Editor's Note: Ultimate Comics New Ultimates #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, March 3.
"Chapter One: Thor Reborn"
Having been impressed with the first issue of Jeph Loeb's Ultimate Comics X, it's a little disappointing to see him fall back into more mediocre territory with the first issue of New Ultimates. Whilst this debut chapter reprises many plot threads from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's Ultimates (and from Loeb's own Ultimate work) and develops them further, it's pretty unfocused as a story in its own right, apparently finding it difficult to decide exactly what tale it's trying to tell.
We're served up several scenes that work reasonably well individually: we see Hawkeye grieving over the loss of his children in Ultimates 2; we see the return of the Ultimate Defenders, who have somehow acquired real super-powers; we see Carol Danvers embark on a new relationship; we see the return of the ultimate version of a classic Avengers foe; we get an extended inner monologue that explores Tony Stark's feelings about his cancer; and we get a glimpse of what Thor is currently up to, after apparently dying in Ultimatum. However, these elements don't come together in particularly coherent way, and it's difficult to feel that there's actually a compelling story here at this point.
In addition to this, there are a couple of slightly jarring instances of Loeb inserting references to his own life into the pages of this story. Anyone who knows anything about the writer's personal life over recent years will recognise the allusions to real-world events that he has written into the story -- and whilst they help to add a certain amount of depth to Stark's inner monologue, they sit slightly uneasily on the page amid such fantastical, unrealistic characters.
As far as the artwork goes, Loeb seems to have written the book with a view to bringing out the best in his collaborator Frank Cho by providing exactly the kind of things that he likes to draw. So, we get hordes of trollish Asgardian beasts, and countless examples of busty women seducing (or being seduced by) male characters. It's pretty juvenile stuff, and there's very little of the kind of energy and dynamism that I've seen in some of Cho's previous work to make the book exciting to read for those of us who aren't in love with his style. That said, if you're a fan of the artist's work, you probably won't be disappointed, especially if you tend to read his comic for the cheesecake elements.
The first issue of New Ultimates is an odd beast that demonstrates some potential, but never develops any of its individual plot strands to the point at which they become truly interesting, and suffers from some slight clunkiness in terms of the actual mechanics of the writing (for example, I found that Stark's inner monologue often clashed with dialogue in the same panel, making it a chore to follow the thread of either of them). I won't write the series off completely at this point, but for the moment it feels like the book is somehow less than the sum of its parts.
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