Ultimate Spider-Man # 81 Review

Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney
Story Title: Warriors: Part Three

Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciled by: Mark Bagley
Inked by: Scott Hanna
Colored by: J.D. Smith
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

It’s not often a good thing when guest stars steal a comic book out from under the headliner. It necessitates less focus on the main protagonist, and slows and perhaps even curtails his plotline(s). This can seem even worse if the guest star is in a million other titles, as the guest could certainly be featured in areas that are more appropriate. And if the guest stars are less likable than what regular readers expect, it might even cause a drop of sales for the title, either short or long-term. So it’s a great relief when Ultimate Shang-Chi and Danny “Iron Fist” Rand give readers enough action and character development in one issue of Ultimate Spider-Man that readers won’t mind the switcheroo all that much.

Not that Spidey has no panel time this issue; early in the story he ditches school and has an interesting meeting with the local police. He slips back into the issue just in time for the cliffhanger ending, one page before the big last page reveal. Given the manner in which Bendis has been known to interminably inflate his arcs, that is more relief than disappointment. The dialogue between Spidey and Captain DeWolfe fit his personality while making the exposition entertaining. The double page spread of petty high school kid dialogue that forces Peter to cut class is probably the most efficient storytelling beat in the history of the series.

The art in this series continues to excel. Each thug drawn in the restaurant melee is distinct from every other. The two major combatants, Shang-Chi and the powered-down Iron Fist, look refreshingly normal. No giant muscles or ultra-ripped physiques ruin the illusion that these guys might just be talented, and not meta-human, martial artists. The cover finally isn’t an irrelevant pin-up of our favorite web-head! Spider-Man still looks less buff and more immature than the modern version; this certainly helps readers identify with this younger interpretation of the character. It even makes some of the criminal reactions seen in this series (underestimation, taunting) more plausible. Would a short, colorfully dressed, knobby-kneed superhero intimidate you?

This storyline is more action and less soap opera than the last few conflicts seen in USM. Readers who appreciate a well-choreographed fight more than a wrenching dramatic scene would certainly find this direction more palatable. Yet if moral dilemmas are a reader’s thang, the crook on crook conflict would certainly pique certain interests. The manner in which Captain DeWolfe advocates acting outside of law, ostensibly to someone she suspects is a minor, certainly makes for a unique ethical dynamic. Therefore, this would be a great arc to increase readership, provided the target audience doesn’t require a love triangle with their longjohns.

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!