Ultimate Spider-Man #52

Background

Mary Jane's father has forbidden Peter from seeing or even coming near his daughter. This has put something of a strain on Peter and MJ's relationship.

This strain considered, Peter decides to follow up on an offer he found while entering personal ads onto the Daily Bugle database at work. It turns out the Black Cat, a thief Spider-Man met the other night, has invited Spidey to dinner.

The Cat confesses an attraction to the Wall-Crawler, but their dinner (and banter) is interrupted. Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime, used a third party to hire Elektra, an assassin with something of a ninja motif, to steal back a tablet that the Black Cat stole.

Story 'Cat Fight.'

Mr. Dini, Fisk's right hand man, reports the hiring of Elektra to get the tablet back. The ever-intimidating Fisk expresses his disdain for the details and tells Dini to simply, "Get it done."

Meanwhile, Elektra and the Black Cat get into what's traditionally known as a catfight (If you look really hard, you'll see a pun there). While the ladies duke it out, Spider-Man wonders what to do, seeing as how only knows the Black Cat a little better than Elektra, who he doesn't know at all. Spider-Man is simply content to watch the ladies fight. The Black Cat boldly declares that she is not her father and that Elektra should tell her master as much. Spidey continues to enjoy the view until Elektra tosses the Black Cat toward Spidey.

Before the Black Cat can leap back into the fray, Spider-Man webs her from the back and tags himself in. However, something's wrong. Spidey's hits are connecting, but Elektra is able to make ever strike count. She knocks our hero off the side of the building. Spider-Man plummets several stories until he is able to use his webbing to slingshot himself back up. But he's having some uncharacteristic trouble with his webs.

While climbing up the side of the building, Spider-Man has plenty of time to think. He thinks of how ill-conceived the whole idea of meeting the Black Cat was (since she was foolish enough to basically tell the entire city where she'd be). He shudders at the discovery that he's the kind of guy who would let looks cloud his better judgment. Remembering he has a girlfriend, albeit a crazy one, he also thinks to himself that he's got no fight left in him, and that he's basically toast when he reaches the top of the building.

It turns out that they're both gone by the time Spidey reaches the roof. He takes the time to rest and ponder the course of events.

Dini reports Elektra's failure to Fisk, but mentions that they have a clue ("I'm not my father!") as to the Black Cat's identity.

At 1:22 a.m., a phone call wakes Aunt May up. It's MJ's mom, and she reports that Mary Jane is missing, possibly having run away. Mary Jane's mom asks if Peter's there, and Aunt May says she'll go wake him up.

General Comments

You know, the catfight itself could have been enough for me to give this issue a good review. I mean, I think we're all spoiled by witty banter when two foes go at it. But these ladies are more than content to kick each others butts in silence. This means that it falls to the artwork to make the sequence entertaining. Sadly, it doesn't. The pencils look ok, but the inking and coloring are poor. Perhaps a bi- weekly sequence for this book is causing costly rushes.

I cough up Peter's inability to fight Elektra to the latter's superior experience (a few months ago, there was a good limited series about Ultimate Elektra's origin), and also the Black Cat's supposed "bad luck powers". I mean, it would certainly explain why Spidey was struggling with his webbing as well. Thing is, a reader who doesn't know about the regular Marvel Universe Black Cat wouldn't know this, although there's just enough there to suggest that Spidey knows something's not happening the way it should.

Not a lot of words for Fisk, which again means it's up to Mark Bagley to communicate the Kingpin's emotions. Here he succeeds.

I liked the development of MJ running away. It brings us sharply back into the world of Peter Parker and reminds us that there's a face behind Spider-Man's mask. Also, it means that Aunt May is about to check on a room that's more than likely empty.

To be fair, I applaud Brian Bendis for giving us two female antagonists after a long list of men (Goblin, Octavius, Electro, Kingpin, Enforcers, Kraven, Venom, Rhino, Geldoff, Sandman, etc.). Diversity is good. But what would be even better is if we knew more about them than that they both look REALLY good in black. I still like the Black Cat character, but Elektra's presense is just an excuse for a throw-down between two chicks. If the Ultimate line is supposed to read like a summer blockbuster, then mission accomplished. Just keep in mind that most summer blockbusters have little to no artistic merit.

Nitpick alert: On the recap page, Mary Jane's father is listed as "Gary Watson" despite the fact that, in issue 50, May Parker called him "Craig". Ray being short for Richard, I can accept, but not this!

Overall Rating

"Meh."

I never, ever, thought that I would have to say this two issues in a row, but I do. It's not really an improvement over the previous issue. I mean, to be fair, when I review this series, the little gladiator inside me is shouting "Were you not entertained?" Well, truth is, despite the catfight, I was only marginally entertained.

If it's the production schedule that's causing a reduction in quality, then I'd say I'd happily wait a month for improved quality. I'd rather have 21 pages a month of brilliance than 42 pages of monthly mediocrity. Here's to hoping the Peter Parker side of things is better than what Spidey's going through.