Ultimate Spider-Man #53

Background

When we last left Spider-Man, he was caught in the middle of a fight between two beautiful women. One of them is the Black Cat, a serial thief who has stolen a stone tablet (also, she has a thing for Spidey). The other is Elektra Natchios, a deadly assassin hired by the Kingpin of Crime to get the tablet back.

Spidey had little success in breaking the fight up, and things don't look much better on the domestic front. Mister Watson has forbidden his daughter, Mary Jane, from seeing Peter. This has obviously been a source of great tension in their romance. In fact, it was this development that, in part, even made Peter consider responding to the Black Cat's advances.

But things have gone from bad to worse. Mary's mother gave Aunt May a late night call. Mary Jane has run away from home.

Story 'Daughters'

Naturally, May's first instinct is to look for Peter. Finding his bedroom empty, May wakes up Gwen, who has no idea where Peter is. May suspects that Peter and MJ have run away until she finds Peter in the kitchen, drinking milk. Once she tells Peter that MJ is gone, he immediately runs into the cold night next door to the Watsons' house.

Mary's dad is waiting for him, certain that Peter knows where is. He grabs Peter's shirt and demands to know where his daughter is, until Peter takes his hand off of him and suggests that he look for his daughter rather than play the blame game. Mary's mom pleads with Peter to help them find her. After much inner turmoil (and regret that he confided his secret identity to Mary), it suddenly dawns on Peter to look in the abandoned warehouse he and Mary consider to be Spider-Man's unofficial headquarters.

Sure enough, he finds Mary, reclined and having written something in her diary. Peter wakes her, and she confessed that, between his father's inexcusable jerk-like behavior, and her mother's passive acceptance of it, the home environment was too stifling too bear. Mary says her father was looking for an excuse to split them up. She asks Peter to elope, but, while embracing, he says "Not yet."

The next day at work, Peter dozes off and has a daymare about last night's catfight, and a quick vision of Wilson Fisk. Jarred awake, Peter does some detective work, looking up cat burglars. He finds an old Daily Bugle article about the start of the Jack Hardy trial. Seen in the photo is none other than his daughter, Felicia. After putting her name in a search engine, Peter finds her address and employer--

Which means that Fisk and Elektra already know, too. Holding Felicia up against the wall in one hand, and holding her Black Cat wig and costume in the other, Fisk tells Felicia that her father was a drunken loser and THAT was why he died in jail. He demands the tablet back, but Spider-Man crashes the party. This momentary distraction allows Felicia to escape Fisk's clutches.

After webbing up Fisk and Elektra, Spidey pursues Felicia to the rooftop, where she is holding the tablet in her hand over the edge. Felicia swears revenege on Fisk for betraying her father. When Spifey brings up the minor point that she did steal it, she screams "You don't know me!!" Fisk violenty bursts through the door demanding the tablet. Felicia throws it into the harbor, pleased at being able to do it in front of Fisk. Electra throws one of her sai right into Felicia's chest, sending her over the edge and seemingly ending the second-generation cat burglar's career. Fisk and Elektra take this time to escape. Spidey searches the docs all over, but there's no sign of Felicia.

The final page betrays Fisk talking to his unconscious wife, Vanessa. Having run out of more conventional options to save her life, Fisk has to put the kind of faith Vanessa had in trinkets like the tablet. After swearing reveng on "thjose who would mock [their] marriage," Fisk quietly pleads with Vanessa to wake up.

General Comments

Improvement!

This issue presents a welcome shift away from the catfight element of the plot, back toward the far more interesting plot regarding Mr. Watson's interference in Peter and MJ's romance. Granted, this plot is not completely resolved, but we do see that Peter has survived temptation intact.

I thought the parallels between Felicia and Mary Jane, regarding their shaky relationships with their respective fathers, and even their respective relationships with Peter, were fleshed out well. Their circumstances aren't exactly similar: after all, having a lecher for a father is a far cry from having a cat burglar for one. Still, after a mostly mindless catfight issue, it's nice to see a plot with a brain.

This arc wraps up a bit too abruptly. Granted, no one is happier to see a malfunctioning plot (i.e. "Geldoff) go out the window faster than I. Still, the ending reminds us that, in real life, the plot threads don't wrap up quite so neatly, especially since the "death" of Felicia Hardy is not very convincing at all (even Nick Fury said as much in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man: "No body, no death", or something to that effect).

The art mostly works, particularly in expressing the emotional charge of Peter and MJ's reunion. My only qualm is with the glaring discrepancies regarding the size of Fisk's hands. Sure, he's the Kingpin and all, a big guy, to be sure. But are we really to believe that his hands are the size of half of Felicia's torso, and double the size of his head? And if so, why does the hand keep shrinking in each subsequent panel? I've said it before and I'll say it again: If 18 issues a year means a sacrifice in the quality of Bagley's pencils, I'll gladly settle for just one a month. Sure, it means one less trade paperback a year for Marvel, but who would buy a trade with such poorly drawn hands anyway?

Son of Nitpick Alert: No, seriously, what is Mary's father's name? Is it Craig? Is it Greg? Are we to believe the editors, who seem to think it's Gary? I mean, when something as simple as a name is hard to establish, it really distracts the reader from enjoying the better elements of this issue. Examples of this include: Mary's mom breaking up a potential fight between her multi-named husband and Peter, Peter's bit of amateurish detective work, and even Fisk's poignant soliloquy to his wife Vanessa, which adds badly-needed depth to an otherwise two-dimensional character.

Overall Rating

It's a step in the right direction

Fisk's hands and Watson's Christian name aside, this issue was more enjoyable than either or the last two. Let's hope "Ultimate Spider-Man: The Movie" is as much fun as we know it can be.

New feature! Spidey's quote of the issue is: "Put an extra large sock in it."