Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), Art Thibert (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Jumping back to the aftermath of Spider-Man fight with Doctor Octopus, we see SHIELD agents arrive on the scene to take the good doctor into custody, and their attentions are drawn to another genetic experiment that was being carried out inside Hammer Industries. During their ensuing investigation they inadvertently set free the Sandman, and Spider-Man is called upon once again to take on a rampaging super-villain.
This issue takes a bit of a step backwards, as Brian Michael Bendis offers up an untold story that is set right after Spider-Man's battle with Doctor Octopus. Now essentially this issue looks to be designed to flesh out the character of Sharon Carter, agent of SHIELD who looks to be the head of the band of field agents who are sent out to investigate any reports of illegal genetic mutations, and naturally this has brought her into contact with Spider-Man, and more importantly his various collection of villains. Now I suspect this issue is also a way for Brian Michael Bendis to introduce us to the Sandman who is set to be part of the Sinister Six line-up, and if nothing else this issue acts as a very effective introduction, as the Sandman comes across as a highly dangerous opponent. In fact he comes across as far more effective, and villainous, than his regular Marvel Universe counterpart. The final page speech by Sharon Carter also acts as a fairly solid springboard to launch us into next week's "Ultimate Six" miniseries, as the question of whether the Ultimate program is creating the heroes of tomorrow, or creating a new threat to civilization in the form of super-powered monsters is nicely presented. In fact my only real problem with this issue is that Spider-Man isn't really given all that much to do beyond trade punches with the Sandman. Still, the character development Sharon Carter receives is enough to earn this issue a recommendation.
As for the art, Mark Bagley turns is a fairly impressive looking issue, though I did find that his panel count was rather low, which suggested to me he was making an effort to stretch what had been a twenty-two page issue over thirty pages. Still the larger panels do lend themselves extremely well to the action scenes, as the Sandman's attacks are wonderfully rendered, with his opening attack on the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents being a truly awe inspiring display of raw power. The ensuing battle with Spider-Man is also extremely well done, as the unstoppable nature of the villain is well presented, as it the difficulty that Spider-Man has in coming up with an attack that is effective against a villain like the Sandman. Yet another generic looking cover though, as I'd be hard pressed to tell you what makes this cover stand apart from the couple dozen other shots of Spider-Man in an action pose that this series has offered up as it's covers.
I'm not really sure why this issue was a extra-sized issue, as we still have four issues before such an issue would make sense, and there's nothing about this story in particular that screams out it was deserving of the extra pages. In fact, the large number of one-page shots, would seem to suggest that Mark Bagley had to make an active effort to stretch that issue out over its extra pages. Still, the story does act to introduce two characters, one of whom I hope becomes a regular presence in the Ultimate Universe as Agent Sharon Carter is a very engaging creation, who is allowed to notice that the recent proliferation of superhuman threats are by in large the direct result of the Ultimate program, which is an idea I believe will be examined further in the "Ultimate Six" miniseries. The issue also introduces the Ultimate version of the Sandman, who looks to be a decidedly unpleasant character, with a fairly impressive degree of control over his power. A padded issue, but enjoyable enough that I'm willing to look past this obvious cash grab.
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