I’ve been reading Amazing Spider-Man for about as long as I could read. When I was younger, my mom would take me to the Belmont public library, which had a subscription to the title, and I’d check out dozens of issues at a time. I started reading in the era of the “superstar” artists, guys like Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen. But Spider-Man never seemed to to look as good as he did when Mark Bagley took over.
I’m not quite sure what it was. Maybe it’s because the stories were better, so the art seemed better by relation. Maybe it’s because I had gotten to the age when I could really start to appreciate the art. Maybe it’s because Spidey stopped bending in ways it wasn’t possible to bend. Or maybe it’s because Mark Bagley could draw Peter Parker just as well as he could draw Spider-Man. Whatever it was, Spider-Man looked “right,” and Mark Bagley became the gold standard to which I compared all other Spider-Man artists.
I stopped reading the Spider-Man stories once the whole “Peter Parker is the clone/Ben Reilly is Spider-Man” thing started up. I had suffered through the clone saga along with everyone else, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to follow Spider-Man if good ol’ Pete wasn’t behind the mask. I only picked up an issue of Amazing again when it crossed over with the Onslaught storyline. By that time, there was only a month or two left before Peter Parker would return as Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Avengers and the Fantastic Four leaving the Marvel Universe and Peter Parker returning as Spider-Man happened to coincide with Mark Bagley leaving Amazing Spider-Man.
A few months went by and a new comic showed up that Mark Bagley co-created. I remember the day I saw Thunderbolts #1 sitting on the shelf at Trade-a-Tape and thought to myself “What the heck.” Up until that point, I’d never bought a comic based on the artist. In fact, I don’t think I’d bought one based on the creators at all. It was still all about the characters to me, but Mark Bagley and Thunderbolts changed all that. I took a chance on a great artist, secretly hoping that Spider-Man would guest-star, and discovered an amazing story that happened to include one of the greatest endings of any comic book I’d ever read (Kurt Busiek’s writing certainly didn’t hurt, but at this point he was just some random comic writer to me).
Bagley had a long, great run on Thunderbolts, but eventually he left the book that had by no coincidence grown to be my favorite title. Turns out he was going to be starting another new title with another supposedly great writer I’d never heard of, and it just happened to be starring Spider-Man! I could barely contain my excitement as I learned more and more about this “Ultimate” Spider-Man book.
When the issue finally hit, I made sure to pick a copy up as soon as I could. The art was…amazing. The writing…not so much. I flipped through the second issue the next month at the comic shop, but no matter how great it looked, a still complete lack of any actual Spider-Man made me put it back on the rack. I’ve given Ultimate Spider-Man two more chances since then in trade form, but the horrendous story was just too much for the spectacular art to overcome.
So here it is, nearly 100 issues later, and Mark Bagley’s still doing Ultimate Spider-Man. Which means it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to enjoy his art. Sure, he’s done the random issue here or there, and the first few issues of the Pulse, but they’re few and far between. Reading the reprints in the back of Tunderbolts #100 reminded me of just how much I’ve missed seeing his art on a monthly basis. And since Brian Michael Bendis and Bagley intend to break Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s uninterrupted run record, it’s going to be a good long while until I’ll get to again.
Like I needed another reason to hate Bendis.