By Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen
The latest volume of the always-entertaining Ultimate Spider-Man library hit shelves last week, collecting issues 123-128. How does Ultimate Spider-Man, Vol. 21: War of the Symbiotes fare? It’s something of a mixed bag from the beginning since it’s trying to resolve continuity surrounding the Ultimate Spider-Man video game from 2005. Believe it or not, there are still some fans that are apparently clamoring for some resolution to where the GAME fits into the story. To be fair, the game’s supposed continuity was a pretty big selling point and was co-written by USM scribe Brian Bendis. This shoehorning is the source of virtually every problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable arc.
For starters, the game came out in 2005. There’s been four years’ worth of story in the meantime that makes the game IMPOSSIBLE to reconcile. Even in this story as we see it in the comics, there are drastic differences. I don’t have a problem with things matching the game. I could care less about that. What I wanted was a fun and easily accessible story. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that, at least not 100%.
For some reason, the story is told in some bizarre framing structure with Eddie Brock sitting Forrest Gump-style on a park bench and telling his story to anyone who’ll sit next to him before eating them as Venom. What follows is a jumbled mess of scenes that take place… I don’t even know when. In this, the latest Ultimate Spider-Man story, we see Nick Fury (currently in the Supreme Power universe), the Ultimates in their Volume 2 era costumes, the Green Goblin (who is dead) and we hear references to Latveria and Doctor Doom (and I don’t know WHAT Doom’s status is anymore). It’s a continuity cluster-eff of epic proportions. Granted, we get the occasional “Several weeks ago” caption letting us know that this isn’t supposed to be present-day, but my question is “Why?”
Why tell Venom’s return story this way? Why jump all over the place in the timeline to tell a story that could have been told in a completely linear fashion? All of the encounters between Peter and Eddie and basically all the drama as a whole could have played out within a couple of weeks in this story. Instead, we’re treated to events that happened in the past that just makes things more confusing than they have to be. With regards to Fury, there’s a whole scene with Peter and the Ultimates (along with Fury). Later, in the SAME story, Peter is freaking out and wishes Fury was there to help him. Why include Fury in the first place? Why turn back the clock? Fury’s presence means that, without a DOUBT, there are parts of this story that take place before the story told over a YEAR ago, 3 volumes before this one.
Of course, Bendis couldn’t have had Venom randomly show up in another story, but he shouldn’t have to. He could have just told Venom’s return like any other story. The only reason I can think of to include Fury and the Green Goblin at all in this story is that they were in the video game. If that’s true, then it’s a shame. I won’t spoil it for you (there’s totally a symbiote war), but the ending is very satisfying (yet COMPLETELY different from the video game’s) and there are going to be some serious ramifications to the goings-on here. The last two issues in this arc are gold, I think. It’s the jumbled mess before it that drags the collection down. Everything of consequence that happened in this story could have happened “today” rather than “several weeks ago” without creating an unnecessary headache.
All in all, the story’s enjoyable, if a bit hard to follow in the beginning for external reasons. The art is great and the new Venom design (What? “New Venom?”) is pretty sweet. Conspicuously absent from this collection, however, is the third Annual issue. Typically, Spidey’s Annuals have traditionally been included in the regular trades as well as the dedicated Annual trades. Trade readers still get it, but this time it’s in the March on Ultimatum collection that features the other Annuals, despite its lack of Ultimatum-ness. It should have been in here. It would have served as a nice postscript to the main story.