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Sunday Slugfest: Ultimatum #2

Posted: Sunday, December 28, 2008
By: Thom Young

Jeph Loeb
David Finch (p), Danny Miki (i), & David Firchow (colors)
Marvel
Massive climatic disturbances are wreaking havoc with the planet--underwater volcanic eruptions, tidal waves crashing over whole cities, and snowstorms burying entire countries--and even the assemblage of the Ultimate Universe’s Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Ultimates, and Hulk are no match for this worldwide destruction that has been called the “defining moment of truth for the Ultimate Universe.” Nuff Said!

Shawn Hill:

Robert Murray:

Alex Rodriguez:

Jon Judy:





Shawn Hill

Is this a bad dream? Is Jeph Loeb doing a riff on Chris Claremont's patented apocalyptic dream sequences with which he used to start off every new Uncanny X-men arc? Is this issue meant to be a joke? I simply cannot take it seriously on any level. This is the dumbest comic of the year. Bar none.

It’s too bad we had to wait till the very last week of the year to get to it. I mean it is just thuddingly, mind-numbingly dumb. This is like Heroes dumb.

Remember how Sylar is a mousey watchmaker, then Sylar is a predatory killer, then Sylar kills random cheerleaders because he’s trying to kill Claire, then Sylar kills "heroes" for their powers, then Sylar kills his mother because she's crazy, then Sylar tries to kill Elle but gets shocked, then Sylar doesn't kill Claire because "she can't die," then Sylar turns out to have been turned into Sylar not by his crazy mom or his own repression but by Elle and HRG's betrayal, then Sylar and Elle admit their love for each other during the 12-hour "eclipse," then she betrays him to the cops because he's being a wuss, then she gets shot and they get their powers back and he decides to let her die?

Notice how I didn't even bother with the red herring of Sylar being Nathan and Peter's brother, since he so clearly wasn't that they shouldn't have even brought it up?

Anyway, that's what this Ultimatum #2 is like. Lots of things happen. None of them connect. None of them make sense. Each one is just a kewl "shock" to get us to turn the page. And the kewl factor here, as on Heroes, is wearing thin and revealing its own rampant sexism at the same time.

Remember how on Heroes:
  • Elle spent her life trying to please her dad as a company flunky, only to be set free for no reason by Mama Petrelli (almost in order to become a villain) once Sylar kills her dad?
  • The company woman named Eden (no symbolism with that name, huh?), who could control people's minds--but not enough to save her life?
  • Dale, the female auto mechanic, who could hear anything--but not enough to save her life?
  • Niki Sanders, an erotic dancer who had an dual personality named Jessica in which she possessed super-strength--but not enough to save her life?
  • Simone Deveaux, the innocent beauty whom Peter loved for half a minute, but not enough to save her life when her other lover shot her in the chest?
  • Caitlin, the Irish lass from Cork County whom Peter loved for half a minute but left in an apocalyptic future and hasn’t thought about since?
  • Tracy Strauss, the literal definition of an ice princess, who delights in turning pushy men into bloody ice cubes?
  • Maya Herrera, whose "power" is to make people have instant Ebola whenever she gets moody?
  • Heidi Petrelli, whose husband let her crash in a car (paralyzing her) while he experienced his first life-saving levitation(and we haven’t seen this character since the end of the first season, except for a flashback episode in season two)?
  • The time Elle lost control of her powers, and Sylar had to teach her how to control them, even though he'd only had them himself for a minute?
  • The time Meredith, Claire's bio-mom, lost control of her flame, becoming a danger to everyone (and possibly killing herself)?
  • The fact that the number one cheerleader, Claire, basically has a power that consists of her getting murdered over and over again?
Yeah, that subtle symbolism from Heroes--from which Loeb was recently fired as a writer and co-executive producer--continues in Ultimatum. It's not enough that Ultimate Wanda was killed by a horny robot. Now Ultimate Wasp . . . I can't even say it, it's so tacky and beyond stupid that it had me laughing rather than raising my ire as it should have even though it was truly, deeply vile.

Loeb has tried to defend this crap in interviews promoting Ultimatum, but all his spin doctoring sounds hollow compared to what he's really doing--which is systematically destroying everything that Millar and Vaughan and Bendis created.

