The first time I read this trade, it was first time I'd read Ultimate Spider-Man in years. I'd stopped somewhere around the fifth or sixth trade, and forgotten virtually everything that I'd read. Even without the background of 150+ issues, I was still absorbed by the story. Enough so that I went back and read those 150+ issues, and then this again. And let me tell you, it makes a huge difference.
It's not that you can't read and enjoy this trade alone, without any context but what most people have gotten through cultural osmosis. If you can vaguely identify who Peter Parker, Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Mary Jane Watson, Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus are, you're good. Those little scraps of information are all you really need
to know. And yet, I still heartily recommend reading more Ultimate Spider-Man first. Because context will help, greatly, and also because Ultimate Spider-Man, to this point, is almost uniformly good to excellent.
I'm glad that I came back and read, with context. I understand what Gwen and Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake are doing around here. I know where Peter is in his life, and what he had to do to get there. So I know exactly what he is sacrificing to protect his family. And I know
this kid, in a way that I didn't on the first read. I thought this book was wrenching the first time I read it, but that was nothing compared to reading it after getting to know Peter so well, and loving him so much for being the flawed and inherently decent person that he is. And it also makes me sad to know that I'll probably be saying goodbye to the rest of his supporting cast, the family he built over 150+ issues. I'll miss them, too.
As far as "event" comics go, this is one of the better ones, possibly the best. Because Bendis put in the hard work of making me care for the characters, to get invested in them and their lives, to want so badly for them to be happy. And then he goes and punches me in the heart, curse him.
The original review from my first read is behind the cut.
Full disclosure: although I read the first half dozen or so Ultimate Spider-Man trades, ages ago, I haven't been keeping up with the Ultimate universe in the slightest. I had obviously missed some fairly important things in Peter's story, and I didn't have a clue what the Ultimates were so busy doing. That said, Bendis gets high marks for making the required continuity knowledge so low key that an uninitiated reader like myself can get by with basic Spider-Man knowledge and a few panels of exposition here and there.
I remember really liking what I had read of Ultimate Spider-Man, and I'm not sure why I stopped. Maybe that was a mistake. I loved what I saw here of how Bendis handled the characters, especially Peter, who's still relatively young and inexperienced. He's a teenager, still in high school, after all. I think that lets the best of Peter shine through, his fundamentally good heart and his drive to do the right thing and protect the people he cares about.
There's no spoilers to be had here. The title and the cover make the end result plainly, sadly obvious. We know how this will end. And in spite of that, in spite of only a passing acquaintance with this version of Peter Parker, Bendis makes the end absolutely wrenching. Because it isn't overdone, it isn't melodramatic, and Peter's last moments are honest. This is the one comic book death in an ongoing series that hasn't left me wondering "how long will it last this time?".