Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley (p), John Dell and John Sibal (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Peter Parker's fledgling career as a superhero has always been the ultimate (ha!) Sisyphean challenge. He can never enjoy a moment's rest or contentment before a boulder - either in the form of a scary goblin or an equally scary girlfriend meltdown - is destined to come crashing back down on him. Currently, he's found happiness with the cute and spunky Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, and the thought of a clone is the furthest thing from his mind. As you might imagine, all that changes with issue #97 of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Writer Brian Michael Bendis must be eavesdropping and taking notes at local malls again, as he delivers some heavy doses of teen angst here. Peter's relationship with Kitty begins to crumble; the scene is written with perfection as Kitty overreacts but in the end makes a realization that affirms the hollow nature of the relationship. Interestingly enough, it isn't a stretch to compare Ultimate Shadowcat's role to that of 616 Black Cat's. Both versions of Peter Parker seem destined to be with Mary Jane, but both have short flings with women with cat-themed codenames that come about from the costumes and masks rather than the actual people underneath.
As much as I have come to enjoy the unique and exciting Spidey/Kitty dynamic that displays the potential of the Ultimate Universe when it breaks free of its Marvel Universe ties, Bendis writes such a fantastic MJ that it's impossible not to root for her. Her character continues to evolve, and Bendis's dialogue is as witty as ever.
It's a shame that, in the same week Bendis turns in one of the strongest US-M scripts in recent memory, the artistic team turns in a fairly lackluster performance. Most noticeable is the shoddy inking on most faces, resulting in an unfinished look that is highly uncharacteristic of the title. Two Johns, Dell and Sibal, share inking duties, which in all likelihood contributes to the sub-standard quality of the art. Still, the Scorpion's redesigned costume, which reminds me a bit of early 616 Beetle, is very sleek and very cool, and the action scenes are fast paced and choreographed well. The villain's dialogue makes for an ominous and mysterious touch during the fight.
The true identity of the Scorpion is hardly a surprise, so Bendis's decision not to take the easy way out and make the unmasking the cliffhanger deserves praise. Instead, he comes up with a far less expected and far scarier twist to leave readers eagerly anticipating the next ish.
Ultimate Spider-Man #97, part one of "Clone Saga," contains a strong, tight plot, and although the art is a slight disappointment, Bendis and Bagley are nevertheless on pace to hit the landmark 100th and 103rd issues with the highest level of excitement and drama seen thus far in the series. A clone might just turn out to be Spidey's heaviest boulder yet.
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