Waiting for the Trade – Death of Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller



Ultimate Spider-man:
Death of Spider-man

by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Ultimate
Comics Spider-man 156-160

 
Why I Bought This: While
the Ultimate universe isn’t really my cup of tea, this was on sale for $10 at a
local bookstore and is supposed to be the biggest story in the history of the Ultimate
line; so at that price why not?

 

The Plot: The
Sinister Six escape from prison, led by the Green Goblin. Norman knows Peter’s identity and so he takes
them to Aunt May’s house (Peter is still a teen in this universe) and
challenges Peter to a fight on his front lawn.

Spoilers follow after the break.

 

Chapter 1 – We see Norman
in SHIELD custody. He apparently died in his last appearance but they revived
him and are holding for genetic testing. Meanwhile Peter and MJ have gotten
back together after a long breakup. They are having lunch when Captain America arrives
and pulls Pete away. SHIELD foolishly thought Norman had lost his powers so when he bursts
into flames he easily escapes prison and takes Electro, Kraven, Sandman, Dr.
Octopus and Vulture with him. (For those who don’t know Ultimate Green Goblin
looks like the Abomination with flaming hands and doesn’t have the costume
or  weapons of the traditional Green
Goblin.) Meanwhile Cap tells Spidey he doesn’t think Spidey is a very good
superhero but that he was outvoted by Thor and Iron Man on offering him
Avengers membership; Cap is only willing to take him on the team if he can
train Spidey to be a smarter fighter. In the middle of this dressing down Cap
gets an Avengers alert and he goes to investigate it without Spidey but Spidey
follows him anyway. Whatever the Avengers are doing results in the Brooklyn Bridge blowing up and the Sinister Six
see it on TV and feel this is perfect since all the other superheroes will be
too busy to help when they attack Spidey. MJ calls Peter with the news that Norman has escaped prison
and urges him to get Aunt May to safety.

 Chapter 2 – Ock tells the others he has no interest in
revenge and that if the heroes are busy he wants to use this chance to escape
to Europe. Norman doesn’t take “no” well and kills Ock.
Peter gets home and tells home Aunt May and Gwen to leave the city and hugs
them goodbye. Goblin’s killing of Ock makes the news and Peter goes to
investigate. He realizes how serious Norman
must be this time and decides to recruit the Avengers for help. Spidey gets to
the bridge where Cap is standing over Nick Fury. Punisher is about to
assassinate Cap and Spidey jumps in the way taking a bullet in the side.

Chapter 3 – Spidey wakes up alone and wonders why the other
heroes would leave his body behind. He webs up his wound and ponders going to
the hospital, realizing it will mean the end of his secret identity if he goes.
Then he sees the Sinister Six fly over head. Iceman and Human Torch are coming
home to Aunt May’s for a movie (because they are teens and live with Aunt May
in this universe for some reason). They find the place empty with a note saying
“get to a safe place” and when they walk outside the Sinister Six are there.
The Six threaten the teens not knowing who they are. Torch flames on and takes
down Norman.
Sandman wipes out Torch’s flame. Iceman jumps into the fight but Electro
defeats him with ease.  And then
Spider-man arrives unmasked and challenges them in a well drawn panel. He
defeats Vulture in seconds and asks, “Who’s next.”

Chapter 4 – Spidey tries to bluff that the Avengers are
right behind him but the villains notice his gunshot wound and attack. Spidey
uses a fire hydrant to get Electro to short out all his teammates then asks his
neighbors to call an ambulance. Sandman recovers and pummels Spidey. Vulture
makes a comeback throwing handgrenades at him and things look bleak. Aunt May
gets a phone call from one her neighbors about how Peter is getting killed in
front of everyone on her lawn and turns the car around. Electro has now
recovered and wants the killshot when Aunt May arrives and shoots him in the
chest with a handgun, presumably killing him, and the resultant explosion again
wipes out his teammates.  Peter collapses
into May’s arms and then Norman
wakes up.

