When Spider-Man: No Way Home came out, I went into the comic shop and got to talking about it with my buddy Eric. I mentioned how I'd wished they'd had one more villain in the movie to make it Spider-Man (or Men, as it were) vs. the Sinister Six.
"Now I have a theory." Eric said to me from behind the counter. "In the Ultimate books, they did a story called Ultimate Six, where Spider-Man was the sixth member of the Sinister Six."
"Really?" I inquisitively replied.
"I can put it in your box for next time if you wanna check it out." Eric, aka the Undertaker of Upselling suggested.
"Oh sure!" I, the Steward of Suckers responded.
So the next week, he presented me with a 7-issue collection of books known as the Ultimate Six. Now, I have a stack of unread comics a mile high, so it took a minute (clearly), but I finally got around to it. And here's what I thought of this sinister story. If you want to read it yourself, I suggest you go no further Brigadier, because there will be shameless spoilers for the story in its entirety!
Still here? Good, then let's go!
First of all, the men behind the scenes: Written by the one and only Brian Bendis, with art by Trevor Hairsine (except for Joe Quesada in the prologue of issue #1). Now, allow me to give you the quick breakdown of what happened across all 7 books:
- Bad guys (Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Electro, Sandman, and Kraven) are all locked up after their battles with Spider-Man.
- Bad guys escape.
- Nick Fury enlists the Ultimates to stop them.
- They bring Peter in to the Triskelion to protect him from Goblin.
- That doesn't work and Goblin immediately kidnaps Peter.
- Goblin forces Peter join them, otherwise he'll kill Aunt May.
- Ultimate Six show up at the White House and attack to draw out Fury.
- Ultimates show up.
- Big Fight!
- Good guys win, bad guys lose.
- The End!
Up to speed? Good, those are the main talking points. Now let's break it down and get into the details below!
Bring on the Bad Guys
The first thing you'll notice about these books is that they are heavily focused on the villains. As in, no hero in sight, just bad guys. These bad guys are Norman Osborn, Otto Octavius, Max Dillon, Flint Marko, and Sergei Kravinoff. They've all been locked up in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and are being held with power dampening collars, as well as being treated to daily group therapy by Hank Pym and interrogated by Nick Fury. And when that's not happening, they're in their cells, talking to each other. Scheming.
We see Otto play S.H.I.E.L.D. to get his arms back, watch the villains escape, follow them as they form their master plan, the whole 9. I was just surprised by how much of this story was told from the villains point of view. It did make for some good storytelling. It's something you usually don't get in hero mags. The book actually opens with Electro waking up in the hospital from his fight against Spider-Man and promptly getting arrested.
Honestly, if I had to choose main characters for this arc, they'd be Norman and Otto. I feel like they were the protagonists (as in main characters, not good guys) of the story. It's almost as if Bendis wanted us to root for them! Which was impossible due to the reprehensible acts they took in pursuit of their ultimate (see what I did there) goal; revenge on Nick Fury for locking them up and ruining their lives.
The book, from the very first cover, is pitched as a team-up between Ultimate Spider-Man and the Ultimates. But honestly, it feels like it leans waaaay heavily more toward the Ultimates' side of things. Most of the plot for the heroes takes place in the Triskelion, which is their HQ. They brought in Kraven, they were coordinating with Nick Fury about how to handle the five villains, and they ultimately (lol) took down the bad guys at the White House.
This may have been pitched and sold as a team-up book, but I feel like the featured heroes were almost certainly the Ultimates, even though their foes were all traditional Spider-Man villains! Which 100% puts the bad guys at a disadvantage, because, I mean... Spider-Man is what? A 16-year-old kid in these comics? And he took all these guys down by his literal self at one point or another. So, honestly speaking, what chance do they have against the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Wasp, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and... you know... the mighty Thor? None. The answer is none. It's almost embarrassing for them. That brings me to my next point.
Where is Spider-Man?
Spider-Man is featured prominently on all 7 covers, up front with the Ultimates in issue #1, in a battle with each member of the Six on issues #2-6, and posing with them on #7. As mentioned earlier, they tell you from the jump this is a crossover for Ultimate Spider-Man and the Ultimates! But here's the thing, True Believers: Spider-Man actually does nothing. For the entire story. I'm not even exaggerating here. He quite literally does nothing!
First of all, Peter doesn't even enter the story until issue #3, where he's taken out of school and brought to the Triskelion for his protection (he doesn't even suit up). That's right, Spider-Man is absent for the first 2 parts of this supposed crossover.
Then in issue #4, the villains attack the Triskelion, and he gets kidnapped. He puts up no fight, gets knocked on his butt, and kidnapped. Issue #5 he wakes up, unmasked (slightly annoying), tied to a chair and surrounded by the villains. He breaks out, and just as it seems like he's about to finally act, Norman hits him with "We'll kill Aunt May if you attack us." (May, who, at this point, is under the protection of S.H.I.E.L.D.) This leads Peter to... sit back down, and then watch helplessly as they attack the White House.
Issue #6, the big fight. Ultimates show up. Ultimate Six (cause Peter's "with them") is there. Big battle. Huge fight. And the Ultimate Spider-Man is... standing there. In the middle of a battlefield! I kid you not, he's quite literally STANDING THERE! Like a deer in headlights! To the point where Goblin tells him to "Do something useful" and just chucks him at Captain America.
