Ultimate Spider-Man #1 has a flying car in it

Today saw the release of Ultimate Spider-Man #1, a series connected to the new Marvel Studios cartoon. This is one of two comics editor Steve Wacker is associated with, which have the aim of revamping the phrase “all-ages” and changing the perception. Which, I think they mostly manage to do here. In interviews, the creative team have all made it clear that they don’t want “all-ages” to mean “only for little kids” anymore. It means a comic which anyone can pick up, safe in the knowledge they’re picking up something that’s simply fun, and not violent, sweary, or nudity-filled.
To create such a comic, Wacker has managed to assemble an incredibly impressive creative team. The Men of Action (the studio which includes Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and others) are in charge of the main story, while writers like Harrison Wilcox (from She-Hulks! I miss She-Hulks) contribute throwaway one-pagers and Dan Slott/Ty Templeton create a back-up. All in all, there’s more content in this comic than you can find most anywhere else, and a real sense of creative freedom. Sure, the writers and artists have to pretty much stick to, y’know, Spider-Man’s history and all, but they do so in a succession of weird and inventive ways, which pays lip-service to the original story and then spins off into its own little world.
It probably helps that the book actually does exist in a self-contained Universe. The series is set in the world of the cartoon series, which means Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson, the entire cast are back in school, Agent Coulson is apparently the principal of said school, and Uncle Ben taught Peter karate. Herein lies one of the problems with the book – there’s so much going on, it’s hard to keep track. It’s assumed that everyone will know the origin of Spider-Man, because the way the Men of Action choose to explain it is the most over-elaborate, tossed-away, hyper-convoluted narrative I’ve read since DC relaunched Superman with George Perez. We find out the story partly through a nursery rhyme, then Peter himself breaks the fourth wall to explain it further whilst fighting Shocker, and barely anything actually gets explained. New readers are going to be super, super-confused.
The story itself is an utterly manic thing, with artist Nuno Plati going completely overboard in an impressive, Max Fiumara-esque manner. Characters don’t necessarily need to bear any resemblance to actual humans, and the bodies and proportions fly all over the place in favour of silly, funny layouts. Plati struggles a little at times to put expression onto Spider-Man’s face – not an easy task – but his overexaggerated work is great fun, and fits the script perfectly. The scripting, though, is all over the place. Some parts of the book work brilliantly, and other parts are confused. And some parts directly steal a scene from Scott Pilgrim.
Dan Slott/Ty Templeton’s backup story is a bit of a relief to read, because at least it gives readers a chance to keep up with what’s going on. This is all about clone robots and SHIELD messing with Peter’s social life, and would really have made a better main feature than the one we’ve got. The jokes have a higher hit-to-miss ratio, and there’s some obvious Dan Slott touches. Also some obvious Ty Templeton touches, as he’s the one who writes the script and does so with obvious glee. There’s also a feature called ‘Marvel Mash-Up’, where contemporary writers take a page of classic Amazing Spider-Man and re-write the dialogue. So Harrison Wilcox take a page of J. Jonah. Jameson in his office and turns it into a bizarre hamburger story, while Todd Casey suggests that Spider-Man, caught short while web slinging, decides to do the unthinkable. It’s surprising to read, but enjoyable as a concept. It also gives Clayton Cowles a difficult job to do as letter, as he has to re-appropriate the word balloons and cram different dialogue into them. It’s close, but he manages to just about keep things within the lines, and keep the feel of the stories relatively intact. It’s also interesting to see the style of art clash with the silliness of the text.
While the main story of Ultimate Spider-Man feels a little wearying and overdone, the overall style of the book is aces. Editors Steve Wacker and Ellie Pyle are unafraid to take the stories into weird places, and it pays off overall. Ultimate Spider-Man is a slight stumble at the same time that it’s a leap forwards for the concept of “All-Ages”.
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