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Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Ultimate Spider-man #20

Out of all of the villain's which Spider-man faces, Venom is perhaps the most popular.  Comic book fans love Venom about as much as they seem to enjoy characters like Wolverine.  I have never been one of those people.  Venom is a character I have tolerated, but he is definitely not one of my favorites (I'm more of a Doc Ock guy).  When I saw that Ultimate Spider-man was going to be doing a storyline with Venom, I kind of rolled my eyes.  Fortunately, this arc has come with a few surprises....

In Ultimate Spider-man #20, Miles faces off against a new super villain: Venom.  Due to increasing family emergencies, Miles has to find a way to take out this new villain quickly in order to protect his family and those around him from further harm.

When the Ultimate version of the Marvel Universe was launched, it was pretty much set up to be a way for new readers to fall in love with the superheroes who had been building their own continuities for decades.  One of the unexpected bonuses of the Ultimate Universe has been that it has become a place for comic writers to do some very personal and introspective work.  Thus far, Ultimate Spider-man has given Brian Michael Bendis a lot of freedom in that he has been able to craft his own Spider-man stories without the restrictions of simply "updating" Peter Parker.  Miles Morales has been a full-fledged character since the first issue, and this one is no different.  Much like Peter, Miles seems to meet disaster around every corner.  As death is not something for superheroes to come back from again and again in the Ultimate Universe, threats to these heroes become all the more serious.  Such is the case for Miles in this issue, or, specifically, Miles' father Jefferson. 

Some of the strongest moments in the issue are the inner-monologues of Miles. It is so awesome to see how, twenty issues in, we are still seeing Miles continue to develop as a superhero.  He has not magically figured out how to be Spider-man by doing away with a few villains.  Miles' actions have had consequences in a big way, and that will only continue as he learns to develop his powers.  These inner monologues also allow for some of the more humorous moments of the issue. The fact that many superheroes change their voice while wearing a mask is something we as readers often tend to forget.  Seeing Miles beat himself up over using a British accent, then, makes the idea all the more hilarious.

While this issue certainly has some humor in it, the aforementioned threat of death allows Bendis to deliver some really gut-punching moments in this issue.  An emotional blow is delivered in the final pages of #20 that is so potentially huge that one almost forgets Miles just barely survived a fight with Venom.  Since Miles was not an established character in the 616 Universe, he has become a lot more real than Peter Parker ever could be.  It is this level of realism that adds to Miles' frustration such as fighting Venom when his family needs him and his constant questioning of whether continuing to be Spider-man is really such a smart idea.  In other words, Miles is struggling with things you or I would were we in his position at that age.

There is not much which I could say about Sara Pichelli's artwork that has not already been said.  In a word, her art is stunning.  Pichelli is able to add her own sense of realism that only adds to the levels of drama in Bendis' words.  Not only do Pichelli's people feel real, but her action sequences are top-notch.  Venom has always been bigger than Spider-man, but this Venom is a completely different monster.  I will admit I am not as familiar with the history of Ultimate Venom, but Pichelli has turned him into an even more grotesque figure than he has ever been.

Speaking of Venom, I have to admit that I am genuinely excited to see where Bendis takes this character.  As Venom showed up on Miles' doorstep and spoke of the spider which gave him his powers, Venom obviously knows quite a bit about the new web head.  Such knowledge leads me to have a few guesses as to who this new Venom might be, but it will be fun to see how this is revealed over the coming issues.

Overall, though Ultimate Spider-man #20 delivers somewhat with the action, this issue would be a bit stagnant without the emotional resonance.  I have to say that I am quite worried for a few characters and whether they will make it out of "Venom War" alive.  

Rating: A-

Summary:  Ultimate Spider-man #20 is a good issue which delivers an even better emotional turn that has me worried about the life of at least one character.
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