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Ultimate Spidey #111: The End of an Era

Stuart Immonen Variant Cover for Ultimate Spider-Man Issue 111I know this post is about a week late –I think my colleague Chris Dooley put it best when he texted me yesterday succinctly calling me a “slacker”– but I couldn’t let the publication of Ultimate Spider-Man Issue 111 pass unnoticed. For this issue marked the end of the longest continuous run of a creative team since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s 102 issues of Fantastic Four. Starting next month, Brian Michael Bendis’ trusty sidekick Mark Bagley will be stepping down on their enormously popular series, making way for Nextwave veteran Suart Immomen to take the visual reins. Truly, the end of an era.

Bagley’s influence isn’t simply noted by fanboys. With everything from beach towels to action figures to video games, his vision of Spider-Man has become the mainstream conception of the wall-crawler, second only to Tobey Maguire. I was interviewing Bendis a few years ago and he related an experience he had had in a Target with his daughter. She had found a Spider-Man doll and ran to him asking him to buy it, “and it was Bagley’s Spider-Man!” he exclaimed. “They should have been paying me for it!” Not a bad bit of work for an artist who admitted in his farewell note at the end of last week’s issue that it took Marvel Executive Vice President Bill Jemas’s insistence over his “idiotic objections” to take the job in the first place.

What began as an 11-page experiment in reinventing Peter Parker has blossomed into an entire Ultimate Universe, all thanks to the efforts of Bagley and Bendis. So I’m happy to say that in what was bound to be a momentous issue, the passing of the torch to Immonen was both stylistically and narratively flawless.
Let’s talk first about the concept of the story: the inevitable and much-anticipated conversation between Peter and Aunt May about her nephew’s arachnid moonlighting. Peter must explain his ambitions, his motivations, and the thousands upon thousands of snarky thought bubbles that had up until then gone unsaid, going full-circle to the very first issue–the best endings, after all, always go back to the beginning.
Page 12 from Ultimate Spider-man Issue 111
And so it was a beginning for Immonen, whose six-page interlude describing, well, an indescribable encounter with a villain who seems to have the power to create black holes (Ultimate Spot). Physically disjointed from Bendis’s writing and almost a complete story within itself, the interlude serves as both a chance for Immonen to prove he’s got what it takes to fill Bagley’s shoes, and to introduce the reader to the drastic new look of the comic. I for one am glad for the change–until last week a small part of me feared Immonen would be stuck doing Bagley impressions if for no other reason than Marvel’s desire to sell more bobble-head dolls. But as this issue marked the end of one chapter of Peter Parker’s life and the beginning of another, Immonen’s Spider-Man seems more grown up–no longer the gangly teenager with disproportioned limbs that Bagley so perfected. Immonen is also less literal, more interpretive with his depictions of characters. Never before has J. Jonah Jameson appeared so 1980s in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man.

The new Spidey will take some getting used to–I for one will miss Bagley’s interpretation of MJ, who has never looked hotter under his skillful pencil…erm, that sounded gross. Anyways, with the passing of Bagley I predict a new direction for Spider-Man, one that we can only hope is as rich as the first 111 issues were. And if not, hey, and least we have Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends to look forward to!! Or not?…

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