Peter Benjamin Parker, Ultimate Spider-Man, has died after succumbing to injuries at the hands of the Norman Osborn and a gunshot wound from protecting Captain Steve Rogers of the Ultimates. He is survived by his aunt, May Parker, his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson, his roommates and friends, Johnny Storm (publicly known as the Human Torch), Bobby Drake (the mutant Iceman) and Gwen Stacy, daughter of deceased police officer George Stacy. He is preceded in death by his father and mother, Richard and Mary Parker, his uncle Ben Parker, and his friend James Howlett (the mutant Wolverine). He was 16.
Death in comics is a slippery slope. As much as I could write about death, I could write about resurrection. The most recent big-profile death (the mainstream Marvel version of Johnny Storm) was marred with comments of how the character’s death will be reversed in no time. Marvel Comics itself has declared that, until further notice, there will be a death in their comics every quarter, while at the same time, DC cemented the closing of its revolving door of resurrections with the end of last year’s Blackest Night crossover, though with their impending reboot, this could be circmnavigated. Death is big business. One only needs to see what the Death of Superman arc in the 90s did for the comics industry to see the business logic of death in comics. Hell, in the two years I have been writing this blog, I have reported on two major deaths and resurrections.
The one place that does not seem to be a problem is with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, the line of comics that take all of Marvel’s biggest names and re-imagines them as if they were created in the 21st century. With this line, which has had the unique privilege of being crafted mainly by three writers (Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar and Jeph Loeb), death has been permanent. This is impressive seeing as they have knocked off roughly a third of their established properties (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Professor X, Magneto, Daredevil (two different people, both dead) most of the X-Men and Nick Fury). The stakes are high in the Ultimate line. Over the course of the 160 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, time and time again, Peter Parker has been warned of the dangerous life he is living. Other heroes would tell him that he is in over his head or be worried about what kind of person Spider-Man would become when Peter Parker has faced innumerable threats much darker and deadlier than the real Peter Parker ever faced at 16.
The world as it was when Marvel first launched its characters and the world in which the Ultimate line started are two completely different places. The Ultimate line was launched in the wake of 9-11; its characters were decidedly grittier, now molded with the cynicism of the 2000s, versus the optimism of the 1960s and the advent of the Silver Age of comics. And with that, the reality of a 15 year old kid becoming a hero becomes much darker. Villains are terrorists, henchmen are willing to die and take as many people with them. How does the naïve notion of good compete against such hardened hatred? In the hands of such a strong writer as Bendis, the Death of Spider-Man was the inevitable course of the storyline and he did not shy away, nor did his amazing (or should I say “ultimate?”) collaborator, Mark Bagley, who remains, just short of the Romitas, the most important Spider-Man artist in the character’s history. The two of them have crafted this character. With the exception of about 30-40 issues, Bagley drew the character for his whole history and aside from Ultimatum and a needless cameo in Ultimates 3, Bendis has written every line of dialogue for Ultimate Spider-Man. This is their creation more than anyone else’s and they clearly love the character, taking him to death’s door because that is where his life led. No punches were pulled, but it never once felt gratuitous or needless. The arc is wrenching and agonizing, but the best of what Ultimate Spider-Man had to offer: heartbreaking and hilarious, loving and brutal, but ultimately, no matter the cost, it remained true to the spirit of Spider-Man. Truly, with great power comes great responsibility.
Spider-Man is my hero, my favorite, but Ultimate Spider-Man is my Spider-Man. Ultimate Peter Parker is my Peter Parker. I was about 15 when the book started and as I grew up, though he didn’t age, I got to see Peter grow up as well. I am sad to see that he is dead. Marvel has already stated that there will be a new Spider-Man in the Ultimate line (just in time for the new movie next year). The line has already established that Peter Parker has been and can be cloned and that his powers can be given to another individual. And while I hope to come to love that character as deeply, I know that it will never be the same. But why would I buy something every month for it to be the same thing? The first saga of Ultimate Spider-Man is done. Here is to the next.
Spider-Man Is Dead. Long Live Spider-Man.
All images are copyright of Marvel Comics
For Brian Michael Bendis’ thoughts on the death, check out this quick article from The Guardian