because Bagley was to reteam with Bendis for an arc of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” titled “Death of Spider-Man.” In #160, in stores now, the five-part arc came to an end and Bagley depicted the adolescent Peter Parker’s final moments. CBR News spoke with him about the character’s death and the two issues of the upcoming “Ultimate Fallout” mini-series he worked on which focus on the aftermath of Peter Parker’s demise.
Part of the reason Bagley returned to Marvel was because he missed working with Bendis, who had never left “Ultimate Spider-Man.” When talks about the artist’s return began though, he was wary of coming back to his and Bendis’ creation.
“I was pretty firm when I was talking with Marvel about not coming back and doing ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ because I felt I had been there and done that. When this was presented to me though, I found it very interesting, especially because I knew Brian would write the shit out of it, and he did. So it made for a really great way to come back,” Bagley told CBR News. “It’s also been really interesting to see how my art has changed over the last few years. Hopefully it’s been for the better. So the overall experience was fun. I wish I had the chance to spend a little more time on it, but you always do. It was a hell of a story.”
In a recent interview Bendis told CBR News that penning Peter Parker’s final moments was an emotional experience for him. Bagley had an equally poignant moment when it came time to depict Spider-Man’s death.
“The first time over the phone Brian explained to me the last bit with Peter looking up at Aunt May saying, ‘I couldn’t save Uncle Ben, but I saved you.’ As he’s telling me this I could hear his voice choking up. Then when I went to explain it to my wife my voice started choking up,” the artist said. “That last big shot of Peter’s face looking up at Aunt May may be my favorite face that I’ve ever drawn. That came out as good I could have hoped to have done it. There’s this peaceful, innocent look on his face and when I was drawing it I looked at it and went, ‘That’s going to kill.’ And I think it did. I think the entire issue came out really well. Andy Lanning inked the hell out of it and Justin Ponsor is one of the best colorists in the business. #160 is a beautiful package and a piece of work to be proud of.”
Peter Parker breathes his last breath on the penultimate page of of “Ultimate Spider-Man” #160. On the final page, Bagley ended the “Death of Spider-Man” arc with an image that brought things full circle. “The final image in issue #160 is of Norman Osborn smiling. In the script Brian literally wrote, ‘The book started with a smile on Norman’s face.’ If you go back and look at the first page of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ #1 it’s of Norman Osborn smiling with the spider on his hand. So Brian wanted to bring things full circle with that last panel. I thought it worked,” Bagley stated. “It’s so subtle. Some people actually missed it. I was reading some of the reviews and comments on the issue and some people had to have it pointed out to them. They were like, ‘What? He’s smiling! I don’t know what to think about that.'”
With the “Death of Spider-Man” now told, Bagley and Bendis have one last bit of Ultimate Universe business to take care. They’ll tackle that in the six-issue “Ultimate Fallout” miniseries, which ships weekly beginning in July. Bendis and Bagley’s stories appear in the book’s first and final issues and chronicle the impact of Peter Parker’s death on the supporting cast of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.”
“I’m actually finished with those issues. I did all of the first issue of ‘Ultimate Fallout’ and about half the final issue. I was heading down to Florida on a Saturday and I get a call Friday from my editor saying that they needed 20 pages in 10 days! I told them I couldn’t do it. I got an extra five days and I pulled it off, but I was heading down to Florida to visit my parents. I have a condo down there because my parents are getting elderly and I like to spend a lot of time down there. So I got there and said, ‘Hi mom! Hi Dad! I’ll see you in two weeks,'” Bagley joked. “It wasn’t quite that bad. That first issue had to be done relatively quickly though.
“That was fine. The first nine pages are fairly personal one-on-one scenes, but then they go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and there was like a thousand people there. So drawing the building and fitting a thousand people in there for those last few pages was rough,” Bagley continued. “Then I did the last bit of issue #6 and there’s some good stuff in there. I’ll just say that sad Nick Fury makes me sad.”
