This series almost never disappoints, and issue #69 is no exception. It’s one of the nicest, warmest comics of recent months, and that’s not just a pun because the Human Torch guest-stars.
Soon after the accident in which he gains his flame powers, Johnny Storm is sent to Queens to attend high school and gain his diploma. By dumb luck, he ends up attending the same school that Peter Parker attends. Johnny happens to fall in with Peter’s circle of friends, and he has a decent transition, with even the sparks of a romance blooming with Liz. Everything is going well…, that is, until his secret is revealed completely accidentally. Johnny and the other kids freak out, but the plot takes a clever twist, and everything ends up concluding a little differently from what one might expect.
This story takes a nice twist on the two main characters, compared to how they have traditionally been shown in the regular Marvel universe. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four were already Marvel Universe mainstays before the spider bit Peter. In fact, in Amazing Spider-Man #1, Spider-Man shows up at the Baxter Building asking to join the FF. This has always created a bit of a rivalry between the Torch and Spider-Man and contributed to a feeling that the two were uneasy friends. Here, however, the situation is reversed. Peter has been a hero for awhile and Johnny has only recently gained his powers. Johnny is still uncertain about how to manage a life with super-powers, while Peter is much more focused on who he is and what his powers mean to him and his friends. Thus when Spider-Man has a chance to help the Torch by meeting and chatting with him about being a hero, he acts almost as a mentor.
This all leads to a moment when both boys can be heroes, where each can use their own special abilities to help ordinary people. Johnny begins to realize what a gift his powers really are, while Peter finally gains a friend with powers who is’t associated in some way with S.H.I.E.L.D.
Mark Bagley has been such a solid performer on this series that it’s easy to forget to mention him. He’s a complete professional, delivering wonderful images and clever character-building material in ways that add texture to the story while not bringing attention to himself. He’s the perfect artist for this type of story, and his 69 solid issues so far speak volumes.
This isn’t billed as a holiday story, and the holidays don’t figure in this story at all, but Ultimate Spider-Man #69 has the feel of one of the best comics Christmas stories you may have read.