Let me begin by saying I’ve never really had an interest in reading vampire lore, I haven’t read any of the Ann Rice novels, True Blood series, or the Twilight books. But sometime last year while browsing the racks at the comic book store I saw the cover of the first issue of American Vampire…
I woke up this morning to my usual routine… roll out of bed, stumble around for coffee, mumble a greeting to my fiancé, and—wait!—is that a black Spider-Man? That’s right, America, Spider-Man is now an African-American and, apparently, it’s big enough news that most morning shows are covering it. My initial thought was “WTF”? This MUST be a publicity stunt… another way for Marvel to draw in new readers and sell more comics. Regardless of their intent, it was enough to pique my curiosity and get me off the couch like being drawn to the scent of a freshly baked pie cooling on a windowsill.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone other than Peter Parker under those easily recognizable blue and reds. In the Marvel 2099 universe it was Miguel O’Hara. In regular continuity, we had the pleasure of meeting Ben Reilly and trying to follow that whole clone thing. Hell, even animals have been involved birthing the head-scratching series Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. What the morning news neglected to mention (right away, anyways) was that this new BLACK Spider-Man was not from regular continuity. There is yet another alternate universe in Marvel Comics called Ultimate Marvel. This line of comics updates and re-imagines classic characters including their origins, names, et-cetera. It’s in THIS universe the controversial new Spider-Man shows up.
Home from the comic shop, I tear open the polybag (um, what year is it?) containing Ultimate Fallout #4 and dive in. At first glance, I’m not overly impressed with the art. Once I get in a page or two, however, I’m reminded of Stuart Immonen’s fantastic penciling job on his run of Ultimate Spider-Man. Another thing I notice almost instantly is Spidey’s costume: I LOVE IT! Granted, it’s almost identical to the original costume we all know and love, but there are some great, minute changes that—for the first time thinking about it—make total sense. Most notably; at the neck, wrists, and ankles where you can tell this is a costume with multiple parts… not a make-believe drawing of a perfect outfit without any seams or wrinkles. I love the realness of this… the attention to detail the artist adds in for anyone who’s looking. The knee and elbow pads, on the other hand, I’m still trying to decide on.
But let’s discuss the content. This comic starts off like most Spider-Man issues: there’s a fight, there’s a bad guy (B-list, at best), and then your friendly neighborhood wall crawler shows up and gets involved. This issue is on par with that format. That said, there is some good action and obligatory wisecracks along with some word balloons suggesting this Spider-Man is new to the game. There’s also an ongoing joke made a number of times about *SPOILER ALERT* Spider-Man being dead and someone being in his costume that’s pleasantly dry and made me chuckle. By the time you get to the big reveal, though, the part where Spidey pulls back his mask and exposes his ebony skin… the whole reason these seven pages were mentioned on national television… I realize that the only purpose of this story was to justify a new look for Spider-Man. Bummer.
At the end of this portion of Ultimate Fallout #4 the reader is presented with an advertisement for the upcoming series this story prefaces. In said ad—of which I’m assuming is the cover to the first issue—there’s clearly a new Ultimate Spider-Man costume… a costume, mind you, that kind of sucks. Now, I’m sure I’m missing the point here. I’m sure the potential of a new character—an African-American character, nonetheless—taking on the mantle of such a recognizable superhero speaks volumes. I’m not the type of person to get caught up in the whole “what’d you do to my favorite superhero?” routine as long as there’s good writing and interesting concepts to move it along. What I don’t like, though, is getting me hooked on one design and then ripping it away only moments later.
I suppose I’ll give the series a chance. The layout was well paced, the art was much better than most other books, and the “who’s this kid?” effect was enough to make me want to read another issue or two. It’ll be tough getting past the ugly outfit, but I’m used to Marvel scrapping some of my favorite costumes for awkward redesigns of the original. So… good luck, kid… whoever you are. With Brian Michael Bendis as the scribe, I’m sure you’ll be jumping through hoops and wrung out to dry soon enough, but it should be good times seeing it all unfold.