I’m enjoying the new Ultimate Spider-Man. I hate to admit it, partly because I’d much rather be all old-school and tell you to go look up some classic Spider-Man stories. But the comic book isn’t just okay, it is actually working just a little more for me than the original version did. Then I also hate to admit it because this is obviously not a comic book aimed at adult women and I just can’t deal with how creepy people will think I am for just loving this kid.
Most re-imaginings of classic comic book characters are tragically lackluster, like the new Swamp Thing from DC. Unfortunately (because it is pretty okay so far) I can’t help comparing it to the Alan Moore’s run on the title, way back when I was a kid. That whole Love and Death thing blew me away then and it blows me away now. It is like comparing the Rolling Stones to the Strokes; the new stuff is fun, but it won’t change my world like the originals did. But then sometimes it does…
In the past I have mocked my fellow comic book readers for being ashamed to be seen reading comic books in public. I didn’t understand because I was comfortable with horrifying little old ladies on the bus with cheesecakey fairy sex or violent magic gore in my comic books. But then this week I was forced to admit that I was experiencing a great deal of shame about my enjoyment of Ultimate Spider-Man.
It isn’t about the quality, it is a great comic book and I heartily recommend it to people, talking about Bendis’ unexpectedly sensitive story and the elegantly fluid art by Italian artist, Sara Pichelli. I’m perfectly happy to tell guys to read it and strongly recommend it to kids of about 12 and up, who I know often get stuck with relatively goofy titles like Tiny Titans (which is fun, but doesn’t really deliver on the angst that preteens are just warming up to.)
That’s all well and good in my mind, because the book is marketed towards guys and kids, I understand that. Peter Parker was always the character the weedy boys in school liked. They talked about relating to him, and so even if I didn’t get the appeal, I could understand them liking him. It is the most early mainstream instance of that kind of boy-friendly superpowered character which is now so common and he’s got a big mouth to top it off. With his girl and money troubles, he was born to be loved by boys. But I never really warmed to him too much, and while I bought a few Spider-Man comics in passing, I didn’t feel like he was my hero.
Then the Ultimate titles came out and here was another group of comic books which were clearly not marketed to my demographic. This is a line of comic books created especially created to retell old stories with a modern angle, to be appealing to “young people” who want to read different versions of old stories that they missed the first time around. These are the versions that (supposedly) young people can better relate to. They’re all laboriously current, filled with social networks, cell phones, female doctors and people being really, really okay with gay people. Fine, a welcome change from the weird mid-century origin stories of many of those classic heroes, but for me, I don’t want to reread origins just because they have a new twist, I read them the first time around.
Yeah… so despite all of my misgivings, I took a look at the much lauded new Ultimate Spider-Man. And it was good. I mean, I like the kid, I like his problems, I understand his misgivings about the world and his role in it. Which means that I’m stuck, this grown woman, avidly reading a comic book about a reluctantly super powered little kid. This is worse than the year I decided that Bobby in King of the Hill was a genius. I feel creepy, like I’m doing something wrong. It isn’t fair, because in theory, a good story is a good story. But deep down inside, I’ve always felt like this was a boys story, not in the way that Hellblazer is a boys story, (where reading it felt a little rebellious and dirty), but like a little boys story.
The content of the book is actually pretty universal, but I’m worried that other people will see me reading this hyper-stylized cover art, all airbrushed and pretend chrome and think “Why is she reading a little boys comic?” This isn’t too outrageous a concern, at one Comic Con I had a guy freak out because I took his 6 year old’s photo. Of course if he didn’t want me to take photos of his kid, I’m not sure why he dressed him up as Iron Man, but that’s his issue. The thing that upset me was that he got all freaked out and acted like I was going to abduct his damn brat. It was ludicrous, but that’s what happened and now I don’t want to be caught reading Ultimate Spider-Man on the bus.
So I’m sorry that I ever made fun of guys for feeling inhibited about reading comic books in public with half-naked girls on the cover. I feel your pain and it is a stupid place to be in.
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