Comic Fodder

Dana's Ultimate Marvel Review

Word has it that the Ultimate Universe is going to get a little smaller this year. On the heels of 2008’s Ultimatum, which promises to make, in my opinion, some much needed changes to this line of comics, fans will be saying goodbye to one (if not more) of the Ultimate titles. If they get rid of more than a single book, how many would actually be left? There isn’t a bunch out there. So in light of this news, I’m dedicating this week’s reviews to the Ultimate Universe.

ULTIMATE IRON-MAN II #2 (of 4)

By Orson Scott Card, Pasqual Ferry and Dean White

The first volume of Ultimate Iron-Man pretty much ruled the school (to use an idiom from my past). The title delved far deeper into the Ultimate character of Tony Stark than a simple before he found booze, women, and helmet tale. We were given a great back-story that was far from tedious or boring and shed a great deal of light on this Ultimate incarnation. Last month, we were treated to a very solid first issue of volume two. This month is more of the same.

We quickly pickup where we last left off with Tony and Rhodes on a military mission in the Middle East, and the government still under the impression that they’ve deployed two robots for the operation. Most comics would spend a good two to three full issues covering this sort of outfit. We’d witness a lot of action, hear a bunch of musings, and then get little payoff. But Orson Scott Card doesn’t waste our time. He knows the crux of the story really relies on what’s happening back home. He gives us the information we need and swiftly moves on, adding (or solidifying) a layer to this already complex yarn. A lot is going on here. And thankfully, we're in no need of cliff notes. Stark’s father is still in prison, and Obadiah Stane is in full cahoots with Dolores. The government is obviously up to something -- when aren't they? And Tony has set in motion a plan to exonerate his father. Damn, I’m winded just writing this. Though its pace may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the book has a nice cadence. Never too fast, never too slow. And as Goldilocks would say – it’s just right. Only two issues left. They promise to be good ones.

Pasqual Ferry’s art is just as sturdy as ever. Initially, I felt that Andy Kubert (the artist on the first volume) was the perfect choice for the title. Now, my opinion has changed, slightly. I still like Kubert's work but can’t really imagine anyone other than Ferry working on this current iteration. He has a real knack for capturing the more sci-fi elements of the story, giving each panel an almost otherworldly feel. For my money, Ultimate Iron-Man is a good buy. 8/10

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #50

By Mike Carey, Tyler Kirkham, Sal Regla and Blond

First, I’d like to go on the record by saying Ultimate Fantastic Four has kind of gotten a bum rap. It’s not the worst book in the Ultimate line. Actually, it’s not even the second worst. Those honors pretty much rest on the shoulders of Ultimate X-Men and the third volume of The Ultimates (it’s pretty much a tossup for who’s the champ in that fight). That being said, this month’s issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t doing itself any favors. With Ultimatum on the near horizon, I feel quite confident in stating that this title is one we won’t be seeing in 2009. And with stories like this, any hope of being saved is out the window.

The whole Ultimate imprint was said to be a re-imagined version of some of Marvel’s core and more popular superheroes. Most of the characters are younger versions of their 616 counterparts, taking them back to their origins, allowing new (and old) readers to jump onboard from the very start. The newest in this line (minus any mini-series) is that of the Ultimate Fantastic Four. I only make mention of this because the story reads like your standard comic book fare. With it ringing in at a mere 50 issues, I expect a bit more out of a title. We shouldn’t be getting something we can get from a book that’s older than dirt. There should be more life from such a young comic. Don’t get me wrong, Mike Carey’s work on this book has probably been the best – next to Millar’s. His prior two arcs were really quite good. And when reading in trade form, they’re better than that. But this issue is pretty rocky.

The art doesn’t help matters either. I don’t feel that Tyler Kirkham was a great choice for this title, especially after Brooks or Ferry. The characters, namely Reed, look a great deal older than their twenty-odd years. And most of the images feel very static, almost flat. With all the technology involved with this title, you want someone who can give you that wow factor. Kirkham isn’t it. All in all, this wasn’t a stellar outing for the foursome. 6/10

THE ULTIMATES III #2 (of 5)

By Jeph Loeb, Joe Madureira and Christian Lichtner

I’d like to start out by saying that I haven’t a single complaint with a title being used to establish a certain amount of groundwork for an event. When interlaced with a new or existing story arc, it can be a quite satisfying read. It can feel like there’s something percolating under the surface, waiting to explode. Subtle hints are dropped while the tension builds until the moment of detonation. Something that is seemingly meaningless becomes a crucial plot point. You have to flip back through past issues to reread the underpinnings and then kick yourself for not seeing it. I’ve read a number of books that have expertly done just that. But when a title reads as if its sole purpose was to bring about the event, it comes off as rather dull. That’s what this volume of The Ultimates has been like for me, and is my biggest gripe with this book. It just feels like a mere setup – a setup to Ultimatum. The storytelling is so straightforward that it really leaves nothing to guess.

We start off this issue with a weird altercation between Spider-Man and Hawkeye. I say weird because it just seems to come out of nowhere. Why exactly would Hawkeye clip Spidey when he’s out looking for Venom or Black Panther or whoever? I’m assuming there’s a reason past the need to bring Peter Parker into the fold. Ultimatum will inevitably affect the entire Ultimate imprint so he obviously needs to be involved but let this not be only motive. As it stands, it reads like a device.

For the rest of the issue, we are party to a bevy of fights between members of The Brotherhood and those in The Ultimates – Mystique vs. Tony and Janet, Lorelei vs. Thor and Valkyrie, The Blob vs. Tony and Janet (busy duo), Madrox vs. Clint, and Sabertooth vs. Steve – until the last couple pages where we find out that Quicksilver has run off with the body of his dead sister. Don’t get me started on that. I have a number of qualms with Loeb offing a character with which we’ve barely skimmed the surface. The Ultimate incarnation of Wanda was ripe with possibilities. Now, she’s dead. What a waste.

All in all, I feel as if almost everything Millar had established in the prior two volumes of this title has been abandoned, leaving a mere shell of a book. Sadly, I really wanted to like Loeb’s Ultimates… but I just don’t. 4/10

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Dana Severson is one of your resident reviewers of all things
Marvel. He is often found red-eyed and filled with caffeine.