As someone who reads Ultimate Spider-Man in trade format, I was not looking forward to revisiting Ultimatum, to the point where I almost skipped this trade entirely. Completism prevailed, though, and after reading it, I can at least say this with certainty: it did the best with the material it was given.
The trade, however, kicks off with Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3, which was once promoted as Bendis’ attempt to deal with the question of whether Ultimate Peter and Ultimate Mary Jane have had Ultimate Sex yet. In practise, the topic isn’t massively centre-stage, but it is dealt with and it’s the sort of material that is relevant to a teenage super-hero book in particular, so an acknowledgement isn’t a bad thing at all. The rest of the annual, while capably drawn by David LaFuente, turns out to be a bit weak, debuting Ultimate Mysterio, but going no further than that.
Afterwards, it’s all Ultimatum territory, reprinting Ultimate Spider-Man #129-#133 – though, annoyingly, not the two issue Ultimate Spider-Man: Requiem which served as a coda to the main series, even though Bendis went out of his way to emphasise that the requiem issues were important at the time. Somewhere, there’s a marketing manager or editorial member who needs a good slap for that one, because if you want the final two Ultimate Spider-Man issues, you have to buy the Requiem trade and get Fantastic Four and X-Men stories too. No thanks.
The stories that ARE included, though, are fair-to-middling. The street-level portrayal of the cast’s life, and how horrifyingly it gets turned upside down by the events of Ultimatum give the whole crossover some much needed human faces, although Bendis unwisely tries to tell more regular stories in the framework too – a subplot about Gwen’s return to school after her resurrection exposing Aunt May to the authorities as a “person of interest” regarding Spider-Man starts off with serious momentum, then (understandably) disappears entirely once the disaster hits – but what about after?
Later, there are a few nice moments of comedy – Peter trying to herd the Hulk around, for example, and Johnny Storm inadvertantly hitting on Peter’s clone – but largely, the story is all over the place and doesn’t make a lot of sense without Ultimatum – which, given that Ultimatum is not called “Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 21-and-a-half” is pretty frustrating. The writing is good, the art is good, but because of the crossover, there’s no story to tell, only the chance to depict Spider-Man’s supporting cast running around in headless chicken mode – and that, in itself, isn’t very entertaining.
There’s an odd sense of finality to the trade – without the Requiem issues tagged on the end, this “last” volume of Ultimate Spider-Man concludes with the hero’s apparent death, and a several-page retrospective interview with Bendis about the endeavour of reinventing him. Combined with the renumbering, one could easily believe that this was genuinely the end. Of course, we know Ultimate Comics Spider-Man will continue the story, but as it turns out, my first instincts seem correct – you probably can skip this trade entirely.