Axel-In-Charge: Navigating the "Civil War II" Landscape, Bringing DMC to Marvel
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Ultimate Spider-Man #74, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 2005. Enjoy!
Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley worked on Ultimate Spider-Man together for many years, and this issue comes toward the tail end of the run (they still had over three years to go, but still), so Bendis, at this point, wasn’t all that interested in making it easy for new readers to jump on board. Plus, of course, Marvel had started doing recap pages, so there wasn’t any reason to bring people up to speed on the first page. Bendis was at the forefront of the “decompression” movement in comics, too, so he’s definitely “writing for the trade” with this series (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I own every issue of this series in trade). I’m just pointing out that this first page calls back, not to issue #73, but #72, so if you happened to pick it up and wanted to read when Harry drops his bombshell, you can’t even go back to the previous issue.
Bendis gives us information on this page, in case we missed it: Harry dated “MJ” in the past, before Peter did. Harry ignores Peter’s teenaged whining (“Waaaa – the hot redhead I’m dating might have had interest from other boys!!!”) to imply that he and Peter are somehow different than other people. We might already know this about Peter – he’s SPIDER-MAN!!!! – but perhaps not Harry. Even if we don’t know Harry’s deal, Bendis is linking him to Peter very explicitly, so we know he’s talking about more than just regular adolescent “crap.” Harry, in fact, is the son of a super-villain, and he’s going to become one himself very soon, and Bendis does a fairly good job foreshadowing this.
Mark Bagley has his strengths and weaknesses as an artist, and this page shows one of his weaknesses, unfortunately. The second panel, with Harry’s eyes reflected in Peter’s mask, is a nice touch, as it shows how closely they’re linked (if only through Harry’s father, whose experiments helped create Spider-Man). The third panel shows one of Bagley’s weaknesses – his faces aren’t all that great, especially when the characters are supposed to be emoting. Peter looks strangely deformed, and his state of shock comes off as a state of stupid befuddlement. Bagley’s mouth is just weird, giving Peter far too much of a slack-jawed yokel look. I get that he’s rather stunned that Harry just told him he was dating MJ, but it’s the wrong face. Bagley’s faces are often “off” – not terrible, just not right for the dialogue or the tone of the panel – and this is a good example. It’s dark in the basement, so J. D. Smith’s colors are muted on purpose, but Peter’s tan lips are also a bit odd – although they’re like that throughout the series, so perhaps long-time readers no longer recognize it as strange, but in a panel like this, they stand out. Bagley can do one emotion fairly well, but when he’s trying to portray more than one, he struggles. Luckily, Ultimate Spider-Man, for all its goodness (and it’s a good series), is about very primal and simplistic emotions, so Bagley doesn’t have to do something like this too much.
I’m not sure how well this page works as an introduction to the issue. It’s interesting, but it’s also something that obviously carries a lot of backstory weight along with it. Of course, as I noted, Bendis wasn’t really writing this as single issues, but chapters in a whole, so maybe he just didn’t care that much if you were hooked by what’s happening on the page.
Next: An extremely recent comic. Does it follow decades of tradition in a first page, or does it go its own way? Review what we’ve learned so far with the archives!
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