"Ultimate Spider-Man: Cats & Kings" is the 8th collection of story arcs from "Ultimate Spider-Man," collecting issues #47-53 written by Michael Bendis with art by Mark Bagley and Art Thibert. In retelling the story of Spider-Man from the beginning with some significant twists we saw that Spider-Man's first significant victory as a super hero came when he broke into the Kingpin's tower and turned over copy of security camera footage of the Kingpin murdering one of his underlings to "The Daily Bugle." When the story broke the Kingpin was forced to flee the country to avoid arrest. Now, after getting the best lawyers money can buy, Wilton Fisk has been cleared of the crime and is ready to make his move.
The first three issues collected here comprise the first half of the story arc. In "Men of Influence" the Kingpin throws his support behind the mayoral candidacy of Sam Bullit, who is running on an anti-Spider-Man platform that has J. Jonah Jameson salivating. So when Peter asks JJJ while the "Bugle" is not going after a murderer like the Kingpin, the publisher fires him. Meanwhile, Mary Jane is worried that the list of people who know Spider-Man's true identity is getting longer. "Suspended," which has to do with what happens at school to Peter when the frustration of not being able to get the Kingpin gets to him, does a nice bit where we get to see a phone conversation between Aunt May and JJJ twice, once from the perspective of each. Then Ben Urish proves the Bullit is crazy and Jameson has to decide whether to print the story. "Hero" comes down to a pair of interesting conversations JJJ has with first Spider-Man and then Peter. For those who remember JJJ admitting he was jealous of Spider-Man back in the Lee & Ditko era, this issue rewrites the rules.
That would be the "Kings" part of the story arc, which then gives way to the "Cats." "The Black Cat" shows up and decides to steal a special artifact from the Kingpin's safe. Spider-Man crosses her path and learns the meaning of bad luck. Meanwhile, Peter and Mary Jane talk about their future, but any plans for happiness go out the window when her father finds her diary and a reference to MJ almost dying on a bridge. Boy, does she get grounded. Then Peter learns that Spider-Man has been implicated in the Black Cat's theft. So when the Black Cat wants to meet again, Peter is up for it in "Shadow Puppets" only to have his interlude interrupted for the greatest "Cat Fight" in history between the Black Cat and Elektra, the latter having been hired by the Kingpin to retrieve the artifact. The situation comes to an temporary ending in "Daughters."
One of the things that "Ultimate Spider-Man" takes advantage of in reinventing Spider-Man for the 21st century is that this time around the Kingpin is the underworld czar developed by Frank Miller in "Daredevil." Clearly he is going to have the same prominence in these comic books as well. Spider-Man ends up being a spectator a lot in these stories, but when the villains are a crooked politician and a couple of young women, it is hard for our hero to really go around fighting them in public. In many ways the strengths of "Cats & Kings" are the changes in the interpersonal relationships. Aunt Mary's final insult to JJJ is unforgettable as is the serious talk that the publisher has with Peter.
I keep thinking that every time one of these trade paperback collections comes out that I am going to see "Ultimate Spider-Man" start to take a dip, but Bagley, Bendis and Thibert always come up with enough strong moments to make the stories worth the reading. This is true whether you have been with Spider-Man from the beginning (I started with Medusa showing up in issue #62 and quickly worked backwards to get up to speed), or whether you are a relative new comer. I will insist that we old timers have the advantage because we can appreciate the changes and their values into making the Spider-Man story even more interesting the second time around.
Not surprisingly, Volume 9 in this trade paperback series is going to do a Doctor Octopus story arc, which is pretty much true of all the Spider-Man titles available right now, including a couple of special mini-series. But the added twist is that Spider-Man also has to deal with the fact that they are making a movie about him...and our young webhead is not seeing a single dime.