Brian Michael Bendis, Twitter, 5th June : “again, i have to say. there’s two double sized issues of USM to go. it’s not the last issue of this volume. it does not say final issue.”
See, there you go. You fools, thinking this was the last issue of Ultimate Spider-Man just because it’s… the last issue of Ultimate Spider-Man! That’ll learn yer! Because the intelligent decision-making that has informed the Ultimate imprint over the last couple of years has now led to a situation where its flagship title, the one that started the whole thing in the first place and which has remained one of the most consistently excellent superhero books (if not the most consistently excellent superhero book) of almost an entire decade, doesn’t even get to have its final issue be its final issue. Instead, the pieces will be picked up in a two-part spinoff mini that pointlessly has the word “Requiem” tacked onto its title, and its events are entirely influenced by the writing of a deranged lunatic. There are no words.
And funnily enough, in the last issue of Ultimate Spider-Man… there are no words. As the recap page states, “This is a SILENT issue”. I’m almost disappointed they didn’t put “‘NUFF SAID!” on the cover, for old times’ sake. It’s actually a surprisingly appropriate step, mind, for an issue that doesn’t feature its lead character – and in this series in particular, the lead character has always been a window into the book’s world, a grounded (despite his extraordinary powers) point of identifiability – although I wish that fact had been flagged up sooner, because if UltiPeter really is dead (and I don’t believe he is, or at least that he won’t be resurrected along with a bunch of other people, but the book is making out like it’s pretty final, so let’s play along), then the end of issue #132 was one of the most flat and unheralded “important” moments in recent comics. It’s therefore unexpected to be confronted with a contemplative coda, rather than the actual climax to the series, which has apparently already been and gone.
Still, this is nice – Bendis constructs the issue well, and knows he can rely on Immonen to successfully convey character and emotion through the art – indeed, there’s arguably more done with Jessica Drew here than at any other point, with a genuinely touching moment as, discovering that Kitty Pryde is alive, and momentarily unaware that the memory of her isn’t her own, she joyously hugs her only to be phased through. Elsewhere, this is about quietly contemplating a world without Spider-Man in it – and so we see Kitty and Jessica sombrely carrying out the sort of post-disaster search and rescue that we should be watching Peter do. Preparation for Jessica replacing him in the costume? It’s hard to tell, but it would be a genuine shame if the character’s to be wrenched away from us so suddenly. It’s also curious that so little focus is given here to the reactions of Mary Jane and Aunt May – but I’d imagine we’ll see that in Requiem. Even so, it at least takes pains to point out the actual human cost of the havoc wreaked by Ultimatum, which is good, since it’s something Loeb has been singularly refusing to do in the main series.
As with so many recent issues of this title, though, it’s hard to know how to really approach it until we’ve got the wider context of where the series goes from here. If this really is the end of USM as we know it? It’s inadequate, frankly. Anything that Requiem does in terms of wrapping up and celebrating the character (again, working on the “he’s actually dead” assumption – but come on, we’re in clear No Body Rule territory here) may help, but even then, I’m affronted that it’s not being done in actual issues of the actual series. Just as I’m affronted that Stuart Immonen, having come in and done such a fantastic job in the wake of the apparently irreplacable Mark Bagley, ended up getting such a short run. And affronted that such a superb comic is ending as a result of, of all things, the brain-clawing awfulness of Ultimatum. This book deserves better, Ultimate Peter Parker deserves better, and the readers deserve better.