 Chapter 5 – Pete pulls May and Gwen to safety and orders
Gwen to get Aunt May to safety. He hits Norman
as hard as he can and then wakes up Torch. Torch attacks but this time Norman absorbs all his
flame. Spidey is dodging fireballs and manages to throw him into a fire
hydrant. Norman
keeps coming and Pete has nothing left. Then MJ arrives having stolen a truck
and runs Norman
over, totaling the truck in the process. Pete and MJ share a kiss and then Pete
tosses her to safety. He picks up the truck and hits Norman with it. Norman
vows to kill Pete’s family when he is done with him, and Peter slams the truck
down on Norman’s
head presumably killing him. However the truck explodes (or maybe Norman’s fire powers blow
it up as the art is a little unclear) and Pete is caught in the explosion. He
then dies in MJs and Aunt May’s arms. In the final panels the camera pans to Norman’s bleeding body
and he smiles.

 
Critical Thoughts: This was really good. I have I think five
other Ultimate Spidey trades and I really only mildly enjoyed one of them
(which also involved the Sinister Six, who in general are portrayed as a much
more A-level style threat in this universe). This story is short and to the
point without Bendis’s usual padding. The Six escape, they come for Spidey and
we get almost three straight issues of fighting—and a good fight it is since
Mark Bagley is drawing it.

Most of all despite it being a big fight scene I thought the
supporting cast was portrayed really well. Yes, Aunt May pulling a gun on
Electro is extreme but believable in the circumstances. And then her reaction
to Peter’s death is heartbreaking. MJ also has some good moments in this story.

The other big pro is Peter goes out as a worthy hero. Things
keep getting worse and worse but he just keeps fighting and fighting. Both the
scene where he challenges the Six and then the scene where he thinks Norman has
his number and he continues to stand up to him are excellent. Even moments that
could stretch believability like Pete picking up a truck (which I don’t think
adult Pete could do normally let alone wounded teen Pete) work because the
action leading up to it has escalated so much that we buy it as his last ditch
adrenaline surge to save his family.

 

Grade A. For a
book I had not intention of picking up I was very impressed. This is easily the
best Ultimate Spider-man book I’ve read and one of the few times the character
reads like the hero the true Spider-man is.

Waiting for the Trade – Spiderman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Spider-man: Return of
the Goblin

by Paul Jenkins &
Humberto Ramos

collects Peter Parker:
Spider-man (vol. 2) 44-47.

 
Why I Bought This: Over
a year ago I bought the trade for a Spidey vs. Venom story called “The Hunger”
by Paul Jenkins and it was astonishingly good: like by far the best Venom story
to be told outside of the character’s first few appearances. Paul Jenkins in
general seems fairly well-regarded for his work on Spidey and after the reading
that Venom story I wanted to sample some more of his run. It seemed like
stories tackling Spidey’s other major foes would be the best pick-ups in that
regard so I grabbed both this Green Goblin story and a Doc Ock trade off
Amazon.

 
The Plot: Norman once again makes a
run at Peter through his friends and family. The story features a lot of
psychological back and forth so there’s no way to recap without heavy spoilers.

Chapter 1 – Norman visits Harry’s grave and vows vengeance
on Peter for refusing an offer to join together in a prior story. Peter
meanwhile is being tormented by a recurring dream that we don’t get to see and
tries to talk about it with Aunt May. Norman
dons the Goblin suit. Peter calls MJ but can’t find the words to speak to her
(apparently they are separated at this time), so he goes web swinging in the
rain to clear his head. And then he comes face to face with the Green Goblin.
The Goblin beats on Spidey pretty good. When Spidey turns the tables he asks
Norman the point of it all, saying “you can’t make me do anything I don’t
want;” to which Norman bets him $5 and a pizza that he can before stabbing him
in the shoulder and inviting him to a “family funeral.”

