Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 Review
Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 Review by Donna Jackson
Written by Brian Bendis
Art by David Lafuente
Ultimate Spider-Man is the perfect alternative to the current version in the Marvel Universe, where Parker's female and unemployment problems come off as depressing and kind of pathetic. In the Ultimate Universe, Peter Parker is still 16, dealing with all the turmoil of high school life, and unlike 616 Spider-Man, this one is still loved by Mary Jane Watson. They may not have had a marriage to be taken away by the Devil, but they are together in love in the way only teenage kids can be. In this third Annual issue, MJ and Peter discuss whether they're ready to take their relationship to the next level. Not an easy topic to tackle, especially for the company's flagship hero. Fortunately, Brian Bendis has had 100+ issues to show how well he writes and understands these characters, and though the book is lighter on action than you would expect in an Annual, the focus on Spider-MJ's romance is as alive and as entertaining as it has been since the start of the series.
Peter and MJ have had their share of issues, though for them these usually involve supervillains attacking their school, fighting in the White House lawn with the Ultimates, and Peter dating X-Men and fellow student Kitty Pryde. Yet through thick and thin, they managed to make it work through problems that would have sent the average teenage couples running for the hills. And now, as with any young couple, they begin to discuss the possibility of finally going all the way. Just the mention of it creates an off-panel rift within their relationships, keeping Peter's mind occupied as he helps the police stop a runaway car with an invisible driver. Meanwhile, Jessica Jones, married to Luke Cage in the regular Marvel Universe, now is the editor of the high school newspaper, and has decided that with the knowledge that Spider-Man is a student who goes to their high school, uncovering his secret identity is a surefire way for the newspaper staff (all four of them) to get into the college of their choice.
Too keep things from being too dramatic, there is a great subplot about a new villain in Spider-Man's rogue gallery. Ultimate Mysterio makes his debut as a high-tech bank robber in cahoots with the police department's technician. His new modern redesign looks great, switching the big dome fishbowl head for what seems to be no head at all, just a mysterious cloud of smoke. It works great in context of the book, and although his appearance is brief, we will no doubt be seeing more of him in the future.
David Lafuente's style isn't what we're used to seeing in USM. It takes a more manga-like approach than Stuart Immonen, the current artist of the series. However, he does score a few cool points with the redesigned Mysterio, some dramatic facial expressions, and a funny shot of Spider-Woman, lampooning her new role as a Skrull in Secret Invasion.
There's no real resolution to Mary Jane and Peter's problem. They basically learn that MJ is not as prudish as she may seem, and Peter is not the sex-crazed teenage boy he could be. Whether they decide to take that next step into their relationship, I will not spoil. In the middle of the current symbiote-filled arcs that are taking up just about every Spider-book, it's good to have a reminder of how entertaining and endearing these characters can be, although I hope that for next year's Annual, we get a story that gives us the classic Spider-Man action as well as the focus on his private life. Bendis can do it. He's been doing it for five years and counting.