The Gray Area Reborn: Ultimate Spider-man

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently on tour with Adam WarRock, MC Lars and MC Chris he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 20, 2011 at Socialfist as “Ultimate Spider Man: A Brief Retrospective.”

I have read every page of every comic of the series Ultimate Spider Man. I have read every word in every word balloon. And Brian Bendis wrote every issue, so the savvy among you know that means a whole lot of word balloons. So, what am I getting at? Am I trying to impress you? Only kind of. What I really want to get across is that it is totally possible–and entirely worthwhile–to read every issue of Ultimate Spider Man.

I read the first 110 issues in trade (I think that’s volumes 1-18 or 19) for free at my local library. Every library with a halfway decent collection of comics will have it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find without dropping the $1000+ 25 volumes of trades would cost. I happened to catch up to the series just as the original artist, Mark Bagley, was ending his record-breaking run on the series and Stuart Immonen was just beginning his run with issue 111, an issue they both drew. I’ve been buying the single issues since then.

Looking back on the series, the thing that strikes me most is just how good all of it is. It’s pretty astonishing to think that after 160 issues you can consider the whole and not find a single weak point. There’s arcs that are better than others, of course, but there wasn’t a single issue that I wasn’t completely engaged in. I have to believe that is one hundred percent a result of giving one man (Bendis) the series and the freedom to tell 160 issues’ worth of comics stories.

Another interesting thing about this series is that despite beginning in the early 2000’s and it now being 2011, only about a year has passed in-story. It makes perfect sense, but it’s weird to think about. It also shows just how skillfully paced the series is, with entire six issue arcs taking place all within a couple of hours or so in the story. What it boils down to, ultimately, is that Bendis has figured out the perfect formula for storytelling. Make no mistake, this series is formulaic as hell, but it’s so natural to the Spider Man mythos (I feel like such an asshole having typed that seriously) that it works to the utmost benefit of the story. Here is the formula: for every five bad things that happen to Peter Parker one good thing happens.

It’s genius. That one good thing makes all the difference in the world. It’s what makes Peter Parker not Matt Murdock.

Also, the series is more about Peter Parker than Spider Man. Yeah, Peter Parker is Spider Man, but you know what I mean. The most interesting parts of the story are the ones where Peter is interacting with the people around him out of costume and trying to live a normal life. He never can, which goes back to the five bad things, but it’s the attempt that makes the character seem real. He wants the same things we want. He does what we would do in his situation. No, that’s not quite right. He does what we hope we would do in his situation. That’s what makes Peter Parker the perfect comic book character.

And Brian Bendis does such a great job over these 160 issues of retelling classic stories or mashing up new ones and old ones or just completely creating new situations that this version of Spider Man, for me, is the definitive one. Of course, it’s not the real Spider Man. But if someone were to ask me what my favorite Spider Man story is, I guarantee it’s going to be something from out of Ultimate Spider Man.

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