Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Trevor Hairsine (p), Nelson (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Any comic that points out how stupid the Ultimate X-Men really are is a great comic in my book!
Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Colossus find out the ďthingĒ broadcasting horrible images of death around the world isnít a mutant. Itís the Ultimate version of a classic Marvel hero. Captain America handily defeats his crazed Russian counterpart. Fury, Black Widow, and Falcon take down the X-Chumps with consummate ease. The ďthingĒ warns them about the coming death called ďGah-Lak-Tus.Ē
Iíll keep this brief: Read the comic. Realize how right Falcon and Wolverine are, that Xavier and Grey were so convinced that a psychic mutant was the cause of this disaster, they didnít even bother to double check. Their arrogance, born of self-righteousness, their ďdutyĒ to usher in a new age, as granted by their mutant powers, led them completely down the wrong path and almost got themselves killed. Jerks and morons. Even Bendis and Vaughn canít fix that.
So Ultimate Nightmare ends up being a creepy horror comic thatís only a prelude to the arrival of Ultimate Galactus. It will be written by Warren Ellis.
This could top Kirby. Ellis is one of only three people in comics who have ever come close to matching Jack Kirbyís big, weird imagination. The others are Grant Morrison and Tom Scioli.
And drawn by Trevor Hairsine? It just brings everything down to Earth. Mind-blowing fantasy looking as real as film. Winner.
This is a difficult one for me to review, as while the series as a whole has been an utter waste of time and money, this last issue is actually fairly enjoyable. We finally get to the point, the idea that Joe Queseda had that this whole event spins out of, and itís actually not bad, to tell the truth. Itís a neat twist on old characters and situations, and it fits in very well with the general horror theme of the series.
Sadly, itís not an idea thatís strong enough to sustain a five-issue miniseries on its own. Whether the second and third parts of this trilogy will be more imaginative and have better narrative balance is a moot point now, as the sluggish pace of this chapter has put me right off.
Why the rest of the series couldnít be as strong as this issue, and the first, I donít know. Ellis has fun writing the confrontation between the Ultimates and the X-Men, with the former coming off better yet again. Such is Ellisís apparent comfort with writing these particular characters that he might be a good choice to replace Mark Millar on The Ultimates should Marvel continue it (and letís just try to imagine a world where Marvel would allow one of their most popular series to end on a creative highÖnope!). Ellis still shows little grasp of the X-Men, however, and the resolution of their battle with the Ultimates, while clever, doesnít work quite as well from a narrative standpoint, smelling just slightly of ďand with one leap he was freeĒ storytelling.
The art is a similar mixed bag. I adore Trevor Hairsineís art, but this is by no means his best work, a failure which I think is down to the choice of inker. Hairsineís pencils look best with a rougher inking style, and if Marvel want to use him again in the future, they should consider giving him the time to ink his own work, or finding someone with a looser, scrappier style to complement his pencils. Someone like Klaus Janson would be a good bet for that. As it is, the more precise inking on show here, while certainly not a bad job, strips the vitality from Hairsineís pencils, giving the comic a stale and sterile look.
All in all, this issue has a couple of problems, but isnít too bad at all. However, after the ponderous tedium of the preceding issues, the upswing in quality is too little too late. Yes, the hook into the next chapter is effective, and I do want to see what Ultimate Galactus is like, but thereís no way Iím paying money for more of this. No way.
Plot: Okay, it should have happened in issue #2, but finally in issue #5, our two competitive polestars of the Ultimate universe meet, and itís worth the wait. Also, Russians are bad. Or crazy. But mostly bad.
Comments: I have this theory. People, when expecting an action movie, arenít too pleased when they get a horror film instead. This sequel of sorts to Ultimate War promised another confrontation between our mutant outlaws and our government super-agents. Promised and then delayed and delayed, with what appeared to be little more than sideshow attractions keeping us from getting to the fight scene.
Whatís interesting: But it was right there in the title all along, people. Nightmare. This isnít a war story. Itís a very bad dream, dreamt by a fitful post-Glasnost world. Jean (as usual) is the universal conduit for human feeling, and sheís an angry, barely articulate basket-case for most of the story. Wolvy tries, as always, to bring things down to ground level, but itís really Colossus, who actually knows where heís going (and, more importantly, where he is) who grounds that side of the story.
On the other team, itís not Fury or Falcon or even the Widow who are in their natural element, itís Cap. Here is the nightmare version of his own birthing chamber, as twisted a parody as he would have ever expected of American aspirations, warped beyond recognition by Soviet envy and fear. What each creature has been, each step along the way of this underground torture chamber, is a living symbol of communism in decay. Where Americans (moreso in the Ultimate-verse than ever before) offer ingenuity, might and decisiveness, Russia-in-decline offers only twisted, insane mutations of capitalism. Itís a disintegrating world, one that can only birth the most virulent strains of the memes that infest its cold war enemy, still-born creations at best.
