Though it has primarily been the beneficiary of a decade’s worth of top-notch writing by Brian Bendis, Ultimate Spider-Man certainly owes a fair portion of its success to a small, dedicated group of consistent artists. Mark Bagley’s run on the title was legendary (often comprising more than 12 issues per year), and Stuart Immonen followed that up with a stint that solidified his status as one of the industry’s best. The pair did share duties on a passing-of-the-torch issue, but otherwise the series has largely been the product of a singular artistic vision from month to month.
Given such a history, it feels odd to see Sara Pichelli and David Lafuente splitting the artist credit on Ultimate Spider-Man #152, a run-of-the-mill issue that neither marks a major anniversary nor signifies an important transition. Who would have thought that this series would ever stoop so low as to resemble a “normal” comic, shuffling artists in and out for the sake of meeting a schedule? Yet, here we are, and the results could certainly have turned out to be a lot worse.
Pichelli’s style is much in the same vein as Immonen’s, and the switch would have been easy on the eyes if she had been his immediate successor. Like both Bagley and Immonen before her, Pichelli’s stuff looks great but never calls too much attention to itself, serving to let Bendis’s script set the tone. This sets it in stark contrast to the overtly cartoony work of Lafuente, which stands out more so than ever now that there’s something to directly compare it to. It’s like reading two comics in one, a notion that the story does little to quell.
In fact, Bendis does as much as possible to keep this issue fractured in two, limiting Pichelli’s scenes to a tangential set of flashbacks while allowing Lafuente to draw the events of Peter Parker in the present day. As is often the case, Peter’s out-of-costume affairs steal the show, and the current issue marks at least one major turning point for his personal life. The Pichelli sequences couldn’t be further removed from all this, focusing on a confrontation between Black Cat and Mysterio that relies upon plot points over 100 issues old.
Undoubtedly, the twain shall eventually meet, but, for now, we’re left playing the waiting game. It’s a scheme that puts the presence of two vividly distinct artists to good use, but it also creates a schism that undermines the cohesiveness of the comic when considered as a single issue. I’ll happily take either Pichelli or Lafuente as my Ultimate Spider-Man artist, but hopefully in the future they’ll come one at a time.