That was pretty much my reaction just now. Even though I write about geek issues I don't read all the trades, and somehow I completely failed to find out ahead of time that Ultimate Spider-Man #133 was the last one in the series, to be followed by two one-shot comics this summer and then a new relaunch into Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.
Usually, avoiding spoilers works in my favor. I can be surprised, the dramatic and comedic beats hit as they're supposed to without any anticipation from me so their impact is all the harder. In this case, it was a loud "WTF?!?" followed by some frantic Googling to discover what, indeed, was the F.
Major spoilers coming. If you'd rather skip that, here's the short version: I was disappointed in every way imaginable, and I have to assume that Brian Michael Bendis had a gun held to his head.
Ten years ago, the Ultimate line from Marvel was supposed to do what the new Star Trek movie is doing now: reboot a beloved franchise and keep all the stuff people loved about it, while dumping decades of convoluted backstory that prevented new fans from sticking in a toe. And at first it worked beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar crafted a tied-together Marvel Universe that made sense, or at least made more sense than the previous one. And Bendis' Spider-Man rocked.
Unlike John Byrne's previous reboot attempt, Bendis found the core of the character and kept it while updating everything else to the 21st century. This Peter Parker was someone I might have known, and definitely someone I would like. His problems were the kind I could identify with (apart from the costumed super-villains). We both even worked on newspaper websites! His aunt and uncle – and this time we got to know Uncle Ben before he died – were great and supportive role models, his relationships with MJ and his schoolmates were believable. He was funny! He also got unmasked regularly, because keeping a secret identity really isn't that easy in this day and age. He didn't try to hide his second life from his girlfriend for 20 years with increasingly more painful explanations the way the regular Spider-Man did; this one told his girlfriend who he was in issue #13, still my favorite USM story.
The series had its high and low points but overall it quickly became my favorite comic, and one of the very few I still bought. Certainly the only Spider-Man book; I dropped the other one with the irritating "Brand New Day" storyline and haven't looked back. I stopped reading most of the other "Ultimate" books as one by one they were all infected with the same annoying crap that clogged up the regular books enough to need an Ultimate universe in the first place. Crossovers. Forced angst. Deaths for the sake of sales, instead of the story. More crossovers. And late books, musical-chair creative teams, and quality worse than the original books they were improving upon. But Bendis and artist Mark Bagley — who must be given full credit in making the book a success, his artwork made it work — hit the mark, told compelling stories, and did it so well and so dependably that for a while they were publishing more than once a month.
But in the last few issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, they've been tied into the Ultimatum storyline where Magneto floods New York City, killing millions of people. I haven't read the Ultimatum books because I hate crossovers, but they don't seem to have left Bendis much to do in his own book. Spidey sends four issues freaking out, rescuing people from the waves, fighting Ultimate Hulk, and then (apparently) dying in an explosion when U. Hulk hits the magically pulsing home of Ultimate Dr. Strange. In the last issue, the one I just read (or, rather, looked at, as there's no dialogue at all), all we saw were friends of Parker hunting for him as they saved other people, getting into a quick tussle with the now-really-pissed-off Hulk, and then taking Spidey's torn mask to Aunt May. And then a long interview with BMB, and a final "thanks for reading" page with the names of all the people who worked on the book in the last 10 years.
They killed Ultimate Spidey? Off-panel? Non-heroically?
In my Googling, I found that there will be two "Requiem" books coming, and the book will be relaunched as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, with the following ominous description:
Almost ten years ago, Ultimate Spider-Man launched the Ultimate line, a reinvention of the Marvel Universe that defied the odds and every expectation. Today, it happens again: This new chapter in the life of the teenaged webslinger picks up in the aftermath of Ultimatum and completely redefines the status quo of Spider-Man for the next generation! With a new supporting cast, new villians and maybe even a new Spider-Man, this new chapter will keep you guessing month after month. Join Eisner Award-winning writer BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS in introducing new ongoing artist DAVID LAFUENTE (ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL, PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT)! You have never seen a Spider-Man like this before! Be there! Rated T …$3.99
"Maybe even a new Spider-Man"? Another one?
I'm willing to trust Bendis, to a point. 10 years of mostly excellent USM books gets him that. He lost me in his team books because he seemed physically incapable of writing a team book, any team book, without Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, and Daredevil getting involved somehow. It's possible the new incarnation ofUSM will be just as dependable and entertaining as the first one.
It's also possible the same voices that brought us "Brand New Day" and forced Sam Raimi to shove fan-favorite Venom into a perfectly good Spider-Man movie will screw this up as well, and charge us an extra buck to watch them do it. We'll see how it goes.
But my buying power is limited. USM, Ultimate Fantastic Four (sometimes), the Buffy and Angel comics (although Byrne's Angel isn't doing much for me and the Puppet comic just annoyed me; a retelling of the episode, without anything at all new? Why bother? And why should I bother paying for it?) and anything Warren Ellis writes, and that's about it. Marvel up the book with flashy crap that looks good in the blurb for Previews but cripples the story arc and I'll save myself the four bucks.
I'd go into more detail about how and where the Ultimate Universe crashed and burned but J. Caleb Mozzocco already did in his excellent "I've Got Your "Ultimate Spider-Man Requiem Right Here" article at newsarama.
Ultimately, it was fun while it lasted.