Peter then puts the dukes up, informing Cap of Norman's threat. Which is when Cap informs Peter they've got Aunt May. So Peter leaps over to the Goblin, and punches him! He threw a punch! He did a thing! After which Doc Ock grabs him, throws him through a wall, and he sits there, for the rest of the battle.
Until Harry shows up, who he attempts to talk to, which ultimately (did it again) leads to, you guessed it, a whole lot of nothing.
Issue #7, he meets Aunt May and they go home. Spider-Man. Did. Nothing. 1610 version of the premier Spider-busting supervillain team, and he did absolutely nothing. For 5 out of the 7 issues he was even in. He was just along for the ride. At that point, just don't include him. He actually contributed nothing to the story, and I have no idea why he was there.
And by the way, can we talk about Norman's plan? Doc Ock stages this masterful breakout by playing ball with S.H.I.E.L.D. until they get him to his arms, which obviously goes poorly for the hapless agents. They shuffle to an off-the-books hideout of Kingpin's, S.H.I.E.L.D. with no way to track them unless they use their powers, or 'altered genetics'. Then Norman goes on this spiel about Fury needing pay, and promising them they'll all walk away free men.
He has the Chief of Staff in his pocket, gets the President to turn against Fury, cripples the Triskelion, captures his worst enemy, everything is falling into place! And with the biggest advantage in history, what's his next move? To bum rush the White House.
Like... how did he think that was going to end? That was his big plan? Fury's in the dog house with POTUS, I can get whatever I want from the Chief of Staff, Ultimates HQ is down, we've captured Spider-Man and he will do our bidding! What's the Master Plan? Take everything we've got and throw it at the White House! Then maybe Fury will show up!
And what happened? Oh no, it's the Ultimates! With two spies, a super soldier, a size-changing superhero, a man in a weaponized suit of armor, and freaking Thor! Wasp flew into Doc Ock's throat. Iron Man destabilized Sandman. Thor took down Kraven (easily) and Electro. Norman put up the most fight, but after having Harry talk him down, and no team to back him up (because they lost fighting the freaking Ultimates) he was surrounds and dispatched in 3 panels.
The plan was going so well. So well. But the ultimate (haha) goal was just so nonsensical that honestly, Norman deserved to lose. Maybe Bendis was trying to display his hubris? Thinking he was big enough to take out the White House? I don't know. It just seemed like it was going in a completely different direction, and then "Hey guys, attack the Oval Office!" At least it made for a cool fight scene.
That actually takes me to my next point. The big fight in issue #6? Yeah, that was it. There was really no other action across the other issues. Hawkeye stopped Kraven with one arrow. The breakout was off screen. The attack on the Triskelion was done in 3 pages. Like, all of the action was in issue #6. The other issues were build up and then resolution.
Now I believe the story was strong enough to keep me engaged. But I'm a 30-year-old man. This comic came out in 2003/2004. I was 9-10, and I had just begun liking Spider-Man. If I'd have picked this run off the shelf, I'm telling you, I'd have been bored out of my mind. The covers are so cool and enticing. But 90% of the story is villains talking, Ultimates and Fury arguing, setup, setup, setup, Spider-Man doing nothing, and then finally in issue #6 we hit the action?
I'm not saying that I need dangling keys to hold my attention, but the entire point of the Ultimates comics was to draw in younger readers, with cool, edgy new heroes, and stories, and battles! But I'm telling you, True Believers, even if I was at the target age of 13-16, I'd have put this book down after issue #2!
Bendis told a heck of a story here, but it was just such an odd choice to make a big crossover event Ultimate book that was lacking in the 'big crossover event' portion. I know this seems negative, but it's not. It's just a criticism on knowing your audience. Me today wasn't the target audience for this story. Me 15 years ago was, but that guy really, honestly, would not have liked or appreciated this book for what it was. I just personally believe that big events need to be all stops pulled, no holds barred, wall to wall awesome! Just a little more of that merry Marvel mayhem Stan Lee was always talking about, you know what I mean?
Ultimately (yeah, I know) I enjoyed the Ultimate Six. It was a villain-focused story that pit the Ultimates against some of Spider-Man's most dangerous foes. It's not a good Spider-Man story at all, regardless of what every cover of each issue suggests. But for a well-told 'bad guys being bad guys' arc with a pretty cool fight in the end, regardless of Norman's outstandingly dumb plan, it's a good read. Bendis did great, although, and this is completely personal preference, I wasn't vibing with the art. Trevor Hairsine did an amazing job. It looks great. But I have Mark Bagley's style burned into my skull and permanently associated with Ultimate Spider-Man, so it didn't really have that Ultimate feel to it when I was reading. Again, that's totally a me problem, and I completely understand that.
In the end, I'm glad Eric suggested it to me. Even though 4/5 villains were the same, I don't really think it was used as any influence for No Way Home. But I see where he was coming from, and this was certainly different from any other Marvel story I've ever read. For that, I do suggest it, so find it at your local comic shop or on Marvel Unlimited and give it a go! If you want a good villain, Ultimates, or just an Earth-1610 story, I promise you won't be disappointed. Though, if you're looking for a Spider-Man story, maybe look somewhere else. Anyways, that's it for me. Face Front True Believers, and I'll see you in the Multiverse!