The moment has arrived: The final issue of the last ongoing series in the Ultimate Universe.
And so we find ourselves with a series finale that needs to wrap up a lot of things before shifting gears for the latest world-shattering event. Ultimate Spider-Man has had to accommodate a wider publishing agenda more times that I’d care to count, yet has somehow managed to stay the course in strong storytelling. Unfortunately issue #12 stumbles a bit, highlighting some missed opportunities in the overall run.
Characterization. One of the many strengths of the original Ultimate Spider-Man series was its strongly developed supporting cast. Even characters like Kong felt important. Miles started with a very small group: His parents, uncle, and Ganke. We started to get some fun secondary characters: Judge as someone to balance out Miles and Ganke, and Frank Quaid as the annoyed but tolerant authority figure trying to manage the new Spider-Man. But they quickly disappeared from the series for reasons unknown.
So it was interesting to see them suddenly return for issue #12. Not only was Judge instantly likable (again), but he got to play a key role in rallying help for Miles. Quaid’s presence seemed to be more of a nod to long-time readers than anything else.
It makes me wonder if there really were bigger plans for these characters at another time. Otherwise why suddenly bring them back years later? Jessica Drew was introduced as a mentor for Miles (a fascinating position given that she’s the clone of his predecessor), but that fell by the wayside as she became his teammate in All-New Ultimates only to be then sadly reduced to a helpless hostage in this issue.
Continuity. Even though Miles recently ventured into other titles with All-New Ultimates, All-New X-Men, and “Spider-Verse,” his own book mostly kept to itself in terms of references and continuity. Even though the same writer was behind the X-Men story, none of those events were referenced in this series. My take on all of these events was that they “happened” if you read them but none of it was essential to following the main book. Plus the story in these 12 issues didn’t really allow time for Miles to travel across the world, much less across dimensions.
Bringing in Dr. Doom and referencing the X-Men arc (with zero context!) for the grand finale is a surprising misstep for a title that had otherwise successfully done its own thing. There’s a beautiful two-page spread with a Hydra background that’s packed with detailed panels as Doom outlines his plan. It looks incredible but from the story side, it all feels arbitrary and unearned, creating high stakes just because you need them for a finale.
I felt similarly about Miles’ new power. Was it linked to the spider that landed on his hand in issue #11? Was it a latent ability similar to Norman Osborn’s? Was he going nova? Or is it a power to skip to the end? Sure, it’s interesting but similar to the venom sting, it’s also extremely convenient when the story needs to wrap things up. It’s also hard to ignore that Miles’ major takedown of Hydra in this issue happens off-panel. Will it ever be addressed again? Or is it another entry to the list of…
Unfinished business. Last time, I saw a visual cue and speculated that Hydra was also responsible for resurrecting Peter. It looks like that plot thread has been abandoned along with the Spider-Twins’ identity. This isn’t new in the history of Ultimate Spider-Man, but it’s still disappointing.
When we spoke to artist David Marquez about Miles Morales earlier this year, he’d explained that this run of 12 issues would be his and Bendis’ “statement about the character”. I know that I’m projecting, but I found that idea summarized perfectly in this issue within, of all things, a running gag.
Throughout the series, scenes at the police station would include an officer escorting a hysterical person in an ill-fitting superhero costume ranting about the end of the world. These funny scenes were also nods to the impending changes to the Ultimate line itself. Issue #12 sees two familiar detectives congratulating each other in the background while “Captain Universe” demands that he’s the one to blame.
And that says it all, really.
If you know your Marvel writers, then yeah…it actually is that guy’s fault in a way! The spectre of Secret Wars has been looming over this title for some time, especially as it had quickly become the sole surviving entry in the Ultimate universe. We knew its days were numbered, which is why I smiled about those proud detectives in the background. Despite the limitations, those guys still did an impressive job working against a ticking clock to still tell a story that was at times intriguing, exciting, moving, and always beautifully rendered.
That said, I was still slightly disappointed in this issue. Between Dr. Doom, Miles exploding and apparently becoming Superman, Judge’s return, and the All-New Ultimates reunion (not to mention the ominous cliffhanger), it felt more like a series of random big things happening than the epic finale the series deserved. It’s a shame, because this creative team has done outstanding work and didn’t need to be rushed into taking a victory lap.
All the same, here’s to you, Ultimate Spider-Man. It’s been an incredible and (dare I say it) amazing journey. Like the hero himself, you did your best despite the odds and did so with style. My hope is that when the dust settles and you’re all moved in to the new continuity, we can take a break from Big Events (™) and leave you alone to tell uninterrupted stories with the pace and depth that made you great in the first place.
I can hope, right?