Monday, January 5, 2009

Ultimatum #2

Everything was swell in the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Reed Richards had just proposed to Sue Storm, Spider-Man was planning a lazy day with friends and the X-Men were headed to Broadway for a little R&R. And then the bottom dropped out. A massive thunderstorm sent a tidal wave crashing into the heart of New York. Everyone in Latveria, save Dr. Doom himself, was suddenly frozen in time. And at the center of it all, Magneto sat in his floating citadel, Thor's hammer by his side.

If you enjoyed Jeph Loeb's work with The Ultimates 3, this will probably be right down your alley. It's bursting at the seams with the same action-focused, summer blockbuster style pseudo-storytelling and disregard for continuity that made me drop that series after the second issue. Ultimatum's inhabitants may look familiar, but they act like brand new people. As a supporting character in Ultimate Spider-Man, Carol Danvers has evolved into a smart, confident, well-rounded individual. Within moments of her first appearance here, though, that's all thrown out the window as she strolls into the scene wearing an outfit that's straight from the ‘90s (complete with padded push-up bra and top to bottom zipper) and lugging a pair of guns so large, they'd make Cable quiver. Although she's become the leader of SHIELD in Nick Fury's absence, evidently the promotion involved a partial lobotomy because she sounds every bit as stupid as she looks. I won't even get into what Loeb is doing with Reed Richards.

I wish I could say the story's consequences made up for these shortcomings, but if anything they compound them. As the latest imprint-wide event in the Ultimate line's short history, Marvel intends this one to mean something, and they're putting their money where their mouth is by discontinuing both Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four immediately following its conclusion. This issue takes full advantage, throwing a handful of familiar faces into serious danger, but the circumstances of each character's perils are so complicated and bizarre that it's hard to take any of them seriously. The sheer number of characters in trouble is hard to keep track of, and the fact that they all supposedly spiral from the same source is asking too much of even the most impassioned reader. This story is a mess, it's difficult to follow, it's poorly written and no matter how many heroes may be on death's doorstep, nothing seems to carry any weight.

I've generally been a fan of David Finch's artwork, especially of late. While his contributions here are typically very strong, particularly when he's given a splash page to work his magic on, many pages are overloaded with so much content that he doesn't have room to breathe. Finch's heavily detailed style is gorgeous when it fills the page, especially when he deals with the wreckage of New York City this month, but when he's crammed into too many small panels, that patented level of detail becomes a handicap. The artwork isn't the problem with this issue, although even at his finest moments Finch does seem to have rushed for the finish line. He's still producing quality work, but I find myself wondering if he peaked with New Avengers.

Ultimatum is like a bad dream. It floats from one hardship to the next with only the barest of narratives, focuses on shock value without a firm supporting plot, and ultimately (no pun intended) leaves me wishing my alarm clock would go off so I can write it all off and move on. This is miserable work, and it's a shame that it's being featured on this large of a stage. While it doesn't skimp on its promises to shake things up within the Ultimate universe, the style in which it does so is almost laughable. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1.5

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