With the amount of national news media hay that Marvel is making out of Brian Michael Bendis' The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man, you'd think they were killing off the real Spider-Man or something. Seriously, they've got him in the New York Post, Newsarama, the Associated Press and even the USA Today. Apparently, the DC Reboot has hogged the mainstream spotlight too long.
Way back in 2000, Bendis and artist Mark Bagley began an experiment that focused on providing us all an alternate universe where the story of Peter Parker's transformation into Spider-Man could be retold from a contemporary point of view, free of the trappings of canon and continuity. Now, 11 years later, Bagley has returned for the swan song of Parker's short, but highly eventful super-hero career, coming full circle by losing his life in the effort to save his Aunt May from the Green Goblin, finally making amends for his failure in saving his Uncle Ben.
"Listen, I sat there typing this thing with tears in my eyes like a big baby!" Bendis said. "I went upstairs to my wife, and I go, 'I am so embarrassed. I think I've literally been crying for 45 minutes.' I've had real things happen in my life I didn't cry about, and yet I'm crying about this. I became very proud of it, and that's not an adjective I often put on myself."
Bendis has written every issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, through the early-00s heyday through the recent Jeph Loeb/Ultimatum-induced nadir of the Ultimate universe, and Marvel is hoping this will help this once-beloved alternate reality find its footing again.
"It occurred to me that if Peter passed away in a meaningful way," Bendis explains on the genesis of this idea that would be groundbreaking if it wasn't some alternate universe, "he could be the Uncle Ben character to a new Spider-Man, which then continues it to be a real Spider-Man story. Then it became more than just, 'Oh my God, you killed him!'"
Did Bendis also kill off the Ultimate Green Goblin in this story? "I am completely leaving that up to interpretation," Bendis answers. "There's a lot of finality to the issue, so I'm going to leave that one open."
For all the crap I've given Bendis about some of his other efforts, the fact remains that his work with Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man was often some really wonderful stuff. His slow start out the gate to quietly build this new reality in which a gawky teen with spider-powers was strange and surreal was the perfect way to do it. Unfortunately, as soon as Mark Millar's follow-up Ultimate X-Men debuted with giant killer death robots on the opening page, that would come to characterize the hit-and-miss nature of the whole enterprise. But when a character dies, it's a time of remembering the good and less of the bad.
So here's the sneak peek at the big finale of the character into which Bendis and Bagley breathed such a touching, funny, emotional, dramatic, heroic and humble life. A life well lived.
"This character represents more of me than almost any other character I write, including ones I've invented whole cloth," Bendis says. "This is a character I'm very connected to both professionally and personally, and I've shown more of myself in this character than I've shown in other places. Why I've killed him? That's another thing for another therapy session, but this could not be more important to me. To screw it up would be a complete failure on my part on numerous levels."
To further drive the sadness home, here's Joe Quesada's variant cover for the issue, entitled "Not a Dry Eye in the House."
That's right. Ben Parker had a pony tail in Ultimateland.
Of course, the death of Peter Parker doesn't mean the end of Spider-Man. He did mention Peter being an Uncle Ben style inspiration to someone else, and the mantle of Spider-Man will be picked up. We don't know who exactly it'll be just yet, but we do have the image of the new Ultimate Spider-Man #1 coming down the pike. It'll be written by Bendis with artist Sara Pichelli, after a six-issue bridge miniseries entitled Ultimate Fallout, which Bendis will co-write with Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer.
Will this be a new dawn for the Ultimate universe, which seems to have lost much of its relevance since so many of the originators jumped to the main 616 Marvel universe to twist that into something beyond recognition? Or will The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man serve as the swan song for the entire line, and Marvel just isn't quite aware of it yet?
That remains to be seen, but to anyone expecting an eventual resurrection, Bendis has every intention of denying you. "This is the last hurrah. This is it," he said. "There's a real point to this and the point doesn't work if we don't stick to our guns."