I don't think Loeb is stupid, so he must be doing it on purpose. However, he's certainly not telling anyone in the promotional interviews that I've read why he’s intentionally taking this track. Ultimatum is like Avengers Disassembled without the attention to detail. It's like all he learned from Bendis was the "shock after shock after shock" plotting style--and, as on Heroes, he is content to use those shocks in place of character, story, logic, or plot development.

This issue:
  • Valkyrie is dead
  • Sue is in a coma (and has lost control of her powers--who saw that coming?)
  • Wasp is . . . well, “dead” doesn't come close enough to capturing the indignity of her status
Since Ultimate Black Widow is already dead (in a nice bout of bondage torture from both Iron Man and Hawkeye, successively), that takes care of the initial members. I'd be worried for the distaff members of the second hundred issues of the Marvel’s original Avengers title since they would be likely fodder for the Ultimatum charnel house--that is if there were an Ultimate Mantis, Ultimate Jocasta, Ultimate She-Hulk, or Ultimate Moondragon (which there sort of is, but she hasn't attracted Loeb's attention--and I doubt he would understand Ellis's version if she did get his attention).

Ultimate Carol Danvers seems safe for the moment as she's never become Ultimate Ms. Marvel, but can Zarda, the Power Princess from three universes over, really be the only fighting female left in Manhattan?

Yes, horrible things happen to the guys, too--but not horrible enough, because any of them would have more fun with Leather Bondage Hela than they do arguing with Dr. Doom and each other in this pathetic excuse for a story. The only audience I can figure for this tripe is kids addicted to zombie video games and those who crave childish plots that lead them quickly to the next beheading. There's nothing here for an adult.

Even David Finch can't make it better.

If Loeb thinks he's captured the special charm of the Ultimate universe (accessible, updated, and continuity-lite versions of Marvels icons for a younger generation) he's delusional.




Robert Murray:

Oh boy! I don’t know where to start with this review, which is usually never a problem for me.

Just to give you an insight into my reviewing process, I usually start with something positive as a lead-in before moving on to the areas in which the work needed improvement. However, I’m left with a quandary regarding Ultimatum #2: Where’s the good?

If anyone remembers the 80s Wendy’s commercial proclaiming “Where’s the Beef?” my tone and confusion are just as palpable as Clara Peller’s groans of frustration back then.

Wait a second! I know where the beef is! I have the beef, and it’s with Jeph Loeb’s scripting.

Burn! He’s almost turned me off my favorite Marvel character, The Hulk, and now he’s succeeding in ruining whatever fun I had with the Ultimate Universe.

First of all, the whole Biblical flood caused by Magneto and his influence on Earth’s magnetic poles just isn’t doing it for me. The threat of flood, while clearly referencing the recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina, isn’t a Universe-shattering event along the lines of a Skrull invasion or a crisis of multiple earths/dimensions.

Second, either I’ve been jaded by decades of comic book scholarship or I’ve heard Magneto’s motivations for destruction somewhere before. Even if I hadn’t, the idea of wiping out humanity because of what they’ve done to Mother Earth has been done ad nauseam over the last twenty years or so in multiple films, novels, and other media. Cripes, Magneto’s almost as see-through as a Bond villain!

Despite one splash page that I didn’t see coming, and another that was truly shocking, this issue had nothing going for it beyond the juvenile superhero high jinks that Loeb didn’t intend. Just the fact that the best moments of this issue are splash pages should say something about the contents.

This issue concerns the clean up after the flood--with many of Ultimate Marvel’s finest doing their duty to find survivors and get them medical attention. Spider-Man and the Hulk team up, as do Hawkeye and Hank Pym. Iron Man drops Captain America at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters. The Thing protects the unconscious Invisible Woman while Reed Richards accuses Namor of destroying New York. Finally, Thor heads to Hel to rescue Valkyrie and Professor X confronts Magneto in Westchester. All of this action occurs in the span of twenty-six pages--which, needless to say, makes Ultimatum #2 a very fast-paced issue.

Unfortunately, this speedy pace also means that we only get a smattering of each event--ultimately leading the reader to feel like he or she has just read a Cliffs Notes version of the story. Yeah, I know that there are crossovers into the other Ultimate titles. However, judging from Previews, the only two series’ that will expand on this issue are Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate Spider-Man. So, for those of you out there who are looking for entertainment to suit a short attention span, you’re in luck. Ultimatum #2 is the comic book equivalent of a 15-minute Adult Swim show (sans laughs)--all for the low price of $3.99.

