Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artists: Greg Land (p), Matt Ryan (i), Justin Ponsor (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Sometimes you don't need much of a story to make an entertaining superhero comic - and if you're an action nut, this is the issue for you. A lot of people have bemoaned the fact that Brian Michael Bendis' comics take up too much space with dialogue and don't give enough attention to spectacle, and whilst he doesn't exactly lose the exuberant wordiness here (Bendis' knockabout banter is like background radiation - the best you can hope for is that it dies down to an acceptable level, because it's never going to go away completely), this issue should at least answer the question of whether he can "do" big superhero fights.
In amongst the ever-present chatter, Bendis manages to orchestrate some pretty good action sequences (I particularly enjoyed the few pages in which the Blur consistently overshoots his mark) and makes things a little more interesting than your average contrived crossover with some odd quirky details about how the minds of the Squadron Supreme have been messed up due to the nature of inter-dimensional travel. It's not enough to stop this instalment from being a quick, simple read, but it's the kind of issue that can be an enjoyable confection when done well, and this effort isn't too bad. I'm sure that the people who will complain about this second issue being nothing but a hollow slugfest are the same ones who moan when a heroes vs. heroes story like this takes too long to get to the fight (as in Ultimate War, for example), and it just shows how hard it is to get the balance right when a story has obviously been planned with sales rather than artistic merit or quality of story at the forefront of the publisher's mind. Personally, I'm hoping that this early by-the-numbers battle will get the obvious "clash of heroes" stuff out of the way so that Bendis and his subsequent writers can clear the decks to make way for a more unpredictable tale about how Reed Richards' actions may have doomed a neighbouring universe. That said, the series' story could still go either way at this point.
So, to the art. There's an interesting hobby that seems to have sprung up among internet fans as a result of Greg Land's high-profile work for Marvel over the last couple of years, and that's matching up his figures with the photos or panels from other comics which have "inspired" them. To be frank, it's getting quite tedious: yes, Land obviously draws on sources other than models or his own imagination to create his images, but photo-reference is such a common tool among artists that I'm surprised to see how outraged a lot of fans have professed to be at the "swipes." When an image is directly traced and lifted from a photograph, that's one thing, but when fans are making a meal of the fact that Land's Kitty Pride looks similar to his Sue Storm (as though that amounts to the same level of "art theft") I have to call it an over-reaction. I don't see people saying the same thing about (say) David Finch's similar faces, and even though I can see how a reader might feel that there's a lack of genuine artistry in Land's methods, I personally think that the results should be judged on their own merits rather than overshadowed by the controversy which has been whipped up over an issue which is hardly new to the world of illustration.
Regardless of that storm in a teacup, I have to say that the book's art looks pretty good. Yes, there are a couple of panels which look a little "off" - the frankly unnecessary upskirt shot of Kitty Pride which opens the book and the shifting facial features of Hyperion are both a little eyebrow-raising - but for the most part, Land's images are slick, energetic and tell the story clearly. This issue in particular is a gift for a superhero artist, as it amounts to little more than an extended fight scene between all of the major players in the Ultimate Universe, with the arrival of each group of characters giving Land a perfect excuse for a parade of big, flashy images. Matt Ryan's inks are smooth and delicate enough that none of the detail of Land's linework gets lost, but he's sharp enough to add as much of a sense of movement as possible to figures which can sometimes come off as overly posed. Ponsor's vibrant yet restrained non-primary colours also do much to tie the book's universe into a real-world aesthetic which has become an important aspect of the Ultimate Marvel Universe. I was a fan of the same art team's run on Ultimate Fantastic Four, so maybe I'm biased, but they're a great choice to illustrate a crossover which was always going to be more about the spectacle of seeing the Ultimate heroes clash with the inhabitants of the Squadron Supreme Universe as it was with telling an original, thought-provoking story.
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