Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Trevor Hairsine (p), Simon Coleby (i)
Another installment of this miniseries brings another seemingly endless sequence of our heroes trudging through a booby-trapped Russian prison, meeting a variety of freaks and monsters and trying to work out exactly where the signals which brought them there are emanating from. For his part, penciller Trevor Hairsine creates a dark and creepy mood which drips with atmosphere, delivering truly nightmarish visions of stitched-together half-beings and bizarre monstrosities which carry a genuinely chilling sci-fi horror vibe. His renderings of the central characters are also strong, with consistent facial expressions and stylized detail making the series feel real without trying to be photo-realistic. Unfortunately, the necessarily dull grey colour palette has a tendency to wash things out somewhat, making a lot of the scenes look the same and sapping some of the real creative energy that Hairsine brings to this issue’s action scenes. However, the artwork is well suited to the story overall - the major gripe with this issue lies in the overly slow and uninspiring writing.
Ellis’ pacing here feels more sluggish than on his other Ultimate title - Ultimate Fantastic Four - despite the fact that neither of them is really going anywhere fast. However, where that title manages to entertain with strong character work, such a large cast leaves Ellis struggling to do the same here, and as such a lot of the dialogue feels a little flat and samey. Although he manages to set up a couple of neat conflicts towards the end of the issue – Captain America’s superbly-conceived opposite number in this Russian hell has to be seen to be believed – there’s still a feeling that Ellis’ cliffhangers just don’t go quite far enough, and we still haven’t really got a sense of what lies at the core of his horror-cum-mystery. For a 5-issue miniseries which is already four issues in, you’d have to expect better than that. Of course, keen followers of the title will probably already be aware that this is now merely the first in a series of three minis which introduce new Marvel characters to the Ultimate Universe – and you’ll probably know by now if you really want to see it through to the end.
I’m still keen to hang around and see what issue 5 delivers, but if the whole miniseries ends up being one long set-up for “Ultimate Secret”, which follows on from this story, then I’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ll reserve complete judgement until I see exactly what happens with whatever the heroes have been confronted with at the end of this issue, but I have a real feeling that the potential of another Ultimate X-Men and Ultimates crossover is being wasted here. A shame, as - with a few little tweaks to the story and pacing – the creative team could clearly deliver much better.
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