The argument that every superhero comic is simply telling the same story over and over again can certainly be a convincing one, especially if the person arguing it wants to name drop Joseph Campbell somewhere in the middle of it, but I think one of the things that draws us to comics, and indeed most genre stuff, is their ability to be new in something old and expected. This is certainly the logic of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: it takes something extremely familiar and makes these things seem new again, even if they aren’t. Perhaps the major downfall of the Ultimate line in recent years was a sort of waking up to this fact as things began to be predictable and overly familiar. The reckless abandon of the early Ultimate X-Men turned into the predictable retellings of older stories until one of the final stories, which used the same artist as a story told in the regular continuity less than a year later. Through all this waking up, however, Ultimate Spider-Man seemed to be immune, or at least self-sustaining. The stories, sometimes retellings, sometimes new feeling, seemed fresh and certainly remained entertaining. Looking back, it’s hard to point to a single long line of issues that were out-and-out bad or borrowed too heavily. It's an accomplishment when you think about it, especially considering the main Marvel universe is practically constructed by the writer of Ultimate Spider-Man. But I think Ultimate Spider-Man, in this newest incarnation, has finally hit this point, this awakening as it were. At least I feel like I'm finally waking up.
Ultimate Comics: All-New Spider-Man #2, if we’re going to use its full title, is therefore a little ironic. It seems nothing is new, it’s all a rehash in a way I feel has already been told to me, by this very same writer and in this very same series (if we can consider all of Ultimate Spider-Man one series for just this moment). Really, I think the best way to describe this issue and the feelings/problems I have with it is watching the trailer released for the next Spider-Man film, “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Go ahead, watch it and we’ll reconvene. Done? Okay. First off, this movie looks good and I am legitimately excited for it. But, and this is a big one I think this movie has to contend with, it looks extremely familiar because I watched a really good version of this story less than a decade ago. There are instances, like the alleyway climbing, that seem almost lifted from the Toby Maguire film from 2002 and the same thing is happening here. About a decade ago, just like the movies, Ultimate Spider-Man debuted and people went crazy for it. And, just like the movies again, we have something that is good but too familiar, complete with familiar scenes. For example, besides all the ‘discovery of powers scenes,’ we have a scene that feels too much like Ultimate Spider-Man #13, the issue where Peter tells Mary-Jane who he is. Instead of underlying sexual tension and comedic moments drawing from that, we have new Spider-Man Miles telling his overweight friend Ganke. The whole scene is extremely reminiscent, intentionally I would assume given the joke on the second page of the scene, of the thirteenth issue, but simply isn’t as interesting or exciting. The whole book is wonderfully scripted, characters are fleshed out, realistically motivated, with relationships established and given their own depth, and new readers will most certainly be delighted; but for the long-time fans, in a fashion that I sit on the opposite side of with the DC reboot, are probably more frustrated than delighted. It’s a strange day when three Ultimate books hit the shelves and Ultimate Spider-Man is the one ending up on the bottom, and maybe that's indicative of the series itself.
All this being said, Sara Pichelli can officially draw any book she likes in my opinion. An extremely talented artist I love more and more every time I pick up one of her books, she has an unmatched handle on emotion and expression, not to mention characters that look like people rather than the problematic adolescent pin-up fantasies seen in the DC books (namely the outrage at Catwoman #1 and Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, an outrage I completely agree with). Pichelli’s characters never have a default facial expression, they are constantly expressive rather than the default bored look some characters can get, and these continually changing faces just make every panel so much more communicative in context. These are people who look like people in theory and in practice, but with energy and style as well rather than an attempt at photorealism. The aforementioned joke, where Miles attempts to show off his powers to his friend, is a perfect example of Pichelli’s ability to convey emotion without dipping into hyperbole like many artists with this amount of energy tend to do. It is, simply put, a perfect page, and I think I’m going to continue reading this book for her art, even if this story doesn’t convince me to stick around.
Grade: B Good for newcomers, bad for old fans, but still wonderful to look at.