Ultimate Spider-Man #4 primarily consists of conversations, inner monologues, and characters running away from each other. No one throws a single punch. Some of the events, like Peter’s foray into wrestling and arguments with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, seem like retreads of the last issue. However, Ultimate Spider-Man #4 has an emotional power and resonance that makes it memorable. All the emotions and conflict merge together into a beautiful climax where Uncle Ben tells Peter about the importance using his unique talents and abilities responsibly. No, he doesn’t say the words “With great power comes great responsibility”, but he builds upon that simple sentence to deliver a monologue that begins the angry, brainy teenager Peter Parker’s transformation into the legendary hero Spider-Man. The transformation isn’t complete, but the conversations and inner monologues in Ultimate Spider-Man #4 lay the foundation for the character of Spider-Man and the series as a whole despite having a less than riveting plot.
But before Peter Parker can become a hero in his own right, he must perform one of the earliest literary duties and kill his father. This might sound like Oedipal psychobabble, but deep in his heart, Peter Parker knows he is responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. His inability to embrace the responsibility that comes with his superpowers leads to negative consequences, like not stopping the robber who kills Uncle Ben. Mark Bagley tastefully captures this in the last, almost silent page of Ultimate Spider-Man #4. As Peter returns home, he sees police surrounding his house. There is no blood or body, and the final panel is a close up of Peter saying, “Oh no”. In the tradition of Greek theatre, Bendis and Bagley kill Uncle Ben off stage and only show the reactions to his passing. This type of minimalism allows the reader to focus on Peter’s emotional reaction and not in the blood and guts. It is also a fitting conclusion to a verbose comic.
Ultimate Spider-Man #4, like much Bendis’ run on Ultimate Spider-Man and writing in general, is incredibly wordy. For example, instead of a nine word aphorism, Uncle Ben manages a 114 word monologue before his death. However, his dialogue and narration boxes aren’t overwrought and soapy, like Chris Claremont’s writing, nor exposition crammed and melodramatic, like Stan Lee’s run on Amazing Spider-Man. The words and lack of words that Bendis uses serve a purpose: to explore characters and elicit emotion. Known for his wise cracks and loquaciousness, Spider-Man is a super-hero who knows how to use language. He also had more than his fair share of bad (and good) luck. The combination of a quick wit and multiple neuroses means that Spider-Man is the Woody Allen of superheroes. Ultimate Spider-Man #4 is part stand up comedy and part therapy session. Peter Parker goes from gleefully evading steroid fueled wrestlers to moaning about people being “quick to jump down his throat” while filling the comic with word balloon after word balloon. Bendis uses this issue to establish the Titanic-sized chip on Peter Parker’s shoulder, which will only get bigger when he learns of Uncle Ben’s death and his connection with Norman Osborn.
Unlike the previous issues, Norman Osborn is absent from Ultimate Spider-Man #4 except for a one page appearance towards the end where he mutters Peter’s name while wandering New York as the Green Goblin. But one can feel his presence throughout the comic. For example, Kong falls asleep watching a news broadcast about the deaths at Osborn Industries and the disappearance of Osborn. Later, at a party, a student notices that Harry is not there and bluntly remarks that “ the man’s dad was blown up or sumpthin’ “. The reader doesn’t see the accident that changed Norman Osborn into the Green Goblin, but only its impact upon Peter Parker’s world. In the previous two articles, I showed that Osborn is a well-developed character in his own right and a twisted father figure to Peter. This development pays off when a page of the Green Goblin roaring and moaning follows Uncle Ben’s eloquent speech about responsibility and morality. The symbolic death of Norman Osborn (who becomes the Green Goblin) and literal death of Uncle Ben act as twin crucibles which mold Peter Parker into a hero.
Colorist Richard Starking explores this concept by using the same color palette of black, light blue, and white in two pages that feature Peter Parker and Norman Osborn leaping across buildings at night. The framing is almost identical with a black silhouette of the character against an urban background and single lightning bolt. There is even a panel which zooms in on the faces of both Peter Parker and the Green Goblin. The art is similar, but the words are vastly different and reveal the language that is an integral part of Spider-Man’s character. The Green Goblin only speaks in grunts in his page; however, Peter Parker experiences his first genuine epiphany of the series and articulates it through his inner monologue. He realizes that the “unfair” actions like Uncle Ben dragging him away from his party or Aunt May scolding him when he got a ‘D” are just signs about how much they love him. He knows that he can talk to them about his strange, new powers. In this scene, Bendis allows Peter to have a moment of clarity before Uncle Ben’s death. Even before he officially becomes the crime fighter and hero Spider-Man, Peter Parker shows some vestiges of the hero that he will become through his inner monologue.
As well as dialogue, Bendis uses the inner monologue or soliloquy to add depth to Peter Parker. This sometimes acts as exposition, but the reader mostly gets to find out what he really thinks. Even if Ultimate Spider-Man occasionally has a slow moving issue, it is usually saved by the characterization of Peter Parker and his supporting cast. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Amazing Spider-Man actor Rhys Ifans compared Spider-Man to Hamlet, who revealed his inner thoughts and doubts through the soliloquy. In Ultimate Spider-Man #4, Peter Parker’s soliloquies establish the dichotomy between his life as Spider-Man and Peter Parker.
It is common knowledge that Spider-Man is a lot funnier wearing the mask. In Ultimate Spider-Man #4, Spider-Man cracks wise with the wrestlers in the locker room. But without the mask, he is more jerk than sarcastic comedian. Peter yells at his aunt and uncle, lets a robber run free, and almost makes out with Liz Allen in front of Mary-Jane. As Peter Parker, he is a self-proclaimed dweeb who plays basketball even though he hates it and still isn’t popular. But as Spider-Man, he has real freedom and power. To maximize this power, he must learn to use it for the benefit of humanity, not just for his own benefit. Brian Michael Bendis explores Peter Parker’s struggles with power and responsibility through the medium of language (both dialogue and monologue) in his thoughts, interpersonal relationships, and exploits as Spider-Man.