Do I sound a little bitter? Wouldn’t you be if you had been duped into buying yet another Earth-shattering mini-series that fails to deliver?

That naiveté is on me, but the utterly banal story by Loeb should embarrass him and everyone associated with this project.

Anyone ever play D&D? If you were a dungeon master, you might remember the random encounters chart where you could roll d100 to generate a random encounter. Call me crazy, but this issue looks like it was constructed by a writer using a D&D random encounter chart--or else a dartboard with Post-It Notes.

I don’t know if he did so intentionally, but Loeb also “borrowed” a couple of current storylines in the regular Marvel Universe to add to the scattershot proceedings in the Ultimate Universe--one involving Hela and the other concerning the fate of Janet Pym. However, I will say that the splash page featuring Janet’s . . . ahem . . . ouster is a truly shocking image--much more shocking than the conclusion, which is saying something due to the magnitude of the final scene.

I’m glad that David Finch, Danny Miki, and company could provide two startling images in the pages of such a lackluster issue. Unfortunately, the two splash pages are the only illustrations worth mentioning. The rest of the issue will never rank as one of the artists’ best efforts.

A perfect example of their mundane artwork is the panel featuring Carol Danvers in all of her Russ Meyer glory. To call this drawing a Rob Liefeld rip-off would be apropos, as well as demeaning to the same penciler who gave us the spectacular first Ultimates series, Bryan Hitch. Other than the two good splash pages and the Liefeld travesty, Finch and Miki provide lots of big panels that don’t carry much emotional power--which is fitting since the dialogue is a dud as well.

Between Tony Stark’s whining, Ben Grimm’s unnecessary bedside chat, and a verbal confrontation between mutant superpowers that makes Pacino and DeNiro’s confrontation in Heat look Oscar-worthy, Ultimatum #2 lays a big fat egg.

I’m currently subscribed to this mini at my local shop, but after this issue I’ve decided to stand up for my rights and cancel the remaining issues. The $3.99 can be better spent on a Marvel Universe ongoing and a soda.




Alex Rodriguez:

Where has hope gone? To date, the Ultimatum series has been one of overwhelming sadness, down to the reason behind the atrocities Magneto has set in motion. The loss of a child will lead even the most stable of men to insanity, but when you’re already dancing on the edge of madness, a loss of this magnitude can lead you to destroy the world--whichs is exactly what Magneto wants, and exactly what he intends to accomplish.

In this issue, the tidal wave has been pushed back to sea. Sue is unconscious, Reed and Dr. Doom must join forces, and more of our favorite heroes are dying. There seems to be no hope in these characters’ faces. The heroes whom we have long looked up to feel just as helpless as the common man.

This story is one of the most interesting and intense I’ve read from Marvel in a long time. The weight of every aspect of the story pulls on every heartstring. What Loeb has managed to do is provide an atrocity that reaches every reader--but he also weakens our villain to a point where his actions can almost be pitied.

Magneto is faced with a loss that is every parent’s greatest fear. What if your children were murdered? What would you do? How far would you go for revenge? These are all questions that allow you to identify with Magneto and his situation even if you clearly object to his plan of action.

Magneto is broken, and his madness has become the only thing that allows him to feel any sort of control. This raw emotion and motivation is what Loeb is giving the reader. The loss Magneto is inflicting on all of humanity is his loss, his emptiness, and his regret. Loeb has created a Magneto that has finally decided to force humanity to feel as he has felt, and he has no reservations or apologies for it.

It’s great how Loeb uses the loss such characters as Reed and Hank feel as a window into the loss Magneto must be feeling. Despite his coldness and callousness, Magneto has always been a character that readers could identify with. He is the anger that lives in those who have been discriminated against--but now the anger is unhinged and the vengeance will run wild. No one is safe.

Loeb does an excellent job of providing believable, connected, and well-paced dialogue. His close work with the art team provides the comic with the most effective balance of telling the story with words and pictures.

The art of this comic is great. David Finch’s pencils provide a solid foundation for Danny Miki and David Firchow’s ink and color work (respectively). The tone created by the art is powerful--feeding a very dark, bleak, sinister, and sad feeling in the air. The coloring pulls all hope from the world around it--enhancing the feeling of loss and hopelessness already established by the writing. The use of shadow effectively personifies the darkness that surrounds our characters and the events they are currently facing as well as the events they are likely to face in the oncoming attacks from Magneto.

