Next up on our countdown of the best Spider-Man stories is the second arc of Ultimate Spider-Man.
8. Learning Curve (Ultimate Spider-Man #8-13)
Creative Team: Ralph Macchio (Editor), Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Art Thibert (Inker)
What Happened: When Peter Parker googles his Uncle Ben's killer, he follows the connections all the way to the top, to Wilson Fisk. And the little guy with powers decides that he can not abide the continued existence of the Kingpin of Crime. Unfortunately for Spidey, Fisk is tougher than he expected, and has friends with super-powers. Meanwhile, Peter's increased focus on being a superhero hurts his relationship with Mary Jane.
Why It's In The Top 50: Mister Mets praises the title's accessability.
It was a different kind of superhero comic. Writing for the trade started with Ultimate Spider-Man, but because it was so cinematic, this book wase the perfect introduction to Spider-Man. My brothers, and room-mate asked to read them once the stories are complete. Bendis balanced that with inside jokes, and a skill at subverting the expectations of the regular readers, who though they had seen all this stuff before.
This arc resolved the question of whether the Kingpin was one of the best Spider-Man villains, or whether he should just be considered a Daredevil bad guy. It was the perfect choice for this storyline, the first time this Peter Parker tried to be proactive. He had to be humbled, but his subsequent strategy was astounding.
What the pros say: In a Spider-Man writers roundtable for Write Now! magazine, Bendis describes the Kingpin as his favorite Spider-Man villain.
Especially in Ultimate Spider-Man, he represents this hard lesson you learn growing up: that bad people get away with sh*t. He represents all that to Peter. And also, to the Kingpin, Peter is this thing he can't kill. He just can't do it. He just can't get a hand on him. There's nothing he can do do that will make Peter afraid of him, and Peter will just make fat jokes to his face and web his feet to the floor. This image of this man who has tried so hard to accumulate all this wealth and respect, but there's this little f*cker who's not even going to acknowledge ant of it. That's a lot of fun to write.
In Comic Creators on Spider-Man, he explains how he had the confidence to make the 13th issue a conversation between Peter and MJ.
Ultimate Spider-Man is basically a teen drama. I think people are tuning in to see what Peter is doing each month. Anyone can do a comic book plot, but there’s no formula for good characterization. That doesn’t mean the story isn’t important- because it is, of course. Then again, who said that there has to be a fight scene in every issue? That was a fine rule when Marvel first started, but does it really work today? There’s a certain cinematic flavour that people appreciate in today’s comics that didn’t exist back then. There were rules that were created in film in the 1960s which are no longer followed today. Film pushed forward and so should comics. I don’t think we have to have a fight scene in every issue, but I think we still have to be damn interesting and be worth the price of the comic.He also described the process of writing Peter Parker.
Of all the characters I’ve ever written- and I’m including the characters that I’ve created- Peter Parker is the easiest. He is pretty much me. I never opened the wounds of high school in any of my independent work. I just never got around to it. I’m sure I would have eventually, but I never opened that box or dug around in those old memories. I identify with Peter from when I was that age. When I started looking at my own life, It was amazing how fresh the wounds are. I was like, ‘Wow, hey’, as if it happened yesterday. A lot of my high school experiences are being put in Ultimate Spider-Man. Another lucky bonus for me is the fact my wife’s a high school teacher. I’m able to mine her life and her stories. I even go to schools and just sit there and inhale a little bit of them. The most amazing thing my research has shown me is that the high school experience of today is almost identical to the way it was twenty years ago. The only real change is that I can now analyze it from an objective point of view.What others say: In Wizard #131, they declared the Ultimate Spider-Man hardcover, with the first thirteen issues, the fifth best comic book collection of all time, behind Maus, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman: Season of Mists. The 13th issue was #25 on CBR's list of the best Spider-Man stories, while the main Kingpin story was #30.
Related Stories: The Kingpin would return in Ultimate Spider-Man #47-49. A discussion with a guidance counselor takes on a different meaning in Ultimate Spider-Man #22-27's Green Goblin arc. The next arc revealed where Electro got his powers. The Shocker gets his revenge on Spidey in Ultimate Spider-Man #121.
Scene Analysis: There are many moments that work particularly well in this storyline. The opening splash page of Issue 10 is amazing for several reasons. First, I love how Bagley conveys just how big and impressive the Kingpin is. And that Bendis chooses to use this moment to have Spider-Man realize that he has a spider-sense. It's funny, it moves the story forward and it's something that can only work at this particular time. And it's a great set-up to just how scary the Kingpin is.
Here's where things get bad for Spidey. He's making quips and the Kingpin is ignoring him. Bendis keeps the readers on their toes by briefly toying with the possibility of the introduction of Ultimate Elektra, before you realize that Kingpin's henchman is someone even more dangerous.
Spider-Man is sometimes Bugs Bunny in human form. And Bendis realizes that. The result remains the funniest moment from the Ultimate comics.
Later in the story, Peter is moved to tell Mary Jane his secret. Bendis devotes an issue to the conversation, which could easily be adapted into a one-act play. And MJ's response to Peter's confession is perfect.
The situation is made even more hilarious by the fact that Aunt May is just outside.
And then the conversation goes in a completely different direction, with something any teenage boy wants to hear. This exchange was certainly an influence on the Amazing Spider-Man movie.