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By Marc Strom
In this week's ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #3, writer Brian Michael Bendis—aided by artist David Lafuente—heads into uncharted territory with a story which delves into Peter and Mary Jane's physical relationship.
According to Bendis, his desire to broach the potentially controversial subject came about rather naturally.
"I get all this credit for the relationship between [Peter and Mary Jane] and the realism in the book, but there are a couple subjects that I thought, well, it's hardly realistic for it not to be brought up," the writer explains. "We have a lot of teenagers that read the book, and every once in a while I'd get a funny letter from them saying 'Hey, what about this,' and I'd go 'Yeah, it's on my mind.'"
Given the subject matter, getting this particular story approved took a bit more time than your average ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN saga. And while Bendis understood why, he nonetheless stood his ground.
"It took me a couple years to get the green light on this one, because it is a touchy subject, especially [with] Spider-Man, [who's] an icon character," Bendis remarks. "I learned when I was working at a newspaper that you can't bring up sex, politics or religion without half the people reading it being just incensed no matter what you say. People reading it will go, 'How
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dare you!' But at the same time, [Peter and Mary Jane] are at a certain point in their relationship [and] have a heightened relationship because of all the danger that they're in, and it just would be brought up."
Bendis clarifies that, while he had pitched this story before, his editors didn't outright turn it down:
"They were just like, 'Not yet, it's just not right.' It wasn't a rejection. I know when the answer is no, don't bring it up again. This was one where they were like, y'know, you're not wrong, but the time wasn't right."
When he pitched it this last time, Bendis felt strongly that the time finally seemed right.
"Everybody felt it," he notes. "The characters were in a certain place, I'd done a better job pitching it and then a couple of more controversial elements with ULTIMATES 3, à la Wanda and Pietro's relationship, [which] made me walk into the room and go 'Hey! [Jeph Loeb's] got a brother and sister over there, I've just got two kids trying to figure out their love!'"
Also, Bendis found a history of dealing with more realistic subject matter with Spider-Man's character, going back to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #96-98, when Stan Lee wrote a story dealing with drug addiction, despite the fact that the Comics Code Authority refused to approve the issues.
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"I actually don't think it's that controversial of a subject," the writer states. "I think that all throughout comics, and particularly for some reason in Spider-Man, subjects have been dealt with, albeit drugs or death. Stan said 'eff you' to the Comics Code when he did his drug story because he wanted to. Just something about the character makes me want to delve into more realistic areas.
"I like writing the relationship, I like them," Bendis continues, explaining another aspect of his desire to see this story told. "I know it sounds silly to people who may not be writers, but you really adore the characters and want them to be happy even though you keep breaking them up or putting them in situations. When you get to a place where they can really enjoy their relationship for an issue, it's quite a nice gift to give to people."
However, Peter and MJ won't be the only stars of this issue, as Bendis showers accolades on artist David Lafuente.
"Another element that is very exciting for me is David Lafuente's work on the book," Bendis exclaims excitedly. "He hasn't done a lot of work at Marvel, he's only done a couple issues of PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT, but people who've seen that book have been blown away by its 'European graphic novel meets Archie' thing. I think he's a massive talent and I think he's the perfect voice for the book. What a find and what an amazing talent. People will read it, and then I invite them to go back and look around at what's going on with the art in the background, there's just all kinds of stuff going on.
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"I can't undersell David LaFuente on this. I am right now concocting my next David LaFuente epic, because I can't let this guy go. This guy is fantastic."
Of course, Spider-Man will swing into action as well, along with the introduction of a classic Spidey villain as you've never seen him before.
"There's a big Spider-Man story inside the annual as well which [features] the long-awaited debut of Mysterio," Bendis reveals. "It's very different from the original Mysterio, and he's kind of positioning himself to be the next big Spider-Man villain. We've wrapped up the Kingpin story and wrapped up the Osborn story, so it's about time with ULTIMATUM coming for Spidey to have a new nemesis, and Mysterio could be it.
"There's not a fishbowl head. It's one of the only real longtime classic Spider-Man villains I haven't dealt with in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, and I really wanted to do something else with it. Especially now since the Ultimate Universe is a few years old now, and people have pretty much seen everything ultimized—for a while there it looked like there was an Ultimate character of the week—and I saved it because I said no, we're gonna turn this into something really unique and different, but at the same time have that same creepy [Steve] Ditko Mysterio kind of feel to it.
"And he'll be appearing in the regular book soon after ULTIMATUM is done destroying the Ultimate Universe," the writer teases.
Pick up ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #3 this week everywhere, and check out Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited for more ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN!
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