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Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Man

October 2, 2005

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can.

I’ve been a fan of Marvel’s most famous lone hero for many, many years. For the most part, unfortunately, my appreciation of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man was from afar because of limited fundage. Recently, though, I’ve been enjoying the versions of Spidey that Marvel has been offering up on the regular lately. The two that I’ve been enjoying has been “Amazing Spider-Man”, written by J. Michael Straczynski and “Ultimate Spider-Man”, written by Brian Michael Bendis.

The Ultimate series of books are re-envisionings of Marvel’s classic series. Begun with Spider-Man after the movie was released, they’re attempts by Marvel to lure in new readers by starting the worlds over in an updated and more accessible format. “Ultimate Spider-Man” has Peter Parker as a teenager, going to high school and doing his thing amid the usual problems teens face in the here-and-now. Mary Jane is his girlfriend, and life is as complicated as it usually is for the man in black and red. While my initial impressions of the series (as gleaned from reading the first graphic novel) wasn’t that positive, I picked up a collection book of the first six graphic novels after taking a longer look at it in Barnes and Noble. The book ends at a story introducing Venom to the series, an extremely entertaining and interesting twist to that less-than-satisfying part of the old Spidey story. There is a lot of energy in the series, thanks to the youth of the characters. The Ultimates tend to do a lot of crossing over, and now that I’m up to book seven his first interaction with the Ultimate X-Men was (hopefully) a taste of things to come.

On the other hand, “Amazing Spider-Man” is a much more introspective comic, as would be expected from the creator of Babylon 5. The adult Spidey is (ironically) a high school teacher, giving back science to the kids that he once was. He and Mary Jane are married, and New York is a place very much used to having a web-footed superhero in their midst. Straczynski’s influence is felt through the deep characterization and interesting dialogue, and a re-examining of what exactly Pete’s powers mean in the grander scheme of things. Spider-Man is a mutant, first and foremost, but the book under Straczynki’s guiding hand has taken on a much more mystical tone. A curious stranger named Ezekiel becomes something of a mentor for Peter, and hanging plot threads (a harbinger of the writer’s style) begin cropping up everywhere. On the home front, MJ and Peter have had rocky times, and were separated for while. I’m just now starting in on the fifth graphic novel, the two of them having just gotten back together at the end of the fourth (amid an amusing fight with some anti-doctor doom folks). The issue dealt with in Amazing are distinctly adult … marriages, spirituality, personal growth, and social relationships are elements just as important to the story as costumed fist-fights. This book is everything I’ve always wanted to see out of a comic book, written by one of the best in the business.

Of the two, Amazing is nearer and dearer to my heart, if only because I can relate to old Peter better than young Peter. That saddens me, in a way, I guess. At the same time, I’m a quarter century old. It’s probably not all that surprising. In any case, now is a terrific time to be reading Spider-Man, whether he’s young or old. If you have any inclination, the collected volumes are well worth purchasing (and pretty cheap on Amazon).

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