Just like “Death of Spider-Man” Bendis and Bagley’s two issues of “Ultimate Fallout” are filled with somber and poignant moments. “‘Ultimate Fallout’ has some moments that will kick your ass emotionally in the exact same way #160 did. To me, that’s great. How many times can you draw somebody punching somebody?” Bagley remarked. “After awhile you’re just going through the mechanics and trying to come up with a new way of doing it, and when you get to be a grown up that’s not nearly as interesting as the emotions behind what all is going on in the book. The chance to draw these sorts of emotional scenes is what I missed while I was doing ‘JLA.’ There wasn’t a heck of a lot of it because it isn’t that kind of book. So ‘Death of Spider-Man’ and ‘Ultimate Fallout’ have been really nice welcome backs.”
By the end of “Ultimate Fallout” #6 Bendis and Bagley will have checked in with virtually all of the major supporting players from the 11-year run of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” “We close the book on almost the entire cast, so we can move on to what Brian wants to do with the next volume of ‘Ultimate Spider-Man,’ which begins in September,” Bagley explained. “I think it’s all done pretty well. There’s a reason to everything. This isn’t something that was written to tie into a big event. These two issues close the door on a lot of things so the new Ultimate Spider-Man can take the stage. I know nothing about the character, but I love the costume. It’s a beautiful costume. I just thank god I don’t have to draw it,” Bagley laughed.
Now that he’s finished with “Death of Spider-Man” and “Ultimate Fallout,” Bagley’s body of Spider-Man work is even larger, and even though he’s drawn the character thousands of times he still has a great fondness for the Web-Slinger. “I love Spider-Man and I always have. I love the character and I love the cast. I loved ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ when I was doing it, and the nice thing about ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ was it’s sort of mine and Brian’s,” Bagley stated. “It was mostly stand-alone. We didn’t have huge crossovers and didn’t have to deal with silly events. It was pure character-driven storytelling. That’s a really rare thing now.
“I just got done with a cover, I can’t reveal what it’s for yet, but it’s basically Luke Cage, Iron Fist and 616 Spidey. There’s no real backgrounds or anything. So I got to draw the Marvel Universe Spider-Man, and professionally I haven’t had a chance to tackle that character in probably five years. When I was finished I was like, ‘That’s a pretty damn good Spider-Man,'” Bagley laughed. “It was kind of fun going, ‘Yeah. I could draw that book. That wouldn’t suck.’ I still love that character, but it’s time to show people I can do other things. They know I can. I’ve proven that with my work on ‘Thunderbolts’ in the ’90s and ‘JLA.'”
Bagley’s next two projects are allowing him to flex some non-Spider-Man related muscles. One is a follow up to the current “Fear Itself” event. The other is “Brilliant,” the creator-owned book he’s doing with Bendis published through Marvel’s Icon imprint starting in July.
“Brian once again is writing the shit out of that too. It’s still a work in progress, but the first issue is done and looks really good. We’re currently figuring out the coloring on it because we’re shooting straight from pencils. I’ve seen some books that do that very well now, so I’m having to work on my drawing style a little bit to make it more accessible to that,” Bagley said. “It’s a fun series to draw. There are no costumes. It’s college age kids and their life. It’s going to be very interesting.”
When “Ultimate Spider-Man” #160 hit stores last week it received a wealth of press coverage and positive reviews. Bagley didn’t have time to bask in that though. He was hard at work on his current assignments. Reflecting back on things a week later the writer is immensely grateful that fans enjoyed the issue and that he got to go back and draw the final story of a character he and Bendis first introduced to the world over a decade ago.
“I’m proud that they wanted me to come back and do it because they’ve had some really stellar artists on this book for a number of years,” Bagley remarked. “And since the ‘Death’ was going to happen I’m glad Brian and I got to do it together. I think we told a really good emotional story. I hate doing events just to do events. This story had a purpose. It’s sort of a culmination of what happens to a teenager who gets super powers. What’s the most likely outcome to that? This isn’t getting car keys at 16. It’s a bad idea. Super powers lead to fighting aliens, monsters and people with really bad intentions. That’s not going to end well for the teenager. I think we told that story very well.”