Overview

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #160

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Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #160

Credits

  • Words: Brian Michael Bendis
  • Art: Mark Bagley
  • Inks: Andy Lanning and Andrew Hennessy
  • Colors: Justin Ponsor
  • Story Title: Death of Spider-Man
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Jun 22, 2011

Is it a spoiler to say that Spider-Man actually dies in a story titled "Death of Spider-Man"? If it is, then consider the ending to this story spoiled. After 160 issues, Bendis brings his career-making arc for Peter Parker to a close. Even though he will continue to write Ultimate Spider-Man featuring a new web-slinger in black and red duds, this issue marks the end of Peter’s story that has made for one of the best ongoing titles of the last decade. With such great stories that have built up to this moment, this particular issue encounters a few problems that stop it from being a truly iconic finish.

Peter has been beaten, shot, and beaten some more throughout this arc until now he faces the Green Goblin, one versus one. He’s bleeding profusely, his costume is tattered, and even Cory Petit’s letters make his dialogue feel aptly down-trodden. Being in such a devastated condition, it is ponderous how he manages to land huge punches, jump over houses with Gwen and Aunt May in his arms, and lift a trailer truck over his head before slamming it down on his opponent (twice). Did Peter suddenly become empowered with a higher level of super-strength? One would think he’d hardly be able to lift a Volkswagen in the condition he’s in. Surprisingly, it is the Green Goblin whose powers became enhanced this issue, but he barely seems to stand a chance against Peter. The highly explosive action lacks tension and proves to be anticlimatic.

That quandary unveils a larger problem with this whole story: it feels unauthentic. Remember when Peter overcame Venom? It was personal, gritty, and heart-wrenching because of their family history. Remember when he first defeated Doctor Octopus? It was tragic to see someone so similar to Peter fall to such madness. Norman Osborn has always been Peter’s greatest nemesis, but here a lack of personal motivation makes his character feel flat. Norman only has a general goal to get revenge without a single motive that seems to be driving his violent actions. At one point Norman says that Peter must die because God says so, then on the next page he says he’s only avenging the loss of his family. Well, which is it? Or is it both and those two have a connection? We never find out. With all the dialogue Bendis likes to use, a little time spent explaining Osborn’s core motivation would have been what elevated "Death of Spider-Man" to grand heights.

As cumbersome as the plot proves to be, Bendis delivers some truly emotional lines, especially Peter’s last words that emphasize why his sacrifice was worthwhile. That moment more than any brings Peter’s incredible 160 issue arc to a close in a way that pays respect to the character’s true motivation for being a hero.

Bagley’s skillful pencils tell a coherent story in an issue comprised mostly of fighting amidst huge explosions, and he expertly switches gears to the quiet, sad moments during the finale. Seeing how he started this comic along with Bendis, working together long enough to break Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four record for longest collaboration on a single title, his presence at the end is not only appropriate but gladly welcome.

Stepping away from this issue and examining the entire run shows something far greater than the sum of its parts. Bendis has managed to do the impossible. He has taken Marvel’s most popular character and given him a definitive story with an enrapturing beginning, a thrilling middle, and a fitting end. Death has relieved Ultimate Spider-Man from the thralls of modern comic conventions: he will no longer have to endure endless hardships in order to satisfy Marvel’s shipping schedule; he will never have to be handed off to another writer who might ruin what made him special; and he will deliver to his audience a cathartic ending and a sense of closure. In line with other masterpieces that told a finite story such as Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man, Ultimate Spider-Man is Bendis’s ultimate story.

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