Part 4 of 9
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Greg Land (p), Jay Leisten (i), Justin Ponsor (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The fourth issue of Ultimate Power sees the book enter its second act, ushering in J. Michael Straczynski to take over the writing reins for three issues. Prior to the book's release, I was sceptical of the plan to have three writers handle the single storyline (we all know how Spider-Man: The Other turned out, after all), but this issue makes quite a good case for the decision, as the story shifts its focus to concentrate its attention as much on the characters of Squadron Supreme as on the Ultimate universe heroes - with JMS seeming far more at home when dealing with his own characters than he is with the Ultimate Marvel pantheon. Reed Richards' highly-charged confrontation with Emil Burbank underlines the seriousness of the problem which has been caused for the Squadron Supreme's Earth by Reed's contaminated cross-dimensional probes, and a later conversation between Hyperion and Power Princess continues to explore some of the plot strands and overall themes which have run throughout Straczynski's Supreme Power and Squadron Supreme series.
However, that's not to say that the Ultimate characters get the short end of the stick, as there are a couple of enjoyable moments which show that Straczynski has a fairly solid understanding of what makes many of them tick, too: Ultimate Spider-Man's nervous, childish banter could have been written by Bendis (and I mean that as a compliment), and Thor gets a chance to show off just how powerful he is in a well-conceived sequence which shows him breaking through to the Squadron Supreme universe. Straczynski's sometimes-successful humour is present, but for the most part it works - there's a fun bit of business between Spidey and Nick Fury as they conceive their plan (it's always good to see Peter Parker written as the intelligent, scientifically-minded teenager that he is), and the sequence in which Pete tries to pronounce "Mjolnir" properly raises a chuckle. However, I don't know what the rationale is for Ultimate Thor suddenly speaking in the Olde-School manner of his regular MU counterpart: maybe it's a significant change for the character which occurs in the still-unreleased final issue of Ultimates 2, or maybe JMS has been spending too long writing his new Thor series in regular Marvel continuity and got confused between the two. Either way, it's a distracting change.
Greg Land's art has generated polarised debate between many fans, some of whom see his artwork as little more than "tracing," whilst others enjoy the finished product no matter what artistic process went into creating it. I tend to lean towards the latter group, as whilst there's the occasional distracting pose or familiar face (especially among the women), the overall effect is slick and attractive. In fact, Land's flaws are a little less evident here than usual, as I detect a modification of the art style as a result of the change in inker, with Jay Leisten's finishes giving the linework a slightly looser, sketchier feel which makes Land's figures feel less static than usual - with a particularly impressive sequence showing Thor swinging his hammer about for a few pages. However, the downside is that it also makes certain panels look a little unfinished and compounds the continuing lack of consistency in the look of some of the characters (Hyperion looks completely different, yet again, and Kitty Pride seems to be getting more and more elongated as the series goes on, continuing to show off her underwear at every opportunity). Overall though, the look of the book is still strong, and Justin Ponsor again maintains a vibrant tone with a perfect balance of realism and vivid splashes of colour.
This series might not be the most intelligent comic on the stands - it's not much more than an excuse to have the two universes of characters fight each other, after all - but it's carried off well, with attractive artwork and some interesting plot points cropping up this issue which suggest that the series has been fairly tightly plotted between the three writers. The revelation that Nick Fury might be more at fault for the contamination of the probes than Reed Richards promises some fireworks later on in the series, and his unrevealed confidante adds an air of mystery to the book which should keep readers interested. It's not going to change the medium, and it may well prove to be fairly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it's an enjoyable, colourful romp which is providing enough action and intrigue to make it worth picking up on a monthly basis.
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