Written (of course) by Brian Bendis and drawn by David Marquez, “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” #16.1 is the Ultimate line’s first ever point one issue. While the gimmick has proven hit and miss in the past, this time out it’s definitely a hit. It does almost everything a jumping-on issue should. It recaps the series so far for new readers, provides new information for existing ones, and ends with a cliffhanger that doesn’t just invite you to read future issues — it compels you.
The only criticism you could reasonably level at the book (I’ll get it out of the way quickly) is that it’s a Spider-Man comic that barely has Spider-Man in it. If that bothers you, you’re entitled to be upset — but skip it for that reason and you’ll be missing out, not just on the kind of character-illuminating side-story that Brian Bendis writes incredibly well, but on the strong characterization, inventive plotting and gorgeous artwork that has typified “Ultimate Spider Man” since day one.
The consistently high quality of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” is almost something of a mystery. Bendis’ work in the Marvel Universe can be meandering, poorly-paced and unreliable, but this point one issue shows that even when he’s not writing the character of Spider-Man, he can create fantastic dialogue, three-dimensional characters and surprising plot twists and make it look effortless.
In some ways, this is as close to an issue of “Alias” as “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” can get. It uses Bugle reporter Betty Brant as the protagonist and follows her investigation into the identity of the new Spider-Man. It’s a tensely-constructed story, investigative in ways that expand the Ultimate Spider-Man world, as well as answering some questions you might not even be aware you had about Miles’ origin and the circumstances surrounding it. The story’s conclusion is a perfectly executed double-twist that should make even the most jaded fan want to see where things go next.
Artist David Marquez proves himself every bit the craftsman as Bendis. His character portrayals are nuanced, his storytelling is laser-like in its precision. Detailed, but not busy. There’s a two page spread (I won’t spoil it) that can easily be called the best two-pager Ultimate Spider-Man has ever done. Even if Bendis conceived it, the wordless visuals lean heavily on Marquez’s execution, and it more than manages to succeed.
In every way worth mentioning, this issue is a treat to read. Unlike some point one issues, it’s an essential purchase for anyone who has even the slightest interest in the character. And if nothing else, it’s worth buying just to see two creators working at the top of their game.