For the first couple of pages – a double-page spread, in fact – USM #6 looks like being a bit of a format-breaker. And of a sort of which Bendis has been shown to be fond in the past – clearly bored of squeezing all of his dialogue into those tiny little balloons while the pretty pictures take up most of the page space, in almost every series he’s written (certainly in Powers, Alias and the previous incarnation of Ultimate Spidey to name just three) there’s been an occasion where he goes “To hell with this” and decides instead to put out an illustrated monologue, or a script, or some other way of combining prose with pictures without it actually being done like a comic.
But after an opening which is essentially an odd little straight-to-camera monologue from Peter – wondering, with a bafflement that the reader can only share, just how his house came to be full of quite so many characters while also providing an interesting nugget of context for the whole Gwen relationship thing – it settles down, slightly disappointingly, to become a fairly straightforward issue. Not that that’s a problem for this book – sharp dialogue, high-school-based character stuff (and a nice scene with Aunt May and the Principal that re-emphasises the curious “everyone loves Spidey” status quo we still find ourselves in), and big ‘splodey action bits kicking in halfway through when a Mysterio-powered Spider Slayer type thing blows its way into Midtown High. I’ve written before how pleasing this actually-competent version of the villain is, and it continues here – and Lafuente excels with a slightly creepy design for the robot, making good use of the “eyes” motif. Meanwhile, the vague mystery over the identity of the unnammed hooded vigilante type person is finally given an answer, for the two or three people who didn’t figure it out. What’s interesting, though, is that six issues on there’s been no real discernable individual “arc” – instead, everything just feels a little bit more “ongoing”, with Mysterio lurking in the background throughout rather than just being able to call these issues “the Mysterio arc”.
There are still a few reservations about the direction this is all taking – it does feel a little bit like it’s juggling too many characters, with an essentially separate (for the moment) plot surrounding Kitty to add to the various things going on in Peter’s own life. In much the same way as Aunt May has taken in all of these assorted waifs and strays, it’s as if Ultimate Spider-Man has become the only refuge for all the younger characters that this universe was supposed to be about (nobody anywhere else is bothering to tell the story of just what’s actually happening with the Fantastic Four now, for example) – but there are limits, and you wonder just what a character like Bobby Drake is going to add to proceedings, especially when it means long-established characters like Kong, Flash and Liz are getting pushed into the background instead. But for all that, Bendis is still generally getting the mixture of action, humour and teen-drama spot on – and in a week when Spidey movie talk is all the rage, it’s hard to see a better audition piece to write a new one (especially one set back in the high school days) than he’s continuing to turn in. Sony, you know it makes sense.