The Problem with Death of Spider-Man

July 5th, 2011 by | Tags: , , , , ,

Gavok note: For the past year or so in my This Week in Panels series, panels for Ultimate Spider-Man have been supplied every month by regular reader Michael Stangeland, otherwise known as Space Jawa. With Ultimate Peter Parker’s corpse still a bit fresh, Jawa wanted to touch on his perspective of the mini-event. Since we’re always open to reader guest articles, I was more than happy to oblige.

I’ll admit right off the bat that when I first heard about Bendis’ The Death of Spider-Man story arc, I was concerned. Initially, it was worry about the titular character actually biting it, in spite of how he’s been around since the launch of Marvel’s Ultimate line-up. So it’s entirely possible that my reaction to how the story actually went there and did what’s previously only been done in a few dozen different issues of What-If?.

However, I’d also like to be able to think that I’m not that close-minded. After all, I was willing to see the entirety of the story arc through before passing final judgment, and I recognize that sometimes, character death is for the best, and a lot of great things can come out of it. After all, look at what Brubaker did with killing off Steve Rogers (before he brought him back, of course).

And for a world to truly move forwards, sometimes the characters we know and love have to move on so the next generation of great characters can take their turn in the spotlight and provide new story opportunities. When I first read Lord of the Rings back when I was in grade school, my gut reaction was to be disappointed that Bilbo wouldn’t be the main character again. Fortunately, I moved past that quickly enough and was able to get through the entirety of JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece.

So I’m hoping that I’m being honest with myself that the real reason for my distaste for the whole Death of Spider-Man arc is truly in reaction to how it was carried out rather than the end result. If it looks otherwise after I’ve said my piece, I encourage you to call me out on it.

I wish I could say that the use of “proudly” wasn’t meant to be serious.

The first major problem with Death of Spider-Man shows up in the very first three pages of the story. The major driving force behind Ultimate Pete’s death is that Norman Osborn is back from the dead. Of course, characters coming back from the dead isn’t anything that comics are unfamiliar with.

Problem is, this is Marvel’s Ultimate Comics universe. And if I’m not mistaken, one of the major points that has been made about the UC is that when characters die, they stay dead. Something that brings it even closer to being set in the “real world” than the classic 616 universe.

Worse, not only is Norman Osborn back from the dead, but not once over the course of the story is an answer provided as to why he’s back from the dead. Not even a pseudo-scientific answer. All they do is say he’s back from the dead, point out he’s back from the dead, and then try to hand wave it away by saying they don’t know why he’s back from the dead.

Even Director Danvers and Norman Osborn himself recognize that Osborn shouldn’t be here.

It was right there that I got my first real bad gut feeling about what direction Ultimate Spider-Man was going. Had I known then what I know now, I’m not sure I would have stuck with the story all the way through.

So Norman then proceeds to show that not only is he back from the dead, he’s also come back at full-power, and then uses said power to not only free himself, but the rest of the Sinister Six.

But as it turns out, none of them are responsible for killing Spider-Man. No, what kills Spider-Man is one of two things, depending on how you look at the situation.

It’s either A – A bullet from the Punisher that was meant for Captain America, B – Pete’s own stupidity, or C – Both options. Which is the second major problem with Death of Spider-Man.

Consider the sequence below:

I get the idea that Spider-Man wants to save Captain America. I can respect Pete trying to intervene in a fight he’s already been told to stay away from in order to keep Punisher from offing Steve (at least, from his perspective).

But the way he does it does not come across as the behavior of someone with a great deal of intelligence and combat experience. And Spider-Man, even Ultimate Spider-Man, is supposed to be someone with plenty of both. Bendis even made a point of pointing out how smart he is in the Ultimate Doomdsay miniseries trilogy.

So why does Pete resort to tackling Captain America and taking the bullet for him? It can’t possibly be faster than tackling Punisher himself. Especially not when he has his webbing, which he’s shown to shoot at the very same girder that Punisher is standing on, while in the process of swinging to block the Punisher’s shot. And I find it hard to believe that this is Pete simply trying to stick Punisher but missing – he can’t possibly be that bad a shot.

