Posted by Don MacPherson on September 28th, 2006
Ultimate Spider-Man #100
“Clone Saga, Part 4″
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils/Cover artist: Mark Bagley
Inks: John Dell & Drew Hennessy
Colors: Justin Ponsor
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.75 CAN
One hundred issues in six years, all by the same creative team. It’s actually quite an accomplishment on several levels, especially in the context of the comic-book industry today. Bendis and Bagley took the title character back to his roots as a regular teenage kid who finds himself in way over his head on a regular basis and added to it more modern sensibilities. Bendis built a solid foundation for the series by keeping Peter Parker’s feet planted firmly on the ground, so it’s unfortunate that this milestone gets away from that strength. Bendis’s plot is getting to be so over the top that it threatens to run off the rails. Much of what we learn in this issue comes from out of nowhere, and it just doesn’t feel as though it’s in the spirit of the series as a whole. Furthermore, this oversized issue is surprisingly heavy on the filler material. While the lengthy recap of the entire series will be of use to new readers, it’s of little interest to those of us who have followed and supported the series from the start.
Peter Parker doesn’t know what to think. Gwen Stacy appears to have returned from the dead, and his loving Aunt May seems to want to have nothing to do with him anymore now than he’s revealed to her that he’s Spider-Man. And if that weren’t weird enough, Peter’s dad — whom he thought died in the same air disaster that killed his mother — has shown up from out of nowhere, claiming to have answers to all his questions. Meanwhile, Mary Jane finds herself being held prisoner by a distorted version of Peter, only to find a different, highly unusual new Spider-Man rush to her rescue.
Bagley’s angular style suits the emotional turmoil that dominates this story, but Richard Parker’s flashbacks and the scenes with him, Peter, May and Gwen seem to lack the polish I expect from the art on this book. In short, the art on those sequences looks a bit rushed. Mind you, given the schedule that Bagley has maintained for the better part of a decade, that might be expected. Of course, his art on the Scarred Peter/Mary Jane scenes is much sharper. Perhaps the participation of two inkers might explain the visual discontinuity, or perhaps the artists just had more energy and excitement about those Spidey clone scenes. Bagley’s designs for the alternate Spider-Men are inventive and dynamic as well and really engage the eye.
It was interesting to get a glimpse of some of Bagley’s design sketches from over the course of the series, but it felt pretty random and mishmashed in nature. The two-page sketch spreads really felt more like they were there to take up space rather than to provide insight in the creative process. The inclusion of unused cover art didn’t excite me either, especially since some of it was more of the generic fare we’ve seen far too often on the covers of this series.
At what point did turning the life of Peter Parker into a season of The X-Files seem like a good idea? At what point did it seem that like might be a logical extension of a story about a regular kid in an impossible circumstance with unimaginable stress? Though the emotion peppered throughout those scenes with the Parkers rang true and were in keeping with Bendis’s writing in past issues, it requires a Herculean effort on the reader’s part to accept the plotting. Furthermore, Aunt May’s behavior here just doesn’t jibe with what we’ve seen of the character before. That means one of two things must of true: she really isn’t Aunt May (which is possible in the context of this plot) or that Bendis is writing her as being completely out of character. I honestly don’t like either option.
Despite the weaknesses to be found in this issue, I can’t deny there are also bit that entertain and ignite the imagination. The scenes between the Scarred Peter and Mary Jane not only touch upon the Peter/MJ relationship and the challenges they face, but it demonstrates that the real Peter Parker’s story could so easily disintegrate into a horrible tragedy at any moment. The distorted vision of Peter really isn’t that radically different from the “real” one. Furthermore, it really is a lot of fun seeing all these alternate Spideys running around, and I honestly look forward to the return of the female Spidey and a revelation of whether or not it’s a female clone of Peter or if it’s some kind of altered or cloned version of Mary Jane. 6/10