When I picked up volume 2 of Ultimate Spider-Man, I was expecting a new interpretation of a Spidey villain. Instead I was treated to a dose of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. Maybe because the Kingpin resides in New York City, it would make sense to bring him into Spider-Man’s world. But after the first arc, maybe a breather was needed to get the series grounded and explore Spider-Man’s human rogues gallery.
In the Marvel Universe, Peter Parker worked at the Daily Bugle as a photographer. Not a bad gig, but kids these days know their way around a computer more than some adults. In fact, I had to have my nephew show me how to turn this computer on so I can type up my column. So when the paper offers a reward for pictures of Spider-Man, Peter steps up with shots of himself, in costume, of course. However, when the paper’s website crashes, Peter comes to the rescue and actually gets hired as the Bugle’s web designer. I thought his new job title is fitting; Peter the heroic web-slinger becomes the newspaper’s web designer.
After a nightmare about his uncle’s killer, Peter does a little investigating and learns the killer had ties to Wilson Fisk, known as the Kingpin. Later he stakes out an abandoned warehouse where the Kingpin’s loyal servants hide out. I understand the idea behind making thugs appear colorful to give them their own identity, but to make one a blatant rip-off of Indiana Jones? A little cheesy, I think. Spider-Man gets himself in a tight bind and is rescued by two F.B.I. agents. On a side note here, the female agent is wearing a short skirt—not that I’m complaining—but is that standard dress for a stakeout?
Despite nearly getting himself killed, and after a few panels of self-pity, Peter sneaks into Fisk Towers during a party thrown in honor of the Kingpin. Obviously Spider-Man needs to work on his stealth maneuvers because the Kingpin and his band of thugs, one aptly named Electro. I wonder what he does. Chaos ensues, and Spidey’s trademark quips really break the ice between him and the Kingpin. The fight scenes are easy to follow and just reading Spider-Man’s wisecracks made me stop and examine each panel closer.
But again Spider-Man gets his tail handed to him and this time gets thrown out of the high-rise tower. Not that I’m rooting for the bad guy here, but it’s neat to see Spidey slide down the windows and not even get noticed by the partygoers. On top of that, he loses his mask, but nobody recognizes him.
Spider-Man and Kingpin meet again later in the arc. This time Peter uses his brain to eke out a victory against Wilson Fisk. It’s total genius on his part, finding a way to get some inside dirt on the Kingpin. And the fight doesn’t disappoint either, in the action or the art. My drawing isn’t on the kind of level as Mark Bagley; I simply couldn’t draw Spidey and Kingpin in such excellent proportions. Peter Parker is truly the underdog in this battle.
Learning Curve follows two storylines: Spider-Man versus the Kingpin and Peter Parker courting Mary Jane Watson. Being a former teenager, I can relate to the second one a bit more easily. Many panels between these two are spent showing their facial expressions in response to asking each other out, canceling said date, and, in issue #13, Peter revealing himself as Spider-Man to Mary Jane. Wouldn’t you wait a few dates before revealing that little nugget? At least get to second base first.
M.J.’s initial reaction is one of disbelief, until Peter climbs the wall. Isn’t that how it always is, the woman makes the man climb the wall? Well I guess in this case, Peter did it before she drove him to it. The banter between these two is very teen-orientated, but it flows well. Walk through a mall and listen in on any teenagers’ conversations and you’ll hear the words “I’m like, he’s like, and she’s like” at the beginning of each sentence. Kids, if you want to sound mature, you should say, “I said, he said, and she said”. That’s my little public service announcement.
So with Peter’s identity revealed, do you think that will cause problems for his relationship with Mary Jane? It’s dinner and a movie, Pete, not dinner, stop a mugging, then the movie.
Overall, the second arc in the series keeps everything fresh. It should be though, right? It’s only the second arc. The reader is introduced to a new threat that brings some drama to Peter Parker’s social life. Teenage angst never looked so good. Throughout this arc, we still see Peter and Aunt May mourning the loss of Uncle Ben, which I found very touching since it was a major turning point in their lives. The wound is still fresh, and both Peter and May turn to each other for comfort.
Electro was another good villain to throw into the mix. I would much rather have seen him factor in more than that goofy Indiana Jones wannabe. As for the Kingpin, there are so many stories that could come out of Wilson Fisk since he is such a big crime lord. He’s a threat that can’t be taken down because he does everything on the down low and he’s a well-respected man in New York City. To expand the Ultimate Universe even farther, this might be a good way to introduce the Daredevil character, at least that was my thought on it. I know there isn’t much of a clamor for an Ultimate Daredevil, even though there were two limited series published a few years back.
If the relationship angle had not been played so heavily, I don’t think this arc would have been as good. I think it’s important that Brian Michael Bendis juggles both sides of Peter’s life equally. He is a teenager, and for a comic book series that was aimed at teens, you got to have the drama of romance. But give him credit; he doesn’t make it too mushy like The O.C.