After the debacle that was Survive!, writer Brian Michael Bendis returns to the the book that he does best – Ultimate Spider-Man. The series has been running near-continuously since 2000, originally featuring a younger, more modern version of Peter Parker, before Peter died and his title was passed on to a boy named Miles Morales. Back when he debuted in 2011, Miles, a young man of both African-American and Latino descent – seemed to be a direct response to the racist backlash against the movement to cast Donald Glover as Spider-Man. Since then Miles has become his own hero, with his own supporting cast and storylines. Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (which purports to be the third or fourth “final issue” of Ultimate Spider-Man) is more of a reflection of what came before than anything else.
The issue revolves around a celebration of Peter’s life, being held in honor of the second anniversary of his death. All of Peter’s supporting characters are in attendance, as are Miles and his friend Ganke. Death has been a pretty big deal in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe; when characters die, they really tend to stay dead. And despite Peter’s impending return in the regular Marvel Universe, the Ultimate line seemed to be content in sticking with its new Spider-Man.
The first dozen or so pages of the issue are dedicated to the individual characters attending Aunt May’s get-together. Miles, Ganke, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Jessica Drew (a female clone of Peter Parker), and pretty much anybody who was friends with Peter all show up. Each page has a new character entering the scene, giving Bendis plenty of time to show off with his dialogue. Everybody has pretty much the same voice, but the banter is at least entertaining this time, unlike in Survive!
The art throughout this section is provided by David Marquez, and is colored by Justin Ponsor. Marquez is the regular artist on the book, and he often has a really good grasp on the character, especially in the action scenes. Unfortunately Marquez does not get to draw Miles in costume at all in this issue; this is a low-key affair – no costumes necessary. Any greater good that is worked toward is of the garden variety. Regardless, Marquez acquits himself admirably, though his figures begin to look rushed the further we get into the issue.
At the halfway mark Peter’s various friends begin to imagine what the young man’s life would have been like had he not died so young. Several different artists associated with the USM brand step in to help with these fantasy sequences, including Mark Bagley & Andrew Hennessy, David Lafuente, Sara Pichelli, and Mark Brooks (Ponsor continues to color all the splash pages). The contributions of these creators, as well as the reflective nature of the issue’s story, really drive home the issue’s status as a look back at the series history.
The issue works as a bit of nostalgia for those familiar with the series (though I have not read all 200 issues), but it is not very effective as a piece of entertainment for a fresh pair of eyes, which is what you might expect from an anniversary issue hoping to get attention on the comic book shelves. Everything that happens is deeply steeped in the history of not just the Ultimate Spider-Man mythos, but the Ultimate Universe in general. The book ends with a bit of a tease, that can’t possibly be as striaghtforward as it seems, but even if it is I would be okay with that because this is one book where Bendis tends to earn my faith.
Bendis, Marquez and company do not craft an accessible issue of comics in Ultimate Spider-Man #200. Instead they have produced a tribute to everything they have created – one that isn’t entirely different from Survive!, but is way more effective. Even though the series will be continuing next month with a new title, after 200 issues I think the creators are allowed to take a victory lap. Especially if it manages to be funny and entertaining.