Editor's Note: Ultimatum #4 arrives in stores tomorrow, June 3.
"Chapter Four: A Time to Die"
This penultimate issue of Ultimatum probably isn't going to win over anyone who hasn't enjoyed the first three issues. There's no amazing revelation that casts the previous chapters of the story in a new light, there's no clever twist that provides an easy reset for the chaos that has been unleashed over the course of the first three issues, and there's no hidden depth to the story lurking beneath its brash exterior appearance. This is simply Jeph Loeb and David Finch apparently taking great pleasure in delivering on the miniseries' promise to dismantle the Ultimate Universe. And, in that regard, they do a thorough job.
Unfortunately, simply taking a shared superhero playground like the Ultimate Universe and ripping it apart isn't really enough to maintain my interest, despite the novelty of seeing a successful publishing line be run into the ground so comprehensively. There's a gleeful quality to Loeb and Finch's destruction, much of which manifests itself through gruesome action sequences: we see heads being popped off the top of still-living bodies, arms being cleaved off by gigantic swords, a graphic image of someone being shot in the eye, and a little (more) cannibalism, just for good measure. All of this violence and gore reinforces the impression that the book is being sold on the strength of its shocking content, rather than on the promise of a decent story.
The dialogue is also pretty poor, whether it's the "dumb" take on the Ultimate Hulk (which ignores the development of the character in Ultimates 2, Ultimate Human and Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk), or Magneto's biblical posturing, which feels a little clunky and forced. Maybe this weak dialogue explains why this week's Ultimate Spider-Man #133 is a "silent" issue: if faced with the choice of incorporating Loeb's words into the story or leaving the pages text-free, I'd probably opt for the latter option, too.
The greatest strength of the book is the artwork. Although Finch's style might not be to everyone's tastes, there are some quite arresting images spread throughout the issue. The opening shots of Spider-Man are powerful and full of energy, and I really like the artist's detailed design for Dormammu, which works with Peter Steigerwald's colours to give him an almost painted look. There are a couple of weaknesses: many of Finch's faces look the same, and there are a couple of places where the characters don't look like themselves (the mop of hair on Finch's Ultimate Hulk makes him look as though he's wearing a toupée, and Doctor Doom looks a little like the Wizard of Oz's Tin Man), but it's a pretty solid job overall.
This is an issue that will probably appeal most to those readers who like their superhero comics to provide shocking surprises and unexpected deaths at every turn, and/or those who enjoy action-packed and highly detailed artwork. It's a dumb but intricately-drawn book that feels like a throwback to the bad old days of the 1990s, and whilst I'm sure there are readers out there who still enjoy that kind of thing, I'm personally sad to see the Ultimate Universe go out in so undignified a fashion.
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