Current Reviews


Ultimate Spider-Man #45

Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), Art Thibert (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens in a psychiatristís office where we find Aunt May in a session, as we learn she has been seeing the doctor since Captain Stacy's death. We then see Aunt May recounts what happened when she confronted Peter at the end of the previous issue about his latest unexplained disappearance, and we see Peter manages to maneuver the situation so that his skipping class was due to his wanting to learn more about his late mother, and activity that Aunt May is hard pressed to discourage. We then see that Aunt May reason for seeing a psychiatrist is due to her tremendous feelings of guilt, as she's become convince that anyone she becomes close to is killed, and as such she can't help but feel that she's been overly harsh with Peter in a bid to keep a distance between them, that she believes will protect him from the curse that befalls anyone she cares for. She also expresses feelings of guilt for using Gwen as simply a vessel for her displaced affections that she no longer lets herself feel toward Peter. Finally, we also see that Aunt May is actively terrified of Spider-Man, though she's uncertain why she harbors such feelings for a costumed vigilante she's barely had any contact with. As the issue ends we see Aunt May resolves to better the situation with Peter, as she invites him out to a movie & pizza, and Peter's more than willing to take her up on the invitation.

It's always nice when a writer takes a bit of a chance from a creative standpoint, as Brian Michael Bendis spends an entire issue giving up a look at Aunt May. I mean, there's been a handful of issues over the year that focus on Aunt May over in the Marvel Universe, but most times they have her becoming involved in some silly adventure, where she's fighting terrorists alongside the Punisher, or saving a planet from Galactus' hunger using a giant Twinkie. I mean doesn't Brian Michael Bendis realize that Aunt May's role in young Peter's life is to collapse whenever the writers needed a cliffhanger finish. Yes, Aunt May has never been given her due over in the Marvel Universe until recently, and even then the character is still used largely for comic relief, with her continued efforts to help Spider-Man gain respectability. This issue is one of the first times we've really gotten a good look at what drives the Ultimate version of the character, as Brian Michael Bendis has presented her as a more youthful, independently minded character, who is more than ready to put her foot down if she suspects Peter is up to no good. This issue acts as a window into her inner conflicts, as we sit though a session that she's having with a psychiatrist, and are offered up a great deal of insight into her relationship with Peter, and her feelings about Spider-Man.

Speaking of Spider-Man we also learn how Peter was able to escape Aunt May's wrath for his latest disappearance act, and I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by the somewhat underhanded way he went about it. Now given he was carrying that book around in his bag perhaps there is an element of truth to his lie, as I really can't see him throwing the explanation together so quickly if he wasn't reading that book to learn more about his late mother. Plus, I can't think of a more effective means of displacing Aunt May's anger than for Peter to play the orphan card, as it makes sense that he would make an active effort to learn more about his parents, and it's not something that Aunt May would want to actively discourage. In the end I was a bit disappointed that Peter was shown to be so ready to manipulate this aspect of their relationship, but I have to concede that it is a very effective way of dealing with what could've been a very dicey situation, and there's no way Peter could realize the profound emotional impact this little lie could have on Aunt May, and the feelings of guilt it would bring to the surface. We also learn that Aunt May knows that Peter leaves his room at nights, but her explanation for his absence isn't overly sinister, and is actually far more understanding than one would expect to see from most parental figures.

This is not an issue that really lends itself to Mark Bagley's strengths as an artist, as except for a brief little flashback where Aunt May discusses her one encounter with Spider-Man, this issue is devoid of any action sequence. Now he's not a bad artist when it comes to conveying the emotions of the cast, as it's fairly easy to read the character's faces and tell if they are hurt, angry, or concerned. However, the simple fact of the matter is that Mark Bagley doesn't have a wide mix of facial expressions, as an upset Aunt May in one panel looks pretty much the same as an upset Aunt May in another panel, and while I'm sure he's not cut & pasting his panels, the panels looks similar enough that he could very well get away with it. Still, his work was very effective when it came to the scene where Aunt May & Peter react to the object that fell out of Peter's bag. Now, since I have a bit of room left I would like to get something off my chest that has been bothering me for the longest time, and that is this book's incredibly dull covers. I mean there's only so many ways one can show Spider-Man standing in an action pose, and this book has long since passed the stage where I can draw any excitement from getting yet another version of the same idea. In fact they could very well be recycling the cover images and I wouldn't be any the wiser, as these have to be some of the most uninspired covers in the industry.

Final Word:
I like the idea of Aunt May getting some time in the spotlight as far too often supporting players are left to sit on the shelf until they are needed, and important questions that should be raised are often times left unaddressed. It's good to see Aunt May is allowed to recognize that Peter is behaving oddly, and that part of her is uncomfortable with Spider-Man even if she has no understanding of why she finds Spider-Man so upsetting. I also like that Aunt May has been allowed to notice that Peter is slipping out of his room at night. I also appreciate that her grief over losing her husband, and the recent death of Captain Stacy hasn't been swept aside, as this is a woman who has seen far more people she cares for die than anyone should ever have to, and I like that it's had a real impact on her relationship with Peter. The issue also does a pretty fair job of presenting the psychiatrist as more than a narrative device, as the questions she asks are not merely designed to advance the story, but appear to be an honest effort by a professional looking to help a troubled woman.

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