ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN: LEARNING CURVE | Comic Review

I’ve been considering tackling the hefty history of Amazing Spider-Man, but I thought it might make more sense to first run through Ultimate Spider-Man, kicking things off with an updated post from my New to Comics days.

Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Brian Bendis
Art by: Mark Bagley
Year: 2001

Collects: Ultimate Spider-Man #8 – 13

CONTENTS
 – Background
 – Plot
 – Review


WHAT’S THE STORY?

Spider-Man has plenty of enemies. Doctor Octopus. The Green Goblin. Venom. The Sinister Six. 

But another major player who seems to be vying to take on the title of one of Spider-Man’s arch-enemies in recent years is…

KINGPIN

Real Name: Wilson Grant Fisk
Affiliation: N/A
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #50 (July 1967)

Starting out in life as a poor, obese child, Wilson Fisk was always destined for a life of crime. Teaching himself to fight and building muscle mass on top of his already sizeable physique to fight back against his bullies, Fisk soon found himself in a job as a bodyguard. From there, he was employed by the crime-lord Don Rigoletto and used his cunning and incredible strength to rise through the ranks. Through his criminal enterprises, Fisk developed a sizeable wealth, which he put into legitimate businesses, allowing him to have a public persona alongside his secret dealings as the up-and-coming Kingpin of Crime. With his wife Vanessa Mariana at his side, Kingpin slowly took over all of New York, dominating the underworld and the public sector alike. His crimes would bring him into conflict with superheroes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil, but due to his many connections, any charges levelled against him rarely stick.

While Kingpin is more commonly associated with Daredevil (having appeared in a multitude of Daredevil comics as well as both the Ben Affleck-starring film and the Charlie Cox-led Television series), he actually originated (as you’ll see above) as a Spider-Man villain. 

The Kingpin’s status as a major Spider-Man foe is something that has cropped up a few times in recent years. At the time of (re-)writing this post, the Amazing Spider-Man series is setting things up for a major confrontation between Spidey and Fisk, and in the past few years, we’ve seen the Kingpin menace Spider-Man and New York in not only Into the Spider-Verse, but also Spider-Man on PS4. 

Spider-ManPS4 Kingpin 1

This probably in part due to the fact that both of those latter two properties take inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. In Marvel’s Ultimate Comics universe, the Kingpin is once again primarily a Spider-Man foe. He has conflicts with Daredevil, yes, but due to the fact that Spider-Man was the only hero to have a continuous ongoing series for the entire runtime of the Ultimate Comics universe, he and Kingpin’s rivalry got a lot more page time. 

Their conflict begins near the beginning of Ultimate Spider-Man’s story, volume two in the series, in fact. So if you’ve already read Power & Responsibility, then you’ll have the complete picture.

But surely, by now, you know Spider-Man’s deal. Bitten by a radioactive spider, uses his powers to become a wrestler, neglects his responsibility to stop a criminal, and is later haunted by the death of his uncle – gunned down by the very same crook he refused to apprehend.

Knowing that, you’re pretty much all set for this volume. And really, if you’re wanting to read a true Spider-Man tale, it wouldn’t hurt to start here as it means you skip five or so issues of Peter slowly trudging towards actually becoming Spider-Man, as seen in volume one.


WHAT’S THE PLOT?

Fresh from his battle with the Green Goblin, Spider-Man is trying to return to his normal life as Peter Parker. Still strapped for cash and struggling with the various social pitfalls of High School life, Peter finds himself taking on more responsibility as he starts a part-time job at the Daily Bugle newspaper.

However, when this world of fast-paced journalism reveals a powerful figure behind the killer of his Uncle Ben, and organised crime in general, Peter realises it’s up to Spider-Man to bring down this nefarious ‘Kingpin’ of crime.

Out of his depth and against an untouchable enemy, Spider-Man is going to have to think smart to topple the Kingpin’s criminal empire.


REVIEW:

As with volume one, reading this comic reminds me why Brian Bendis is so popular (something you might not understand if you’d only read his contemporary writings). He just gets these characters so well; capturing the youth of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane, their voices, their trials and their mannerisms; the grief stewing inside Aunt May; the anger of Wilson Fisk. It’s all golden.

Seeing this younger Spider-Man – with his naivety and need for further development – makes for an immensely enjoyable story. It has that ‘classic’ feel about it; seeing Spider-Man interact with some of his major foes for the first time in simple stories, but with a modern twist that means it’s not just ‘Spider-Man faces ____ for the first time, and must contend with his madcap scheme!’

Wilson Fisk and Electro have a purpose beyond just being your typical sixties supervillains, and so it makes their fights with Spider-Man seem more real and thus, acceptable.

Furthermore, the updating of the Daily Bugle, bringing them into the twenty-first century and giving Peter Parker a different role as part of it makes for an interesting contrast with the mainline comic books. Bendis really dives at the chance to utilise a secondary source of characters and drama outside of Pete’s high school, and he does so to great effect. 

Bagley also deserves a lot of the credit here, as he imbues his character drawings with a wealth of emotion and energy that really is key to capturing the tone of teenage Spider-Man. And while his Electro redesign isn’t the best, his Kingpin also manages to be the perfect balance between overweight and ridiculously muscular that gives him that imposing iconic figure. 

learning-curve3.jpg

In fact, reading this, the further into the book I got, the more I began to think about how this story-line would have made for a great movie adaptation.

While I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming, imagine how effective it would have been to see him truly work his way from the ground up by facing foes who, effectively have no superpowers or gimmicks, and yet, through their experience are more than a match for him. Replace Electro from the comic-book with Shocker from the movie, and you have more or less the same cast. Furthermore, it would have helped Spider-Man have his own world outside of it just being yet another story where the hero deals with the fallout from Avengers.

Of course, it couldn’t have happened without a lot of forethought on Marvel and Sony’s part, because the Kingpin present in the Marvel Universe does not suit Spider-Man stories at all, but still, it would have been cool.

Overall, this is a strong follow-up to Power & Responsibility, and the perfect comic for entry-level Spider-Man fans. 10/10, would recommend…

Thanks for reading! Do you prefer Kingpin as a Spider-Man or Daredevil foe? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you enjoyed this post, feel free to give it a like and even click that follow button for more New to Comics content! 

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