Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ultimate Disappointment

It really shouldn't be like this... but it is.

With the regular monthly success of the Ultimate universe for Marvel, it's easy to forget that only three regularly-running series set in the Ultimate Universe: Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate X-Men, and Ultimate Fantastic Four. Despite strong sales, Marvel doesn't seem too interested in investing in any more regular series, but writer Mark Miller and artist Bryan Hitch have come close to creating a fourth with their two miniseries of The Ultimates, the Ultimate version of the long-standing Avengers team.

Yes, I know this is the second Avengers review in a row. I realize that. I also realize I haven't reviewed a DC title in a month, and when I meet a DC comic I can review, I'll do it. But you can't ignore The Ultimates, Ever. The first series gorgeously introduced us to the new team, brilliantly re-orchestrated the origin of Captain America, and creating something darker and more serious than Marvel had ever undertaken before. After it's blazing success, Ultimates 2 raised the bar farther, questioning respects to faith and what the US Government might do with a billion-dollar superhero team. Through all this, the perfect writing of Mark Miller (Ultimate X-Men, Authority) and the spectacular artwork by Bryan Hitch (Sensational She-Hulk, Authority) perfectly blended the two series and did such a fantastic job that a third series was simply unavoidable. Conversely was the idea of bringing back Miller and Hitch, who were replaced by writer Jeph Loeb (Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, Superman/Batman) and artist Joe Madureira (Uncanny X-Men, Battle Chasers). Ultimates 3 is actually Madureira's return to the comics industry after working concept design for video games, and many comic fans will be getting their first-ever look at this new artist.

It's a shame there isn't better material here. The comic hasn't gone two pages before a very angry Venom appears and knocks Thor through a wall and an all-new Ultimates team takes on this rampaging beast, who keeps asking "Where is she??" over and over, single-mindedly searching for some woman who doesn't appear to be a member of this new team.

And it is a new team! Several members return to this group; Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hank Pym, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wasp and Hawkeye return, but almost none of them are the same as in the previous series. Add brand-new members Black Panther and Valkyrie (yes, this is the same Valkyrie who was just another non-powered member of the disastrous Ultimate Defenders group, she's back and apparently has a flying horse and some unexplained powers) and you've got a whole lot of insane reformatting of the series.

Hawkeye's changes are probably greater than everybody else's, the death of his family in Ultimates 2 seems to have created a man who's unafraid of death and seems to relish the sweet embrace. Even more disturbing, his new costume looks less like Hawkeye (he's even dropped the bow and arrow in lieu of double pistols and a mini-crossbow) and more like Daredevil villain Bullseye, complete with the proper forehead adornment.

Captain America isn't even here for this opening sequence, as he's for some reason (read: no particular reason) decided he needs to find himself. So now he's never around. Oh, and Tony Stark has a sex tape with former Ultimate, full-time corpse Black Widow that's patrolling the internet. Do you feel tension yet??

The action is frentic, but it takes too much of the issue. The big battle between the Ultimates and Venom goes for 12 pages, and that's more than half the book. The rest of the book are quick little story-fillers, written solely because someone told Loeb the entire book couldn't be one battle. The story feels too rushed, and maybe this is because Ultimates 3 will only be a 5-issue series, as opposed to the 12 and 13-issue series' the first two were. That really shouldn't be an excuse, though, as Loeb should have enough experience to work around that. Besides that, though, the book reads as "dumb." Huge panels are full of action, while in several instances characters rely on one-word statements intended to be indicative of the current situation.

The art, meanwhile is fantastic. I hope this isn't a series that's going to exist purely for it's artwork, but if it is, you could certainly do worse. I do have issues with it, but I can certainly see why Wizard magazine once dubbed Madureira one of the most influential comic artists of all time; That doesn't mean they weren't wrong, but he is damn good, and it's a shame he doesn't get more to work with. Frankly, though, it seems like they got Madureira to put on the best damn T&A show in comics, as skimpy costumes dominate the story. Wasp's new costume reveals a ton of skin (and ironically, for the first time, a mask), Scarlet Witch is wearing even less than usual, and as you can see from this image of Valkyrie below, the two-page shot never looked so good. Hell, we're even shown the Tony Stark-Natasha Romanov sex tape on the first fracking page of the book, so loose morals could possibly be one of the prevalent topics for the next four issues.

Even the guys get into this act; Black Panther looks one part WWE, one part WWF (and never utters a word) and even drunk Tony Stark has all his pectorals in order. And the ironic thing? This story takes place in Winter. You'd think the women would at least have winter uniforms or something. Not that I mind at all looking at the pages, you realize; It just seems a little much.

This is not the Ultimates. Miller and Hitch, that's what the Ultimates are. And to think, this is going to go on for five issues (Although with Madureira known as an unusually slow artist - even for the comics industry - that could last over a year). Five issues of this crap?? I don't think so. I can only thank the Son of Odin that I didn't buy this issue: That can only fall on the shoulders of fellow scribe Elmo, who can be forgiven for purchasing this title through the sheer fact that it says Ultimates on the cover. But these are no Ultimates. It's kind of like the pretty waitress/actress/models you see around Hollywood or New York City. Fun to look at (over and over), but once you get close and personal, you realize there's just not much there.

On a side note, sorry for taking so long between posts. Some boxes are harder to put down than others, and I'll be back to at least a weekly schedule from now on, Latest Issue Guarantee.


brian said...

Wait, I thought Captain America was dead? And, wasn't Tony Stark, at least partly, responsible? Now, I learn that Tony Stark is making sex tapes with a corpse?? Interesting, let me know when they make it into a movie.

elmo said...

This creative team switch is nearly as jarring as when Millar himself took over the Authority, after the superb, tender writing of Warren Ellis. Seems that people only want to take their own characters seriously.

steve said...

Much as I sometimes hated the ideas behind behind the REAL 'Ultimates,' I never failed to feel a sense of EPIC about them - but this issue is just another comic book. Aside from the gorgeous artwork, there's nothing special about it.

And can we declare a moratorium on the 'deaths' of Marvel characters tossed around for mere plot contrivance? The Ultimate-universe Scarlet Witch is no more dead (anybody else notice the hex-glow around her hands just before she's allegedly killed?) than the Ultimate-universe Hawkeye was, or the normal-continuity Captain America, for that matter ... geez ...

el-mo said...

I think Steve Rogers will stay dead at least through Joe Quesada's reign of terror. And I bet they save him for a last-ditch sales grab, like Wolverine's origin.

Gianni said...

This is the Ultimate Universe, Brian. It's like an alternative reality to the normal Marvel Universe, where you're right and Cap is dead and Iron Man is at least partially responsible. The Ultimate versions of comics were created so Marvel could reboot some series and make them more in a real-world setting. Ultimate Spiderman is actually quite good, but I haven't read enough Ultimate FF or X-men to get a real feel for those series.

steve said...

The first three collected Ultimate FF are actually quite good (Elmo might think differently) - I can send a terrified intern around with them in a twinkling! But ... will The Latest Issue ever review a graphic novel????

Gianni said...

Obviously Steve doesn't quite know his Latest Issue history: In just our second review, on October 18th, The Latest Issue wrote a review for Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness, most definitely a graphic novel. We gave it a favorable review, but many people don't remember it since only a few days later we reviewed Omega: The Unknown and that got a bit more attention.

That said, I'll try to keep my reviews to RECENT graphic novels, given the opportunity.

elmo said...

Though it was spotty a few years ago, Ultimate FF is currently awe-inspiring.