When Marvel’s annuals returned in 2005, the idea was that they would be made to “count” in the wider context of their series. "Ultimate Spider-Man Annual" #1 was one of the first “new” annuals released, and count it did, bringing together Peter and new girlfriend Kitty Pryde in a story that remains one of Bendis’ best "Ultimate Spider-Man" tales yet. Annual #3 is a thematic sequel to that issue, once again focussing on Peter’s love life.
Bendis promised that this story would deal head on with the issue of Peter Parker's virginity, and indeed, that’s what it does. It’s far less titillating than that makes it sound, of course, and without spoiling the ending, it makes a lot of sense for the characters, given their age, situation, and the traditional “Spider-Man” theme of “responsibility”. It’s an important issue, and Bendis manages to deal with it in a way that feels true to the characters without crossing over into preachy territory. Those that have followed the series since day one should feel particularly invested in this story, even though it also delivers as a “done-in-one” story.
David LaFuente, recently seen on the well-received "Hellcat" miniseries, pencils the issue. His art is largely fitting, evoking the youth and energy of “Ultimate Spider-Man” as neatly as the quieter, emotional moments. The figures are definitely Immonen-influenced, recalling the look of the main series, though it’s perhaps unfortunate that the one weak area happens to be the most frequent. For all its stylised look, it’s hard not to find his depiction of Spider-Man -- which sports an excessively round head, massive eyes, and a tiny frame -— a little odd-looking.
Even so, it’s easy to look through when you see LaFuente’s depiction of an updated Mysterio, which brilliantly recalls the look of the “mainstream” version, does away with the camp elements (cape, bubble helmet), and (most importantly) replaces them with an equally timeless look. Prospective artists, take a close look at this as a textbook ultimization-that-works.
As a package, there are no huge faults with the annual -- a minor art glitch here, a pacing problem there -- but on the whole, it does deliver a satisfying story that can be read in one sitting, while also tying into the main series in an important way. In short, it’s everything that Quesada wanted Marvel annuals to be when they returned from their hiatus, and it’s everything a reader could want out of one too. Definitely worth a look, whether you read "Ultimate Spider-Man" or not.