"Don't you see? It's okay. I did it. I couldn't save him. Uncle Ben. I couldn't save him. No matter what I did. But I saved you. I did it."It's not every day you read a story where your (possibly) favorite fictional character dies. And I know it's a comic book and that it's not even the "real" Spider-Man, only the Ultimate version of the character. And he might even come back anyway. But I don't care. The final pages of Ultimate Spider-Man 160 hit me hard. Despite the flaws in both the arc and its conception (which I will get to), I wept. Honest to goodness tears. It was horrible.
Why do I love Spider-Man so much? It's an interesting question. I've wondered this a lot, and I think I might finally have an answer. He's me. Or rather, he's someone I wish I was. Not in the standard, wish-fulfillment, I-want-spider-powers way (though, there is that.) Spider-Man -- Peter Parker -- is the kind of person I could be. I had a hard time in high school. I was (and am) a huge nerd. I wasn't especially popular, had trouble talking to girls, acted like a weirdo much of the time, loved science far more than was socially acceptable, and was just generally awkward. I like to think I've gotten a bit less awkward since then (though I don't think I will ever stop being a nerd), but the fact remains that I see myself in Peter.
Peter always had problems. ALWAYS. It seemed at times that the universe was personally out to get him. But no matter what was going on in his life, he unwaveringly did the right thing. If somebody needed his help, he was there. In an age where any jerk with a surly disposition and a dark backstory can be called a hero, Peter Parker truly displays the qualities of selflessness, responsibility, and idealism. I still remember this quote from way back in the third arc, when Peter is asked for an interview by a news reporter before fleeing the scene of his latest battle with Doc Ock:
"..and people like that load J. Jonah Jameson at the Bugle trying to use me to sell papers by trashing the crap out of me all the time... I -- I just don't care. Because a guy, a whole lot smarter than any of us, once told me that with power comes a great deal of responsibility. And that's not just for people with powers, like me. I think it goes for everybody. So, I'm just -- going to live my life that way and everything else is noise. All right, listen, the cops are coming so I'm out of here. Is everyone okay? All right. See ya."
I'm of the opinion (and I'm not alone), that Ultimate Spider-Man is the purest, best version of the character. 616-Spidey, while just fine, has not had the consistent quality of character development in his 40+ year existence. While I can appreciate and enjoy reading 616-Spidey, I will never really connect with him like I connected with the Ultimate version of the character. Ultimate Spidey is like a dear friend. Amazingly well-developed and well-written, this character deserved many more stories than he got. I feel like it was a mistake to sacrifice one of Marvel's most well written characters for a minor sales boost. Ultimate Spider-Man as written by Bendis could have gone on for many more years and it would have still been excellent. I almost guarantee it. It's a shame that we have to lose such a fine character when so many other more poorly written ones continue on. I really wish we could have seen him grow up, go to college, etc.
I will try to continue reading whatever comes next, but unless it means the return of Peter, I doubt it will hold me. As much as I respect Bendis as a writer, I think it would be too painful to read a story about someone else taking up the mask. If this is the Death of Spider-Man, then let it be the End of Spider-Man, and those of us for whom the character was more than ink on a page go home and grieve properly.
I really would like to revisit this series (it is, after all, the first comic series I ever read), and I think I might do an in-depth analysis of it on this blog. So look out for that. Until then, I leave you with this beautiful image (drawn by Joe Quesada of all people) of my main man, reunited with his uncle, walking away for the last time.