Chapter 2 – Pete flashbacks to Gwen’s death, then turns on the TV to see Norman
has released video footage of her death that implicates Spider-man as
responsible (via the infamous “snap” after Spidey weblines her in trying to
save her after the Goblin tossed her off the bridge) causing Pete to break his
TV. Next Norman
approaches Flash with a job offer. We cut to Norman
at a business meeting when Pete barges in and makes a scene to prove he can
bring the fight to Norman’s
civilian life just as easily. Of course Norman
then responds by threatening MJ and Aunt May so maybe not quite as easily.
Spidey then goes to Jameson to confront him for running the Goblin’s
allegations on the front page but that gets him nowhere. Meanwhile Norman has
his goons force alcohol down Flash’s throat then sticks Flash behind the wheel
of an Osborn Truck (as truck driver is the job Norman allegedly gave Flash) and
causes the truck to ram into Peter’s class at Midtown High (this is during the
science teacher era). Pete puts two and two together and races to the hospital
where from outside the window he overhears that Flash has “irreversible brain
damage.”

Chapter 3 – Pete is feeling guilty about Flash. When he goes
into the work the next morning he again finds Norman waiting for him; this time
playing the rich philanthropist by paying for all the damage that ‘unfortunate
drunk new employee’ caused to the school. The two exchange veiled threats in a
pretty fantastic scene as the principal gives Norman a tour of the school,
ending with Norman telling Pete which warehouse to meet him at to finish this.
Spidey stops by the hospital to visit Flash first and then we get a viscous
battle between the two. Spidey tries to pull back when he feels it has gone too
far, at which point Norman threatens to kill his own grandson (and Pete’s
godson) toddler Normie Osborn for being weak like Harry and unworthy of
inheriting the company. This causes Peter to vow to kill Norman.

Chapter 4 – Spidey and The Goblin are still going at it and Norman ups the stakes
again by saying when he finishes with Pete tonight he’s going to order hits on
every person in Pete’s life that he cares about. Spidey’s rage makes him
reckless allowing Goblin to get the upper hand. Goblin tries to drown Pete in
toxic waste, but at the last moment Pete mounts the babyface comeback and then
just pummels Norman,
breaking his ribs and putting him on the defensive. Pete is about to strike the
killing blow–and Norman even asks him to do
it–but Pete can’t commit murder and in fact realizes that Norman’s goal along has been to use Pete to
commit suicide. In a state of exhaustion the two collapse and talk to each
other, sharing a laugh before Pete reveals his recurring dream to Norman: that he sees Mary
Jane dying in a plane crash but when he gets to the body it ends up being Gwen.
Pete then says he already lived through the worst thing Norman can do once before with Gwen and if he
didn’t kill him Norman then, he’s never going to. Pete then explains to Norman how their lives are
different and walks out on him. The next day Pete visits Flash in the hospital,
while Norman
returns to his office all alone and looks over a gun in his desk drawer.

 

Critical Thoughts: The
human chess between Pete and Norman is great in chapters 2 and 3 and Norman comes across as
really diabolical and underhanded throughout the whole story making this a
gripping read at times.

I’m not sure I fully buy into Norman being suicidal–probably
because we don’t expect arch-villains to be that vulnerable or really anything
but threatening and megalomaniacal in most super hero stories–but it’s not so
far-fetched as to say it couldn’t happen: after all Norman was at least a
sociopath before he even became the Goblin and over the years his mental
problems have been exacerbated by chemical means, head trauma and even mystic
inducement so who is to say that his insanity would never manifest into
depression, particularly after the death of his son. If we go with the premise
that Norman is suicidal
I certainly believe that he would want to die by Pete’s hand both for his own
ego and as a final revenge on Pete since he knows Pete well enough to how
guilty Peter would feel if he ever took a life. Certainly Jenkins puts a lot of
work into the story to make the premise plausible, with the ending showing how
alone Norman
is. I think Jenkins writes villains exceptionally well so when he has one of
the major ones like Venom or Norman
he writes stories that excel both psychologically as well as on the visceral
action level. It also helps that Jenkins has a good grasp of Peter and his
supporting cast, and how being in the presence of these psychopaths day in and
day out affects Peter.

As a general criticism, I will say I don’t like Ramos’ art.
I never have and still don’t even with his current ASM Spidey stuff. Most of the time he’s okay drawing the costumed
stuff but his civilian facials are terrible. This however was a step-up from
his usual. There’s a few panels where Aunt May looks weird but overall he does
an adequate job on this story.

 

Grade: B-. An
unusual direction for Norman but overall it’s a compelling read from beginning
to end, which you can find for a ludicrously cheap price on Amazon.