All-in-all, this is a great comic and an intense story. There is at least one character you can identify with, if not more. The dramatic ending will not only leave you on the edge of your seat, but also craving more. I recommend you pick up this issue at your local shop before they run out. You won’t regret it.




Jon Judy:

Let me give you an illustration of a backhanded compliment. I just got an email from one of the esteemed editors here at the Bulletin asking if I could contribute a review to this Slugfest because one of the participating Bulleteers had to back out of the Slug due to a last minute emergency.

So in other words, I’m a go-to guy, someone the team turns to when they need an emergency assist. On the other hand, I wasn’t held in high enough regard to be invited to the Slugfest to begin with.

And that’s a backhanded compliment. Not that I care. They’re just jealous because . . . umm . . . Wow. I can’t think of a single reason anyone would be jealous of me.

[Editor’s Note: I don’t make the initial assignments, I just call up the reserves (smiley face).]

Anyway, back to the topic of backhanded compliments, and my assessment of Ultimatum #2. Let’s start with a discussion of the merits and flaws of this issue alone.

First, Finch does a competent job on the art, which ranges from mediocre to great. Sure, it’s inconsistent, but it’s at least competent. In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit here that I really don’t care for Finch’s work. I find his characters all look just too abstractly, exaggeratedly muscular and their faces all look vaguely alien, inhuman. His stuff reminds me of a poor man’s Jim Lee or Michael Turner, and as I’ve never cared for Lee or Turner’s work. . . .

Yeah, I know. Start flaming me. “Whatev,” as the kids say.

So, yeah, art equals OK. On to the writing.

The story is, well, kind of cool. Loeb occasionally resorts to writing for morons--witness the splash page where a supervillain is actually eating a superhero. Said villain smiles and says . . . and I swear this is true . . . “Tastes like chicken.”

Wow. Really? So you’re going to ruin any impact this gruesome image had by using that cheesy old line?

Then Thor journeys to Hel and finds a friend of his there. To paraphrase, Thor asks “Gee, how’d you get here?”

To which his friend responds, “Gosh, I don’t know.”

Yeah, see, if I were a deity and I journeyed to the underworld of my pantheon and saw a friend of mine there, I think I’d kind of figure out that he was dead--but that’s purely supposition on my part.

On the other hand, Loeb’s story is packed with shocking “cool” moments that left me really intrigued for the next issue.

Another highlight is the use of splash pages.

The two-page spread on pages 2-3 is fantastic--handled for optimum impact. It instantly conveys, with just the turn of a page, the kind of nightmare the heroes are dealing with. Ditto the aforementioned cannibal page--minus the cheesy line, it’s a hell of a shocker to turn the page and see that.

On the other hand, the two-page spread of Thor’s confrontation with Hela was a waste. It could have easily been handled with a single splash, or even a single panel. The impact of the final splash, falling as it does on the right-hand side of the comic, is lessened because the reader gets a glimpse of it before finishing the preceding page.

However, the bottom line for me here is: This was a really entertaining read. The art and script were, on the whole, solid, and there were plenty of hooks that left me wanting more.

And yet . . . well, I’ve been burned by the Ultimate line (and Loeb) before. Outside of Brian Michael Bendis’s usually terrific Ultimate Spiderman and Mark Millar’s Ultimates and Ultimates 2, the line has been one disappointment after another--even from excellent creators.

There has been one cool set-up after another, only to have them fizzle into whimper-packed endings. Most recently, I thought the first issue of Loeb’s Ultimates 3 was just outstanding, but it dropped off a cliff immediately thereafter with a craptastic second issue.

Another problem I have with Ultimatum is how much it reads like fan-fiction. Yeah, OK, it’s loaded with deaths for A-list heroes and lots and lots of way-cool destruction, but it’s like some grandiose What If or Elseworlds story. The impact of watching big-name superheroes get run through the mortality ringer has long ago dissipated; yes, OK, Captain America is dead. Now where have I seen that before?

And so my final assessment of Ultimatum #2 is a backhanded compliment: For glorified fan-fic with inconsistent art and writing, it succeeds in a way it just shouldn’t--the sum of its parts being so much more than you’d expect. It’s a really fun read.

On the other hand, I just know they’re going to let me down in the end.



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