Leaving the real Marvel Universe behind, let’s take a small detour into their Ultimate Universe, with Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, vols. 7 and 8 and Ultimate Spider-Man: Clone Saga , the latest in the semi-long-running series. Here we have a crossover with Ultimate Moon Knight, lots of interactions with the Ultimate X-Men (including a particularly well-done romance with Kitty Pryde), the Black Cat, and a whole bunch more — including, as the title would indicate, a take on the whole clone saga thing, which is fortunately way way better than the actual nightmarish hellhole of a story in the real Marvel Universe.
Bendis has done a bunch of good work (and some bad stuff), but when it comes right down to it, Ultimate Spider-Man is probably his best writing. It combines humor, action, and real characterization in a way that takes the best elements of classic superhero stories and melds them with the best parts of modern writing. Mix the high level of these books along with the lack of back-continuity to worry about, and the Ultimate Spider-Man books could serve as a good gateway drug into the rest of Marvel’s superhero books. (In fact, this is precisely what happened to me: I was completely out of the superhero comic market until I picked up the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, and now look where I am...)
Also in the Ultimate Universe is Mike Carey’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, vol. 7: God War . Unlike Ultimate Spider-Man, which found its voice right away with Bendis, the Ultimate Fantastic Four have been more unsettled. There was an uninspired first volume by Bendis and Millar that established them as generic teenagers; then Warren Ellis took a hand and made things substantially more interesting; then Millar took back over and turned them generic again, and now here we are with Mike Carey (of Lucifer fame), who makes them feel more like the Fantastic Four than they’ve felt so far. Lots of cosmic adventure, but in an appropriately unconventional and modern fashion. Good stuff.