“Persons of Mass Destruction”
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch (p) Paul Neary (i)
Let's see... where were we? Proto-nazi alien invaders the Chitauri have attempted to overthrow the Triskelion and the entire earth - but didn't count on the Ultimates surviving their ambush. As the descending spaceships launch an all-out attack, Captain America rallies his troops and prepares to confront his old nemesis...
It seems fashionable at the moment to open every review of the Ultimates complaining about the ever-increasing wait between issues, but conceding that it was all worth it in the end. Up to this point I would have agreed, but there's something about this issue that leaves you feeling that, despite being one of the most action-packed of the series so far, it fails to deliver on some levels. Whilst it may seem important to critique a comic book on its own merits, there's no denying that a frustratingly long wait between issue can impair the reader's enjoyment of a series, in this case rendering what may have otherwise been more effective pacing to a story arc as an unwanted delay.
As far as the art goes, I'm loathe to negatively criticise Bryan Hitch's work because I can't really fault it - it's amazingly rendered, with splash pages that will blow you away. There's all the feeling of a high-budget action spectacular, paying particular homage to independence day-style alien-invasion flicks. However, some small glitches do show up: lack of detail in certain panels, occasionally stiff and unnatural posing, and some repetitive colouring (particularly in the scene where Cap takes on Kleiser) are all on show. Overall though, it's a solid effort from Hitch - augmented by the inking talents of Paul Neary and otherwise atmospheric colouring by Paul Mounts - although one has to question if it really takes 3 months at a time to complete.
An artist can only be as good as the script he's given, and this may be where the faults of this issue lie. Mark Millar has shown throughout this series, and others, that he knows how to effectively juggle over-the-top action with characters that we care about and plots that don't always progress in the direction you expect. Whilst there is some nice character work on show here - Iron Man's thrilling intervention being a particular favourite, belying Tony Stark's real lack of confidence in himself yet displaying his intelligence, courage and ability to be a heroic and functioning member of the team - there are some more questionable deviations (such as the hammer-happy Thor). As for the plot, any real intrigue is absent this issue, reducing proceedings to a straightforward enough slugfest. Certain moments did grab me, such as the way the US soldiers callously throw to the ground an admiring child as soon as the Tony Stark has gone and the cameras are off. It's a subtle moment, but one that show that there are more interesting ideas lurking behind the superficial and slightly bland facade that is on display here. However, the other surprising, effective and exciting idea involving Bruce Banner and a possible reprieve for the Hulk has been saved for the final pages - which admittedly make me eager to read the conclusion to this arc.
Maybe fans of the Ultimates are being spoiled by the issues of Ultimate Six which are comfortably filling the gap between issues of the regular series (not to labour a point, but we've had four issues of Ultimate Six since the last issue of the regular title). One has to say that, in comparison with the work Brian Michael Bendis is doing on that title, this issue of the Ultimates comes off as overly simple and by-numbers, lacking the sophistication or intrigue maintained in its own spin-off title.
The Ultimates does what it does with style and panache, but when each issue is a major event it had better be worth the wait. Sadly, there's little on offer here beyond a predictable battle with some beautiful graphics and an ending which at least makes me want to see how this is all rounded off. Not a bad comic book by any means, but this is The Ultimates - and perhaps we've been spoiled enough in the past to expect something a little more special. Hopefully with the forthcoming "Volume 2" relaunch (after issue #13) we can look forward to further thrills of this calibre, but on a more regular basis.
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