Also interesting: These themes are also present in the current Black Widow mini-series (also released this week), so itís fascinating to read such an atmospheric perspective compared to Richard K. Morganís more literal exploration of a shambling, cranky bear that is no less dangerous for his mangy injuries. When the two teams meet, Ellis makes sure to underline their ideological differences in action.
And Hairsine is with him every step of the way. This young British artist is a major discovery, commanding already a Jiminez-like mastery of detail and ability to limn even shadowy, gothic worlds. Epting did serviceable fill-in work on this title, but itís great to have Hairsineís stark contrasts of the beautiful and the hideous to finish out the series.
Even better: Whatís great about the Ultimate Universe is what can be done to refresh old concepts. Ellisís wild recombination of Galactus with the Red Guardian and other formerly divergent mythologies is genius here, and culminates (also solving the central mystery) in a brilliant usage of a certain character who has been treated shabbily in the main books for far too long. While the ending may or may not make one long for the next chapter in this decompressed tale, it does deliver on what this series promised all along. Not only does Fury chide the mutants, but they chide themselves for their ignorance. Clearly, in this bleak tale, we should all know better.
Well, what a surprise this turned out to be. Beset by late scheduling and hampered by a laboriously slow pace in the opening issues, Ultimate Nightmare held all the potential to be another blot on the Marvel Miniseries landscape Ė a hollow idea dragged out to five long issues, with little or no impact on the characters of The Ultimates or Ultimate X-Men at all. However, in this final issue, writer Warren Ellis pulls off a barnstorming finale, with enough action to make up for the drudgery of the last couple of issues, and enough plot revelations to keep me genuinely interested as to where this story goes.
Captain Americaís run-in with his opposite number, the Russian Red Guardian, is a more interesting clash than your standard run-of-the-mill superhero smackdown. Thereís genuine tension created by their opening caution, as each measures up the other, and when the fighting does come itís swift and brutal. Whilst the wordless visuals that accompany this fight could have maybe benefited from some sound effects, it was perhaps intentional that Trevor Hairsineís intricate pencils carry the weight of the clash all on their own. As Captain America begins to rip the Russian madman into shreds, the tone becomes more and more horrific, punctuated by a final gory moment as Cap goes in for the kill, which really adds weight to the Ultimate conception of Rogers as a cold focused soldier whoíll stop at nothing until his mission is complete. Ellis obviously has a pretty good handle on the characters involved here, and little continuity references like Capís ďLucky JimĒ comment to Wolverine (as explained in Ultimate War) show that heís got a good grasp of the Ultimate Universe too.
Later scenes provide the long-awaited payoff of the Ultimates squaring off against the Ultimate X-Men, in a neat sequence which revisits last issueís cliffhanger from a different point of view. Itís nice to see Ellis adding a dose of realism into the mix, as whilst the X-Men get a few hits in (it took me a couple of reads to notice Fury & co.ís irritation at their bent gun barrels), itís the Ultimates who rule the roost here Ė as youíd expect from a team of the U.S. militaryís handpicked superheroes. Black Widow appears to take down Jean Grey with complete ease (more irritated by her than threatened), Captain America completely hands Wolverine his ass (for the second time this month, if youíre a Wolverine reader) with one of the most chilling panels of the super-soldier that Iíve ever seen, and Sam Wilsonís casual domination of Colossus (ďI could shoot you through the eyes from twenty paces without even tryingĒ) is a particularly cold putdown to the comparatively young and inexperienced X-Man. This is a military unit taking on a bunch of schoolchildren, and it shows. Having said that, Iím a huge fan of the Ultimates and havenít got much time for the X-Men, so maybe my reaction is a little biased Ö
With so much action going on, itís surprising that Ellis manages to pack in all the plot twists that he does, and surprise the reader with his explanation of the source of the eerie transmissions that have been plaguing the planet since issue #1. Whilst some thought that this series would introduce Ultimate Captain Marvel or Ultimate Galactus, the new Ultimate character who is introduced in this issue makes for far more interesting reading, a much more interesting visual, and sets up lots more potential story-wise for future issues. I also like the fact that Ė although the mystery of this mini-series is explained Ė thereís still a much larger plot going on here, and ití s being given the build-up and gravitas that the concept deserves.
So, Ultimate Nightmare #5 offers some great writing, as military-speak meets sci-fi horror with some cool superheroics thrown in; we see some great art, with Nelsonís finishes of Hairsineís fantastically detailed pencils adding real depth and a cinematic feel to the proceedings; and we get a few cools twists with a neat set-up of future storylines to come. If I was being picky, Iíd perhaps complain that as an individual miniseries the finale is a little unfinished Ė essentially climaxing with a ďTo Be ContinuedÖĒ Ė but if Ellisís future ďUltimateĒ miniseries can ratchet up the tension and scale of the action another notch from here, then Iíll be more than happy. If all the issues of Ultimate Nightmare had been as densely-packed, well plotted and exciting as this one, we would have been in for a five-star miniseries. As it is, itís a very good ending to a middling run of issues that leads nicely into Ultimate Secret, ensuring that Iíll be on board to see where that story goes.
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