After loving the film The Amazing Spider-man and the show Spectacular Spider-man, I decided it was time to finally read a Spider-man book. So I chose to start here with Ultimate Spider-man instead of the mainstream version. And boy am I glad I did. Whatever praise you heard about this series is definitely deserved and probably not even good enough. The art is amazing, and although the first few pages are a little slow, by the end of the first issue the story is amazing, as well, and it doesn't slow from there.
One thing I really like about this book is Spidy's origin. Instead of rushing it in an issue or so, Bendis takes his time, letting the story progress naturally. Peter doesn't become Spider-man overnight, but instead goes through steps that eventually lead him to do so. This makes the story better overall, as you can see plenty of Peter pre-Spidy, instead of just the usual Spider-man Peter. Another benefit is that Uncle Ben's character gets fleshed out a bit, because he is in it for several issues, instead of just one.
Another review mentioned how the pages are so thin that they threaten to tear just by turning them. I want to make it clear that the pages are nowhere near that thin, and at no point did I come close to thinking that one of them would rip. I can easily read on my back without fear of ruining the book. The pages are fine, and you should definitely buy the Ultimate collections instead of the smaller individual volumes. You'll save so much money that way. I must admit, though, that the cover bends a little too easily, but it's a minor problem. So, don't worry about the paper, because it's absolutely fine!
There a bunch of nice bonus sketches in the back of the book, making this purchase even more worthwhile. A lot of comic books will have two or three extras, but this collection has many, and of every character, too. Another thing that is included is all the original covers. Some books leave out the original covers, but here when an issue starts, you will first see its cover. The cover artwork is really nice, even if most of the covers are boring to look at, as they usually just show Spidery in a different position on a wall (issues 7, 9, and 12 are exceptions--very awesome covers!).
Some people have complained about some of the character re-designs, but I find most of them pretty cool, especially the Goblin, though I do feel that Electro looks a bit weird. However, perhaps I am not upset about the new looks because I have not read their original stories, and therefore am not attached to their original designs. Whatever the reason, most characters look awesome, made even better by the great art.
The stories are really interesting, with lots of references to other Marvel characters. There even appears to be homage to DC's "Dark Knight Returns" near the end of issue 4 (look for the lightning). I really like how Bendis makes Peter's life just as interesting as Spider-man's. Also, he makes it pretty funny sometimes. I laughed every few pages, or at least smiled.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone. It's great place to start and has so much to offer. Even if you prefer the mainstream Spider-man, I'd give it a shot. If you don't even like Spider-man, then I'd still recommend this, because it's good enough to change you're mind. This collection is just about 5 stars. I'd say 4.9.