This spring, something spectacular is swinging into theaters. On May 3, Spiderman opens nationwide, welcoming audiences to a world of high adventure and heroism. Spiderman will be filled with youth culture and incredible action, certain to win over a new generation of fans. However, many people do not realize the path Spider-Man had to travel to become the definitive superhero of the new millennium.
For 40 years, Spider-Man has held his place as one of the greatest superheroes in the history of American comics. Captivating readers with his energetic exploits, he quickly earned a reputation as the coolest, swingingest superhero around. Month after month, he would rush into battle, armed with incredible powers, willing to help those in need. Over the years, however, the Spider-Man saga grew stale.
Fans always identified with Peter Paker, Spider-Man’s alter ego. Peter was not popular in high school. He had trouble getting his homework done inbetween incredible battles with the vilest of super villains. He barely had enough money to support himself and his aging Aunt May. It was this mix of do-it-yourself super heroics and real world problems that made Spiderman resonate so well with readers.
Eventually, though, things started to work out for Spider-Man. He graduated college. He got a job. He married a supermodel. Readers’ interests started to wane when the once enjoyably dysfunctional Spidey became a responsible expectant father. Fans wanted fresh stories and a modern take on the now dated superhero.
Collecting the first 13 issues of the monthly comic by the same name, Ultimate Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ surprisingly effective reworking of the Spider-Man mythos. No longer the product of a freak science fair accident, Peter Parker is given his powers through a genetically engineered arachnid. Gone are the stogy parents and photojournalism of yesteryear. Peter’s Uncle Ben has evolved from a stale old caretaker into an authority figure with an almost Clinton-esque manner. While back in the ’60s Spider-Man made extra cash by selling his photos to the local papers, today he spends his time in front of a computer designing Web sites. No pun intended.
Ultimate Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis does a remarkable job presenting such classic characters in an updated setting. He drives straight to the core of what made the Spider-Man books come alive all those years ago, and gives it a spin that adds energy and humanity to the tale. Though longtime fans know these characters, it feels as if readers are meeting them for the first time. Bendis re-establishes Spider-Man as a teen struggling to find his place in the world. Scenes are thick with the awkwardness of puberty as Spider-Man is forced to discover his powers in startling, and sometimes embarrassing ways.
Mark Bagley and Art Thibert’s artwork give Spider-Man a truly arachnid look. Forgoing the traditional muscle bound superhero aesthetic, Bagley’s gangly rendition of Spider-Man gives the hero an underdog appeal that draws readers into the adventures. Bagley and Thibert are able to visually transform the world of Spider-Man without making it unrecognizable.
For those of you who still swear by the original vision, fear not. Ultimate Spider-Man gives readers the Spider-Man they have always wanted, even offers up a bit of a history lesson by reprinting the original Lee/Ditko Spider-Man origin from 1962. Whether you are looking for fun, entertaining stories and great artwork, or just cannot wait until May to get your Spider-fix, this volume is a welcome addition to anyone’s reading list.
Robert James Algeo can be reached at Nategray1@aol.com