After nearly a decade, Brian Michael Bendis's uninterrupted run on "Ultimate Spider-Man" comes to an end. Sure, Bendis will continue telling Spider-Man stories with new artist David LaFuente over in the soon-to-launch "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," but that series promises "a new supporting cast, new villians and maybe even a new Spider-Man," and though the series will surely link back to this first volume, it's the beginning of a new direction, and the story that Bendis began back in late 2000 has changed irrevocably. And maybe that's a good thing. Change is good -- and unusual in comics.
It's just too bad that it had to come from something as cynical and destructive as "Ultimatum."
Because "Ultimatum" -- the comic book snuff film that's being passed off, lamely, as some kind of Event -- devastates the Ultimate Universe in its first four issues (the fourth of which, released this week, overlaps with this final issue of "Ultimate Spider-Man"), this evolving tapestry in Peter Parker's life stops without tying up loose ends. Instead, it ends with tragedy. Painful, inexplicable tragedy.
Bendis, whose very career rests upon his facility with characterization-through-dialogue, makes a bold choice here and tells the story without a single caption or word balloon. The text piece at the beginning of the comic recaps the "Ultimatum" connection, and ends with a sentence warning us of what's to come: "This is a SILENT issue," it reads, as if readers might have rushed back to their local comic shops demanding a copy with Bendis's WORDS printed on the pages. Perhaps some would have, as a completely silent issue is an unusual choice for a writer as chatty as Bendis.
So Bendis puts the weight of the story on the more-than-capable shoulders of Stuart Immonen. Immonen takes us on a tour of the apocalyptic New York City streets, as we check in with Spider-Man in his confrontation with the Hulk, and as we see the female Spider-Clone and Kitty Pride on their own, no less important adventure. Bad things happen. Sadness reigns supreme. And Immonen evokes such emotion beautifully. It's a shame he wasn't on this series since the very beginning.
The 133 issue run of "Ultimate Spider-Man" has been Bendis's masterpiece at Marvel. More streamlined and cohesive than his Avengers work, more emotionally true than his work with the Daredevil character, and more resonant than his "Secret Invasion." He ends it with dignity, letting the characters actions speak for themselves, letting the weighty moments sit on the page, letting us watch as tragedy unfolds. I'm sure Bendis and LaFuente will do excellent work on the new series, and Bendis and Immonen conclude this one about as well as could be expected. It's just unfortunate that they had to end it at all.