When it came to reading Spider-Man, arguably the most iconic of all superhero characters today, a younger, less trodden-on version of me faced a choice: jump into the labyrinthine mainstream Marvel continuity, which was numbered at around issue 500 and had, on multiple occasions, imploded due to clone storylines, or try Marvel’s ‘post-modern’ Ultimate series. As readers will know, this presents the publisher’s classic heroes in an entirely refreshing way that is designed to court new fans. Although now it’s become as entrenched in events and difficult-to-follow stories as its inspiration, the early issues are still perfect stepping stones for anyone who wants to get into these classic comic book characters.
Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1, for my money, is the best of the lot. While I enjoyed The Ultimates and found Ultimate X-Men agreeable, if not spectacular, seeing Spider-Man’s fabled one-issue origin story converted into an entire arc was just smart thinking (plus the script had 80% less of the exclamation marks that make Silver Age comics unreadable!). It enables readers to enjoy the details of Peter Parker’s life, while the only sporadic superhero sections make for a nice pace-breakers, rather than being the focus of the narrative.
Ultimate Spider-Man was the brainchild of writer Brian Michael Bendis, who’d go on to revitalise Daredevil and The Avengers for Marvel, while art duties were left to the splendidly talented Mark Bagley. I think the Ultimate Spider-Man series was a milestone in Marvel’s approach towards prospective readers – the first twelve issues of the title were mainly fun, jokey chapters with Whedon-esque sparky dialogue. It endeared me to the character, and led me to try other titles published by Marvel.
Actually, come to think of it, Ultimate Spider-Man is fantastic throughout its first four or five hardcover volumes, barring a faintly unpleasant Venom storyline wedged somewhere in its third volume. While I am disappointed that the comic book medium is almost exclusively associated with superheroes, Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1 is a relatively rare example of it being done right by people with the know-how.
Ultimate Spider-Man is published by Marvel Comics in the US and Panini in the UK