Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Brandon Peterson, Justin Ponsor (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This issue of Ultimate Extinction reaches the midpoint of Ellis’s final chapter in his “Ultimisation” of the Galactus saga, and the home stretch of the trilogy of miniseries has built up to the arrival of the devourer of worlds on Earth. Whilst that arrival doesn’t happen this issue (the Gah Lak Tus swarm has now passed Jupiter, but is still hovering somewhere around the Main Belt), the series’ various story strands do continue which are starting to come together in a far more cohesive way than in previous issues – even if one or two subplots, such as the Moondragon mystery, are put on hold for now.
Ellis still feels very much like he’s moving pieces into position for his story, but he’s doing it in an entertaining manner – and for every piece of exposition that he gets out of the way, he provides a counterbalancing scene which deepens the intrigue behind Gah Lak Tus’ arrival, or sets up a potentially exciting development in the book’s final few chapters. There is some furthering of the central plot as Nick Fury teams up with Professor X in an attempt to make contact with the being which is hurtling through our solar system in search of lunch, and there’s an interesting wrinkle in the story of the Ultimate Silver Surfer, whose true nature still isn’t clear by the end of the issue but who is beginning to seem far less angelic than his winged Ultimate design would have you believe. Ellis is careful not to get too bogged down in the more fantastical elements though, handling the sci-fi with as much emphasis on realism as possible in such a story, and grounding his characters with some quirky but fun dialogue (the hilarity of Misty Knight’s “Kiss my black butt, Captain Whitey!” is matched only by the oddness of Cap’s bizarre aside about a bottomless well in Iceland). Unfortunately, there’s less of the kind of interesting character interaction between the various superheroes this time round than we saw in the last issue – although it’s nice to see Tony Stark’s solid relationship with Mahr-Vell continue to thrive – but I’m sure we’ll see the different groups of characters begin to join up again next issue as events start to build to a head.
Surprisingly, the only notable letdown is in the art department, where Brandon Peterson makes a couple of minor missteps. The first is in his renderings of the Ultimates in costume, as the early appearance of Captain America has an oddly smooth and rounded feel to it (although this may be as much due to Justin Ponsor’s airbrushed colours as Peterson’s linework) and the almost simian stylings he lends to Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit – especially in the facial area - make the character look ugly and distorted compared his appearance in the core title. My second complaint is that the computerised shading effect evident in the first two issues continues to be used to the point where it’s more than a little distracting, and as a substitute for a higher level of detail or hand-drawn texturing it doesn’t really come off. It’s a shame, because other textures in the issue are very well handled (notably the gleaming metal of Misty Knight’s false arm and the Silver Surfer’s skin) and the flat, generic fill of the computerised hatching only serves to make panels feel samey and flat, when there’s quite a lot of visual invention to be found beneath the overused finish.
That said, much of the issue’s artwork is still outstanding, whether it’s the well-conveyed impact of Charles Xavier’s “first contact,” the visual representation of Ellis’s high-concept sci-fi as Reed and Sue try to work out how to hurt Gah Lak tus, the realistic detail of Fury’s Cerebro array, or the show-stopping climactic appearance of the Silver Surfer cutting loose in all his Terminator 2-esque glory. The overall standard of the art is strong and consistent, and the tone manages to remain in keeping with the grounded feel of the Ultimate Universe even though these miniseries are dealing with decidedly more fantastical concepts than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch have tackled in the main Ultimates book (and if you ever needed further proof of that, check out those freaky final few pages).
This mini is a feast of ideas to an extent that the previous chapters of the "Ultimate Galactus" trilogy haven’t managed to achieve. Instead of coming up with one key conceit and playing it out as in Nightmare and Secret, Ellis continues to pile new concept upon new concept here, making the book dense in imagination as well as slick and exciting when it comes to handling its superhero or action-based elements. When you come away from the issue, you’re not bored by a predictable or uninspired run-of-the-mill story as with so many company superhero comics – you’re wondering whether Reed Richards has worked out how to harness the power of thousands of tiny big bangs to create a superweapon capable of harming Gah Lak Tus, how the giant being’s hive mind is going to react to the “contamination” of Professor X’s psychic probe, and just what the true nature and purpose of the Silver Surfer is in the Ultimate Universe. This kind of stimulation allows Ellis to entertain the reader’s imagination at the same time as Peterson amuses the eyes, and it makes for a good storytelling mix. After the disappointment of Ultimate Secret, I wasn’t sure that Ultimate Extinction was going to be able to round the story up in a very satisfactory way, but this final mini has definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite books of the month, and I can’t wait to see how Ellis wraps it all up in the next few issues.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!