“Ultimate Spider-Man” is consistently the best Spider-Man comic on the stands, and this issue is another winner. There’s nothing extraordinary about issue #125 that would bump it up into the four or five-star range, but it’s a very good superhero comic, and a very good Spider-Man comic, and here’s why:
- Stuart Immonen. He brings a design sense and a flair for the dramatic that Mark Bagley could only dream about. The look of this comic has improved immensely since Immonen has joined the team.
- Brian Michael Bendis gives Peter Parker and Mary Jane quick-witted banter, like a version of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, but as teenagers.
- Bendis makes Venom interesting, by turning him into a victim of corporate forces.
- Ultimate Beetle is even cooler and more fun than his mainstream Marvel counterpart. His costume design incorporates a subtle wink to the Mach 1 character of the old Thunderbolts, but this Beetle is no buffoon. He’s mysterious and efficient.
- It ends with a cliffhanger with Spider-Man shouting “Nooooo!!!” that’s actually suspenseful. How will Spidey get out of this one? I want to read the next issue to find out!
“Ultimate Spider-Man” began as an experiment in decompression (let’s take Spider-Man’s eight-page origin, and turn it into six full issues) and cultural relevance (let’s make him a teenager of today, so instead of a photographer, we’ll make him an internet whiz), but it has become, after well over 100 issues, the best continued exploration of Peter Parker and the Spider-Man mythos. Bendis is able to balance the whimsical teenage nature of the character with the “weight of the world” burden and tie it all together with superhero intrigue and action. There’s no great single issue of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” though. Nothing to point to and say, “you’ve gotta read THAT comic.” Instead, Bendis builds a story by the accumulation of moments, the accumulation of character detail, and the machinations of forces greater than Peter Parker.
In this issue, Trask enterprises wants Venom’s “suit” (i.e. the symbiote), the police want Spider-Man, Spider-Man wants to figure out why his blood looks so weird under a microscope. Who knows what the Beetle wants, but he’s in the mix as well. Oh, and also, Venom wants to eat Spider-Man and everything else in his way. Mary Jane probably just wants to hang out. Of course, nobody gets what they want and they’re all in conflict about it in issue #125. Not much decompression going on here, with the constant twists and turns and kicks to the side of Venom’s head.
This may not be an astounding, stand-out issue, but that’s not how this series works. It works by being very good every single month, and no matter how you feel about the rest of the Ultimate line, this comic is always worth reading.