When Marvel Comics announced the new Ultimate line of titles in 2000, most fans turned their noses up at the idea and decided to ignore it. Ultimate Spider-Man, the flagship title, would feature a relatively unknown writer in Brian Michael Bendis and art by Mark Bagley, who just finished up a run on Thunderbolts. It seemed like Spider-Man: Chapter One all over again; a recipe for disaster. Except that fans unexpectedly embraced the book and the creative team like few other books on the stands. It’s now 156 issues later and Ultimate Spider-Man has been one of the best selling Marvel books for the last decade. With the new “Death of Spider-Man” arc beginning in the regular title, it’s the perfect time to look back at where and how it all began in the second Ultimate Spider-Man trade, Learning Curve.
Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 2: Learning Curve
Story by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley and Art Thibert
Cover by Joe Quesada
In the first Ultimate Spider-Man collection, Power and Responsibility, Bendis and Bagley retold the origin of Spider-Man over the course of 7 issues. It is the same story we all know and love but expanded and given a more modern sensibility. With the origin story out of the way, the creative team could begin to spread their wings and flesh out this new Peter Parker and his cast.
It’s in this second volume that you can see the seeds of what will become one of the best writer/artist teams in comics. Bendis and Bagley continue to mine the past to create a new take on the history of Spider-Man. In a stroke of brilliance, Bendis ties the murderer of Uncle Ben to the Kingpin, Wilson Fisk. It makes perfect sense and gives the book a great (pardon the pun) heavy for the story. We also get to meet Electro, the Enforcers and the workers of the Daily Bugle.
Of all the writers working today, I don’t think any have an ear for dialogue like Bendis. Teenagers sound like teenagers and adults sound like adults. Plus he writes some of the best Spider-Man banter I have ever read. The scene where Peter finally confronts the Kingpin leads to some of the hands-down funniest, yet most intense, pages you will ever read. This volume is also where Bagley begins to come into his own as an artist. While his work on Amazing Spider-Man was good, his art on the Ultimate version is ten times better. This is literally the character he was born to draw. None of his recent pencils on Trinity or Justice League of America even came close to his work here. And he somehow managed to get better as the series progressed.
I would be remiss here is I didn’t mention the now classic issue #13, which is included in this collection. Bendis and Bagley managed to deliver a very touching, very intimate issue where Peter tells Mary Jane about him and Spider-Man. It’s the kind of story I love and is not done nearly enough in today’s comic market. If you are old enough, you will be reminded of the classic Wolfman/Perez issues of The New Teen Titans. It adds another layer to the book and it an outstanding way to close out the trade.
All that being said, I really feel it is a stretch to say Bendis actually wrote any of these issues. Scripted maybe, but not wrote. I have always felt that Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr. and all the others who have worked on the various Spider-Man titles over the years deserve some kind of co-plotting credit. All Bendis did was rework already existing stories and put a modern spin on them and Learning Curve is no exception. Bendis did add a couple new elements, such as the aforementioned Kingpin/Uncle Ben’s killer connection and how the Peter/Mary Jane relationship unfolded, but everything else was already there. Don’t get me wrong; the book is still a worthy read; I just wouldn’t give Bendis as much credit as some other reviewers would.
Ultimate Spider-Man: Learning Curve is a great book. You see the title start to develop its own voice as the Bendis/Bagley team that would become synonymous with the character starts to hit its stride. With the “death” of Spider-Man apparently on its way, now is the perfect time to look back and revisit when he took his first steps.
Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 2: Learning Curve is published by Marvel Comics and is available now at your local comic shop.