The third major problem brings us back to Osborn, and his role in the story after he comes back from the dead. To sum it up – Bendis turns Osborn into the Ultimate Marvel version of Doomsday. He serves no purpose in the story other than to kill Spider-Man. Worse? At least Doomsday was the actual threat of the Death of Superman story and responsible for killing him.

Spider-Man, however, dies on account of a bullet wound. A bullet wound he takes because he couldn’t stop Punisher directly for some reason. And which doesn’t kill him directly, but instead bleeds out, since he can’t go to the hospital to get it patched up because Norman Osborn is back from the dead for some unspecified reason and Spider-Man has to stop him, lest he kill everyone that Peter cares about. And, in true plot device fashion, as soon as Spider-Man is beyond hope of saving, Osborn dies. Again.

So the question is, why did Spider-Man have to die? And if his death was really so necessary, why was he unable to come up with a means of doing so that doesn’t insult my intelligence? That doesn’t leave me with this extreme feeling of frustration? That doesn’t leave me thinking I’ll probably stop reading New Avengers simply because Bendis is on such thin ice as far as I’m concerned? (Though I suppose it does help that New Avengers felt like it was weakening from the original reason I started reading it, anyway)

And was his death really so necessary as to cut short the entertaining new direction the comic was taking post-Ultimatum? Dare I say it, I would have been willing to argue that what Bendis was doing with the lemons Leob handed him almost made the whole mess of a crossover worth it (well, that and the Ultimate Edit series). Out of the whole Magneto fiasco, Ultimate Spider-Man was taking a path even further removed from his 616 origins and making for an incredibly entertaining read.

JJJ went from a detractor of Spider-Man’s to one of his supporters, and then discovered his secret identity and offered to help Peter in whatever way he could.

Human Torch and Iceman both moved into Peter’s house, creating their own little miniature Avengers Mansion.

Kitty Pride took on a new identity as Ultimate Shroud, and discovered a new use for her powers that made an incredible amount of sense.

And then there’s the arc that was just getting warmed up where Spider-Man was taking after-school hero lessons from Iron Man, Captain America, and most likely Thor later on.

Oh, the tragic irony. In a cemetery, even.

But in spite of it all, and probably against my better judgment, I’m willing to give Bendis a chance to make up for this whole mess. A chance to prove that this was just a bad fluke. That he’s still capable of writing Ultimate Spider-Man at a level that kept me entertained the last time around. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for at least issue #1 of the new series with the new Spider-Man.

I’ll even try to do it with an open mind – who knows, maybe he’ll actually manage to pull something really entertaining out of this mess of a story arc, like he did when he managed to take the series an entertaining new direction following Ultimatum.

But I’ll be holding it to an extremely high standard. I’ll be looking for a new Spider-Man who doesn’t come across as some kind of carbon copy of Peter Parker. And I’ll be expecting the series to hit the ground running, with some sort of bang right out of the gate.

Because if it doesn’t, I may very well be done with not just with Ultimate Spider-Man, but with the Ultimate imprint all together.

Here’s hoping I don’t end up regretting giving Bendis even that much.

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8 comments to “The Problem with Death of Spider-Man”

  1. :negativeman: s..spider-man…

  2. Well, now I know how this ended.

    I was in the same spot as you, except I cut out when Octavius died. After Ultimate Doomsday ended I was only reading USM, and was excited to see where we’d go with a repentant Octavius and Peter Parker as one of the top minds of the Ultimate universe.

    Then the man who wrote that miniseries, who gave us these plots to play with, and who had been the only person whose stuff I read in it until some of the fall titles were announced… just sort of let that drop for god knows why. (Also, why were the Ultimates fighting? Did they explain that after I quit reading? I didn’t pick up the crossover issues.) It felt really, really poorly thought out, and because of that I just stopped reading there, telling myself I’d get the trade if I heard this cleaned up in the end.

    I won’t buy the trade and I’ll probably wait on it for the first collection of the next USM relaunch.

  3. @Syrg: The Ultimates stuff is explained in Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates. Danvers’ squad was investigating something and discovered that Nick Fury was up to no good. Fury’s squad was investigating something and discovered that Danvers was up to no good. Both squads fight it out, Danvers is hit by a car, Fury is captured and Tony Stark’s asshole brother takes over SHIELD. It’s revealed that he set this whole thing up and now it’s everyone vs. him.

