Twenty years after it’s initial launch, Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1 continues to astound and show why this incarnation of the age-old character stood the test of time, while creating a myriad of media and spin-offs.
Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1: Powers and Responsibility covers the first seven issues of the series. Beware of spoilers, and if you’re able to support your local comic book shop, pick a copy up there!
ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN AND THE NEW ORIGIN
Before you even open Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1, one colossal change rears its head; the origin story is seven issues. When compared to the original origin in Amazing Fantasy #15, that was only a few pages long. Nonetheless, this was nothing new with writer Brian Michael Bendis, who is known for being heavy with dialogue and taking his time. However, this extended origin was a smart move. Instead of trying to cram one issue full of backstory, Bendis is able to expand it throughout seven. The slow speed does work for some parts, but others feel like they drag on, yet nothing too bad.
Bendis takes Spider-Man and gives him a more modern setting. Albeit, it released 20 years ago, some of the elements still relate to teenagers. By having the opportunity to expand the origin to multiple issues, he is able to focus on the everyday life of Peter Parker before and after the spider bite. This extra page count is both Ultimate Spider-Man VOL.1’s strength and weakness. At times it feels as if Bendis is working towards a word count instead of letting parts breathe. Sadly, this isn’t anything new with him, as he tends to get wordy in some of his works. However, this does lead to one of the story’s strengths—its characters.
Not only does Bendis write an amazing Peter and Spider-Man, but the other character’s voices just as well. Sometimes with teenager centric stories the characters feel like they are trying to hard to be young and “hip”. However, the characters in Ultimate Spider-Man VOL.1 don’t feel as such. Instead, they feel organic, especially for the Spider-Man persona that is just starting out.
ULTIMATE ORIGIN, ULTIMATE ART
Helping bring the new origin to life is Mark Bagley on art, with Art Thibert and Dan Panosian inking. Bagley went over 100 issues on art duty throughout Ultimate Spider-Man’s history, so it’s nice to look back at his first few. Bagley’s style melds nicely with the modern tone the team set out for, but at times his faces seem off. The amount of medium and close shots the team employs doesn’t help this weakness either. However, when Bagley hits his stride, it’s fantastic.
Contained within Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1 are some iconic Spider-Man poses and some that would later become iconic. Not only that, since it was a new universe started from scratch, some designs got changed. Spider-Man’s suit wasn’t changed too much, yet the biggest change was Green Goblin. Instead of being a man in a suit, Green Goblin becomes a seven-foot-tall monster that’s extremely intimidating. This change at first might surprise you, – which it should with it being a new universe – but it works amazingly storywise.
The ink jobs by Thibert and Panosian work well throughout the series. The shade they add to Green Goblin’s muscles when he is introduces, makes him seem that much more terrifying. Yet, their inks sadly don’t help the obscure faces in some scenes. Nonetheless, their collaboration helps in most moments.
A COLORFUL NEW START
During the seven issues, colors are handled by Steve Buccellato, Marie Javins, Colorgraphix, and Transparency Digital. Having this many colorists working on the origin story seems like, at times, it would be a noticeable change, but that doesn’t transpire. Instead, the colors stay consistent with each other while helping the art. Spider-Man’s suit is bright and popping, making it fly off the page, especially compared to the other colors. For the most part, Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1 feels grounded with the art and the colors helping. Yet, when it comes to Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s lettering, it’s a different story.
Whereas the art and colors have a more grounded feel, the sound effects feel as much as a comic as they come. Starkings and Comicraft make sure they are big, loud, and in your face. These sound effects give the panel an oomph that helps the action sound that much louder.
THE BEGINNING OF SOMETHING NEW
At times Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 shows its age, but that’s to be expected. Be that as it may, it’s still an amazing jumping-on point for those that want to read about Spider-Man. Not only is it a well-updated origin, but it was a comic that inspired further Spider-Man media while making a fan of many at the time.
EVERYONE REMEMBERS THEIR FIRST
One of the reasons I wanted to look back at Ultimate Spider-Man Vol.1 was because this trade paperback (TPB) holds a special place in my heart. As the header indicates, it was my first. Not my first comic, but the first TPB I owned, which I received as a gift from my Grandma. I read it so many times as a kid; I had to tape the spine because it was falling apart. It finally met its demise at the hands of a kid. Alas, nothing lasts forever. With that in mind, what was your first trade?