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Ultimate Spider-Man #98

Posted: Friday, August 4, 2006
By: Sam Kirkland



Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Mark Bagley (p), John Dell w/ Drew Hennessy (i)

SPOILER WARNING

Marvel’s “dead is dead” policy has never appealed to me. So I guess it’s a good thing that they haven’t stuck to their guns on that promise. The basic premise is a good one: that deaths should have an important meaning beyond being a lazy way to create shock value (see Avengers: Disassembled). If a writer wants to kill a popular character, it had damn well better be for a good reason.

Resurrections should meet the same qualifications. Unless you’re talking about Marvel’s untouchables (Uncle Ben and Buc-- umm, just Uncle Ben), bringing a character back to life should never be ruled out if the story is good.

I’m one of the few fans who wasn’t up in arms over the fact that Brian Michael Bendis killed the popular Gwen Stacy in Ultimate Spider-Man #63. Gwen was a character with infinite potential and provided one of the greatest examples of how the Ultimate Universe could creatively diverge from, and, dare I say, improve on, the Marvel Universe template. That’s why her death was so tragic and why the next 30+ issues of the series would spiral out of that one moment. It was the biggest turning point in USM’s short history.

Bendis had to put up with a lot of crap with fans after he killed Gwen. Surely it wasn’t easy for him to keep his mouth shut for over two years in preparation for this culminating issue. But now Bendis seems to have delivered the ultimate “you got punk’d!” moment.

Because Gwen appears to be alive, after all.

Still, one can never tell for sure in a story arc entitled “Clone Saga.” Any reference to the c-word stirs a deep emotion within Spidey fans: either pure hatred or pure loathing. I’m one of the lucky few with no recollection of the original storyline; not because it was particularly traumatizing, but because I’m young enough that I was introduced to Spider-Man by Bendis and Mark Bagley in 2000.

Surprisingly, issue #98 does not revolve around Gwen; rather, it’s chock-full of all kinds of excitement and intrigue. The words “Bendis” and “decompressed” normally go hand in hand, but this issue feels considerably longer than 22 pages. Peter’s terror at coming face to face with a clone is palpable. His world is crashing down around him as he faces a new shock every time he turns around and every time the reader turns the page. Everything that takes place – the mysterious debut of “Spider-Woman,” Mary Jane’s kidnapping, the return of Gwen – comes at such a breakneck pace that it’s almost a relief that it’ll be a few weeks until the next issue. Almost.

A cameo by the Fantastic Four in the beginning makes for a very funny scene and further illustrates what can be done in the Ultimate Universe. Interestingly, the team’s relationship with the webslinger is very different from what you might see in the MU. Here, the characters are all young and just beginning their costumed careers, making for a unique dynamic. Bagley’s artwork is much cleaner here than it was last issue, perhaps because inker John Dell enlists the aid of Drew Hennessy this time around. The artistic team does a very nice job of capturing the sheer panic on Peter Parker’s face.

It remains to be seen what bringing Gwen Stacy back will mean for the series, but it could certainly help rejuvenate interest in USM. The frenetic pace of issue #98 combined with the plethora of cameos, including a hilarious exchange between Reed Richards and Nick Fury, makes “Clone Saga” out to be the most epic Ultimate Spider-Man storyline yet. It’s almost like the season finale of a television show; everything has been building up to this moment, and if the last page is any indication, things will only get worse for the wall-crawler in the next few months.



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