  4. Maybe Bendis envisioned something different than what was drawn, or does he do the art too? Because as far as I can tell, Spidy is right by the Punisher and like a quarter mile from Cap, then suddenly he’s on the other side of Cap and taking a bullet for him. I’m hoping it’s just bad art, because Bendis is one of the only ‘high profile’ comic writers that are worth a crap these days and I’d hate to have to pin it on him…

  5. THANK YOU! Space you hit my problem with the whole storyline in a nutshell. We have seen Spidey avoid lasers, explosions, bullets, deathtrap-like situations, betrayals, and even renegade clones. So instead of using his head and using his webbing and experience to save Cap or stop the Punisher, he leaps out like a punk and takes the bullet. Riiiight…so the foundation of this major event is built upon something Spidey wouldn’t do with his intelligence…. Can you say “One More Day” redux?

    I didn’t even think of the Norman Osborn / Ultimate Universe rules Macguffin but that’s even worse than the previous point…

    What I did like were the characterizations of Spidey’s supporting cast. However, the whole Ultimates War situation was tacky and redundant. For a death like this, I wish it had a better story surrounding it… :raise:

  6. I think calling it a redux of “One More Day” is a tad harsh, though I understand what you’re getting it. The whole event was driven by and made possible by out-of-character moments and violations in the assumed laws of Ultimate Spider-Mans universe.

    At least here, the out of character moments were driven by Spider-Mans selfless desire to help others, save people, and take responsibility for things, even at his own expense (a personality trait which I think is very much in character for him) rather than by his selfish wants. Not that it makes the out-of-character moments that enable his death any more acceptable, mind you.

    You know what I mean?

  7. You know you are right Space, I should clarify that it isn’t One More Day. I just meant it is like it in the fact that the story is built upon a moment that is contrary to what we know from Peter’s intelligence.

    I mean I could see Peter doing what he did….in the early going of the series. Now, he is experienced…and BENDIS himself had the character state that in the text a few times, most notably in the fights he has against opponents the second time….

    So it is a criticism that was only created from Bendis’ writing….

  8. About the only part of this arc that felt anywhere near right to me was the continuing evolution of Norman’s obsession with Peter, which has gone through various phases that roughly mirror the much longer course seen in the original comics – Spiderman as thorn in his side, as a stupid kid not realizing his amazing gift (and what it’s worth), as a product of Norman’s own genius, as a far better successor to the Osborn legacy than Harry, through pure savage hatred and finally to this almost self-transcending belief that it his divine destiny to kill Peter. Obviously this last one wasn’t really seen in the original comics (where even the craziest Osborn is still pretty agnostic*), but it’s also serving as the opposite side of the kind of spiritual rebirth seen with Ultimate Jonah Jameson, who also suffered a near-death experience and came out believing that he was put on Earth to deal with Spiderman (in his case, as guardian angel). Believing himself to be doing God’s work also serves as the kind of final step of Ultimate Osborn’s delusions, which were emphasized from fairly early on in the series. And you can also read into Norman still fighting Otto over who “created” Spiderman, despite wanting to destroy Peter, because Norman has already destroyed everything else in his life (his wife and son, his business and career, his reputation). An argument could even be made that he might view Peter as his last material tie to the world, which is consistent with evolving from “Norman Osborn” and transcending who he used to be.

    (*as much as one can be with Asgard and stuff, naturally)

    Everything else? Geez.

    I don’t know, maybe something good will come of this. Maybe there will be actual stories about Ultimate Spiderwoman, a potentially very fascinating character. Maybe there will be an intelligent examination of the public’s reaction to Spiderman being a teenager who just outright dies in the middle of the suburbs while fighting supervillains, and SHIELD is unable to cover it up (remember Bendis on Daredevil?). Hell, maybe it was all a dream.

    I want to believe something smart is going on here, some deeper exploitation of recurring themes and examination of the cycles the big name heroes are constantly put through. Maybe something about the realities (and personal rejections of reality) that the Ultimate universe would be dealing with to really start moving on from the first “chapter” that Ultimatum supposedly closed. But I’m pretty sure it’s all just dumb. A big, familiar pile of dumb. Mmmm, the great taste of normal superhero comics.