The focus on trade collections over the last decade has done a lot to suck the fun out of round-number anniversary issues that, for a while, were a good excuse for a big story and a major celebration of the series' lifespan. Recently, Marvel have been putting the fun back into anniversary issues (mercifully, avoiding the special covers that used to be part and parcel) and putting out chunky, self-contained issues padded out with relevant reprints. Such as this one.
Although the eye-watering price of $5.99 might turn some people off, it's actually rather in line with the contents of the issue. There's a 40-page lead story, written by Bendis and drawn by a variety of Marvel's best new artists, while the reprint - the hard-to-find "Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special" - runs 64 pages and contains yet more artists. It's just short of being a graphic novel and, at that length, the price is reasonable.
It helps, of course, that the stories are great, too. What could have been a stylistic mess is expertly woven into one cohesive piece by Bendis' script. Sara Pichelli's framing sequence is a natural fit for the series, recalling Stuart Immonen's work on the series and matching Bendis' timing exactly. Jamie McKelvie's silent sequence plays up to his natural storytelling strengths, and at the same time, showcases a gift for action choreography well beyond his normal range, and one well-suited to superheroics.
It's Skottie Young's pages, though, that impress the most, with a sketchy, kinetic, expressionist minimalism that should instantly charm readers of any age. Young already does Marvel's best covers, and with artwork of this quality, it's a shame we don't see more of his interiors.
As for the story, it is what it is: Ultimate Spider-Man, as dependable and consistent as ever. Bendis' wordy take on Danvers does grate a little, even for someone largely okay with his dialogue, but you can't fault him for sheer amount of content. This is one hefty read, and it's not because of the empty repetition his reputation suggests, but a genuine attempt to summarise the story and characters for incoming readers while making it interesting for existing ones. If only more writers could do it this well.
The ending twist sets up an interesting new status quo for the series, though one wonders if it isn't a little bit "Avengers: The Initiative". Still, it's Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man; There's no reason to think it'll be anything but decent. It's always worth a look, and this is no exception.