So really, when you think about it, after all of that it’s actually quite easy just to pretend Ultimatum never happened. The only real change that it caused was the fact that there are barely any X-Men left – and that’s fine, no-one had been reading UXM for years anyway. The only character from that book that mattered was Kitty Pryde, and that was because of her presence in Ult Spidey, and she’s still around. And just consider – Ultimatum never actually had the word “Ultimate” on the cover. Can we even be sure it took place in the same universe, considering the fact that none of the characters acted in anything approaching a recognisable way?
Certainly, the first issue of Bendis’ relaunched USM (oh, and despite Marvel apparently having added the word “Comics” to the book’s title, the logo still just says Ultimate Spider-Man. Well done.) seems at pains to avoid referring specifically to Loeb’s trainwreck. Frankly, if you just assume that there was some kind of “big event” that wiped out New York, and that the book has now jumped six months forwards to a slightly altered status quo (of which more later), then it’s easy to see it as a simple freshening up rather than a full-on relaunch.
Because in terms of tone, that’s just what it is. This is not a “new” comic, by any stretch of the imagination – it’s just another issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s been given a bit more spark than it had in its final days, but even that was always a characteristic anyway – it would get quiet for a while, then jump back into life every so often. The style, the feel, the characters, the dialogue, the action… everything about this is everything we’ve spent the last decade expecting from this book. So it is, of course, great. It’s funny, and it’s got plot, and it breezes along in entirely effortless fashion.
Two major plot points crop up in the issue, although neither seem to represent the “never-before-seen status quo” that Bendis has been talking about, so it remains to be seen just how much more intrigue the jump forwards in time is going to throw up. Still, both are nice surprising twists – one that does promise a shift in the dynamic of the supporting cast, and one that plays well with misdirection, making no small hoo-hah of a character’s return before a sudden dispatching that reminds the reader that anything and anyone is fair game in this universe. And a somewhat more intimidating re-imagining of a classically lame Spidey villain is right up the street of this particular writer, given that I’ve always had a soft spot for him.
It feels like it’s nothing more than unfortunate circumstance – a crossover-enforced relaunch requiring a visual refreshing – that Stuart Immonen is off the book after such a relatively short time, but as sorry as I was to see him go, such thoughts are quickly banished by the work of David Lafuente. It’s unsurprising that he brings a zesty energy to the out-of-costume character material – but in fact, as strong as these scenes are, his style in them actually clashes somewhat with the way he tackles the action sequences, where the overall feel is closer to Immonen’s work than one might have anticipated. Independently, both styles are excellent, but it does make for a slightly inconsistent feel overall, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he settles down into one or the other.
But given that the most we could have hoped for from an Ultimate Spider-Man relaunch was for the book to get a healthy dose of reinvigoration without rocking the boat too much, and for it to essentially feel like it’s never been away… well, it’s hard to be disappointed by any of this. The pre-Ultimatum reports of its demise are thankfully incredibly premature, and quite frankly, if Bendis continues along these lines, then another 133 issues wouldn’t seem out of the question; and indeed, would be heartily welcomed.