Tag Archives: Peter Parker

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

Yesterday I discussed when main-continuity Aunt May discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity. Now let’s turn our attention to the Ultimate continuity, when Peter told Mary Jane.

This is basically the inverse of yesterday’s revelatory issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #13 was very early in this Spider-Man’s career, so no secret-identity tensions have been building up over the course of years. Peter and MJ are teenagers who have been friends for a long time, and Peter proactively reveals his secret because he doesn’t want to lie to her (and, being a teenage guy, he no doubt wants to impress his closest female friend).

But like yesterday’s issue, this entire comic is a conversation. The action and adventure take a break, allowing us to zero in on the characters—which will help us care about them more when the action/adventure commences again.

Comics aren’t supposed to feature talking heads, but this one works remarkably well because of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art. The page layouts are key here. The panels are used to punctuate each beat of the conversation, allowing everything to flow smoothly and organically. The reader gets an excellent sense of the pacing and timing of everything that’s being said. And Bendis knows when the keep quiet and let Bagley show the characters’ reactions so that even with the focus on dialogue, it remains a visual experience.

It’s a rather happy issue (and funny in places), providing a nice break from the angst, and it deepens the bond between two main characters. It also does what every teen superhero book should—it captures that wonderful anticipation of exciting new possibilities.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2: Learning Curve (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (2002)

In the category of “long-overdue conversations” …

Aunt May discovers that her nephew Peter is Spider-Man—which means he’s been lying to her for years. It’s the sort of thing that requires setting aside some time to chat…perhaps an entire issue to chat.

The Amazing Spider-Man #38 (or #479, since the cover plays it both ways) features no super-heroic action whatsoever. It’s just Peter and May talking. Between all the history behind the conversation and how well J. Michael Straczynski writes it, it’s engaging throughout, full of emotion rather than melodrama. Both characters have been holding secrets in, and the release is scary, relieving, and scary all over again.

A nice touch is how much credit the story gives Aunt May. She had often been portrayed as elderly and frail, but here Straczynski gives the impression she’s a remarkably resilient old lady, and she would have to be to single-handedly raise a teenager after her husband’s murder and in the face of repeated health problems and financial troubles.

The issue doesn’t reach any tidy resolution. There’s no happily ever after—there’s just moving forward.

Straczynski had a memorable run on Spider-Man a few over fifteen years ago, and this was the best thing he did with the book. It needed to happen (though I’m pretty sure it was retconned along with Peter and Mary Jane’s marriage, alas).

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Penciler: John Romita Jr.

Inker: Scott Hanna

Cover: Kaare Andrews

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2: Revelations (TPB)

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #5 (2001)

I’ve heard people complain that origin stories are boring. That’s a misleading statement, though. How characters gain their powers generally isn’t all that interesting. Why they decide to use those powers to help others…that’s the interesting part. That’s when the characters are at their most dynamic.

Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a utilitarian plot device. At best, it qualifies as an attention-getting inciting incident. But Peter deciding not to stop a thief, and that thief then murders his uncle, thereby supplying Spider-Man with motivation for all future stories? That’s the compelling part.

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original story ran in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, it packed a surprising amount of depth for an eight-or-so-page comic story. In 2000-01, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley expanded it to six issues for the inaugural storyline of Ultimate Spider-Man, which gave us a modern teenage Spidey free from any continuity baggage (until the Ultimate line amassed its own messy continuity, that is, but Spider-Man had the only series that remained strong throughout).

The story deserved this expanded retelling. The extra length allows us to spend more time on each significant moment, and issue #5 depicts the defining night of young Peter’s life. He’s just learned his Uncle Ben was murdered, but his recently acquired powers allow him to at least apprehend the killer.

Bendis and Bagley take us from Peter’s anger, to his shock at recognizing the killer, to his anger at himself, to his guilt, to his understanding of what his uncle was always trying to teach him, and ultimately to a heartrending final page. Peter wasn’t Spider-Man in the first four issues; he is by the end of this one. The creators utilize the extra space to such superb effect, it makes it all the more impressive that Lee and Ditko nailed the story in so few pages all those years ago.

Whether told in eight pages or more than a hundred, Spider-Man’s origin story holds up as among the greatest—not because of any sci-fi spider bites, but because he learned a life-changing lesson through tragic failure.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1: Power and Responsibility (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Peter Parker: Spider-Man #20 (2000)

For Spider-Man more than most superheroes, the man behind the mask is far more important than the colorful crimefighting persona. That was a huge part of his original appeal, which was pretty novel back in the ‘60s—Peter Parker was, at his core, a regular guy with regular problems who just happened to be a superhero, and a highly imperfect one at that.

When writer Paul Jenkins took over Peter Parker: Spider-Man, he did an excellent job focusing on Peter’s humanity. It’s especially evident in his first issue, #20, in which Peter, despondent over a recent loss, visits his Uncle Ben’s grave for some soul-searching.

Nothing is funny anymore, Peter feels, and he reflects on his childhood growing up with his aunt and uncle, particularly how he and Ben would repeatedly prank each other, constantly trying to make the other laugh.

The flashbacks fill in details about this important relationship in his life. After all, it was his uncle’s avoidable murder that motivated Peter to use his powers to help others. Not only is it nice to deepen the relationship, but it also shows us how Peter developed his distinctive sense of humor. Great character work throughout.

There’s no super-villain plot here, but there’s plenty of emotion. And it all comes to an uplifting ending.

Writer: Paul Jenkins

Penciler: Mark Buckingham

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Peter Parker: Spider-Man: A Day in the Life (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up