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Marvel Reveals ‘Ultimate Death of Spider-Man’ in Mainstream Media [Spoilers]

Echoing the media full-court press that Marvel employed with the death of Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four #587, Marvel has released big news about the conclusion of the “Death of Spider-Man” storyline in USA Today, the New York Post and the Associated Press. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man #160, which hits stores Wednesday to finish the storyarc, is polybagged, presumably to protect the plot points inside from being spoiled by distributors and retailers who receive the issue in shipments today. This seems astonishingly pointless when Marvel is just going to reveal the specifics — and entire pages — to mainstream media outlets a full day before it hits the shelves. SPOILERS FOLLOW.It turns out that, yes, in Ultimate Spider-Man #160, the conclusion of the “Death of Spider-Man” storyline, (Ultimate) Spider-Man dies, which directly contradicts a scene from Bendis’s own Ultimate Doom miniseries, published only a few months ago, and undoubtedly taking place far less than a year ago in “comic book time”:

It’s a move that, I guess, could hardly be considered surprising — the name of the story, emblazoned on the cover of each issue, is “Death of Spider-Man,” after all — but there was always the possibility that the “death” might be metaphorical. The news reports go a step further than simply announcing Peter Parker’s demise, and go into fairly explicit detail about the circumstances, where Peter Parker dies saving Aunt May from the Green Goblin. Because it is apparently now a major character trait of Peter Parker to sacrifice his own life and happiness for family members four times his age who knew what they were getting into and have already lived a full life. Bendis holds out no hope for a resurrection, telling the New York Post that “there’s a real point to this and the point doesn’t work if we don’t stick to our guns.”

That point, according to his interview with USA Today, is that it will allow Peter Parker — who dies with his mask off, fully exposing his identity and circumstances — to inspire another young hero to fill his shoes the same way Peter’s guilt over not being able to save his Uncle Ben inspired him. This detail implies that the young hero who will become the new Spider-Man in next month’s Ultimate Fallout series will feel in some way responsible for Peter’s demise, much as Peter felt over Uncle Ben.

Perhaps most puzzling about Marvel’s decision to use major news outlets to trumpet this book’s existence and conclusion is the fact that it’s an alternate-universe version of Spider-Man, a detail that I imagine will be lost on the majority of the audience they expect to gain, who likely have no idea who or what an Ultimate Spider-Man is, or why they should care that he died.

As good as the issue may be — and considering the rather stellar creative track record USM has had over the last decade, it’s probably pretty damn good — I continue to be mystified as to why Marvel kneecaps the emotional impact of their own stories by trumpeting their conclusions in advance. I acknowledge that the Ultimate line is trailing in sales, much like Hickman’s Fantastic Four run, and likely needs a gigantic shot in the arm in one form or another. Yes, it worked for FF, which has gone from a top 50 book to a top 10 book with Johnny Storm’s death and the subsequent relaunch. And yes, Marvel doesn’t do this with every major death, such as that of Bucky Barnes in the third issue of the summer blockbuster Fear Itself, but this makes for two full-court spoiler presses this year alone in the name of increasing sales and visibility through traditional (and, in the case of the NYP, incredibly sensationalistic) news outlets.

The current form of the Ultimate Universe will be laid to rest in next month’s Ultimate Fallout miniseries, before being completely rebooted in July with new #1s for Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men and of course Ultimate Spider-Man, which will retain Bendis and bring on new artist Sara Pichelli, as well as a new, unrevealed character to carry on the Spider-Man legacy. Whether this gambit will translate into a commercial rejuvenation for the Ultimate franchise remains to be seen.

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