For starters, I’d like to thank Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #158 for washing out much of the foul taste left behind by last issue’s crossover poisoned cliffhanger. Though it makes absolutely no sense to do so, especially in a series that has for so long been the product of a singular authorial vision, Marvel continues to insist that the events of other books should intrusively bleed into this one. It happened during Ultimatum and it happens again here, as the teaserly titled “Death of Spider-Man” centers important story beats around an otherwise unrelated Avengers plotline. Only in comics, folks.
To everyone’s benefit, this month’s issue stands primarily on purely Spider-Man terms. Though there’s no denying the consequence of the bullet literally fired at Peter Parker from the barrel of another series, all of the other threats here originate from stories that Bendis himself penned. It’s sure to be a much more satisfying chapter for those not reading the other Ultimate books or who will experience this story in trade paperback format. If you’re disgruntled enough at Marvel’s shenanigans, there’s nothing in this issue stopping you from just pretending that Peter got shot by the Green Goblin, instead of by an out-of-nowhere Punisher.
As it often was during this series’ heyday, back when Bendis paired with artist Mark Bagley the first time, Peter Parker again finds himself this issue facing frighteningly impossible odds. This go round, the promise of insurmountable doom comes from a cadre of Spider-Man’s most powerful foes, on the loose from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody and out for blood. The ability to create truly menacing villains has long helped Bendis establish Ultimate Spider-Man as the quintessential underdog saga, a trend that continues in force here. Nowhere else in comics will you find a hero so hopelessly trapped on a regular basis.
Since his return, Bagley has done nothing but confirm that Spidey is the character whose escapades he most belongs drawing. Though his style remained essentially the same, I never thought he seemed like a good fit during his brief stint at DC. Here though, with an assist by inker Andy Lanning, his work looks sharp. Each of the villains is rendered with maximum sinisterness, matched only by the depth of despair found on the faces of the heroes.
Whether Bagley’s return had anything to do with Bendis’s decision to go old school, it’s a true pleasure to read an issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man that could have easily fit into the early portion of the series’ first volume. In the unlikely event that Spider-Man really does meet death in this story, he’ll be going out just as he came in.