Ultimate Spider-Man #1 [Free Comic Book Day Edition]
Marvel Comics (May, 2002; originally published November, 2000)
Notation from The Grand Comics Database: “This is a partial reprint of Ultimate Spider-Man (Marvel, 2000 series) #1 released for Free Comic Book Day in 2002. Parts of the story have been replaced by advertisements. It is edited in the same way as Ultimate Spider-Man Reprint “K-B” (Marvel, 2001 series) #[nn] (June 2001).”
WRITERS: Brian Michael Bendis (script) & Bill Jemas (co-story)
PENCILER: Mark Bagley
INKER: Art Thibert
COLORIST: Steve Buccellato
EDITOR: Ralph Macchio
This version of Peter Parker is not that different from the one we know in 616, just in a more modern setting. He’s picked on by bullies and the only ones standing up for him are his Uncle Ben and Harry Osborn, the latter actually just using him to do his homework for him. The only other people who show any signs of caring are Peter’s Aunt May and his science partner, Mary Jane. Harry also has no relationship with his father, Norman, who is working on a new experimental drug called Oz. One of the test spiders gets loose and bites Peter during a school tour. In-between the fainting spells he seems to be developing new abilities, but he could also be dying. Norman tries to have him killed so they don’t learn the Oz is killing the boy but he ends up being saved by those abilities, and now Norman wants to study him instead.
I should note that I looked up the summary of the actual comic on the Marvel Database and all the events seem to line up, so whatever was cut out according to the Grand Comics Database it all seems to be worked in just fine.
What they got right: I have nothing against a modern take on Peter. Free of continuity Bendis shows he can tell a good story (because Bendis apparently hates continuity). As an opener it does a good job introducing the cast, and Peter slowly being altered instead of immediately makes a form of sense. I’m kind of neutral on the whole radioactive/drug-tested spider in general (outside of why you’re testing a drug for humans on spiders) since the kind of radioactive experiment that hit the spider in the original origin probably wouldn’t work these days, but I like what the 90s cartoon did by creating “neogenics” as a replacement and a connection to the various mutated villains as well as Spidey himself.
What they got wrong: It’s the same mistake Spectacular Spider-Man and the Marc Webb movies did with Gwen Stacey. Why does Mary Jane have to be changed into a science nerd like Peter to set her up as a love interest? You’re just pushing the stereotype that nerds and geeks can’t date a hot girl unless she’s one, too. Watch a few seasons of Beauty & The Geek (though given the nonsense that goes on in reality shows I wouldn’t be surprised if those romances were made up) and stop with this nonsense. Also, since all the events of the original comic is in this re-edit I can safely ask why it’s taking so long to get Peter into his costume? The original origin took one issue, and still had room for more stories. And claiming in a caption box that this is based on that story is not only wrong since the only similarity is being a Spider-Man origin, but the issue Spider-Man appears in was called Amazing Fantasy, not Amazing Adult Fantasy, the “Adult” being dropped and if you know comics of the period it does matter.
Finally, and speaking of the aforementioned cartoon and movies, we have Peter meeting his whole supporting cast in high school. Outside of Flash Thompson, Peter’s aunt and uncle, and later the Daily Bugle staff, Peter doesn’t meet Mary Jane or Norman Osborn, nor the rest of his supporting cast, until college. You want Peter in high school, you don’t need the full cast. I can accept it once or twice but now it’s the norm, even the rather unfaithful MCU adaptations. At least Spidey & His Amazing Friends, the Disney Junior show that turns Peter, Spider-Gwen, and Miles into the PJ Masks, de-aged all the cast–except for Miles’s parents and for some reason gender-swapped Captain Stacey because a single father apparently didn’t work for them. It’s a constant continuity issue that’s just begun to bug me out of these other takes on Spider-Man.
What did I think overall: Bendis’ decompression storytelling is on display here but the art is decent most of the time (I can point to a few panels that were less than quality) and as a new telling of Peter’s origin there have been worse. It’s worth looking into to see if it really holds up for you. At least it’s better than the rest of the Ultimate line.