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Ultimate Comics Avengers #6

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010
By: Dave Wallace

Mark Millar
Carlos Pacheco (p), Dexter Vines (i), Justin Ponsor (colours)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Ultimate Comics Avengers #6 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 21.

"The Next Generation: Part Six of Six"

It's taken me six issues of Ultimate Comics Avengers to realise something that, in retrospect, should have been obvious. Despite being written by Mark Millar, this book is not a continuation of Millar's two volumes of Ultimates, the book that epitomised everything that was fresh and original about Marvel's Ultimate universe. It might feature some of the same characters as Ultimates, and it might be set in the same world, but this is very much an Avengers book set in the Ultimate Universe -- and one that brings with it all of the stupid superhero conventions, garish costumes and nonsensically outlandish concepts that Ultimates managed to avoid.

This issue sees the Ultimate Red Skull confront Nick Fury's troops armed with the Cosmic Cube, an all-powerful fantasy device from regular Marvel continuity that I hoped would never see the light of day in the Ultimate Universe but which apparently found its way into the imprint via a storyline in Ultimate Fantastic Four that I never read.

It's a great example of how concepts that might feel natural and comfortable in the context of Marvel's Silver Age titles just don't work when shoehorned into modern-day books. We see the militarised, grounded, soldier-like heroes of the Ultimate Universe confront a villain who can effectively do anything with little more than a thought and a wave of his hand (although apparently this Cosmic Cube isn't quite fully functional yet, so it's only a little bit cosmically powerful instead of fully cosmically powerful. As though that makes a difference).

However, despite being a tactical genius, apparently this Red Skull doesn't think that actually killing the heroes instantly with his cosmic power would be a good idea. Instead he wastes time turning them into flowers and making them think that the Hulk is beating him, when actually he's beating the Hulk! It makes for a ridiculous read, with drama that's impossible to invest in and absolutely no sense of jeopardy. And the fact that it's written in such a po-faced, serious style just makes it feel all the more absurd.

It doesn't help that so many of the smaller details of the story are so sloppy. Why does War Machine suddenly start using powers that make no sense and are given no explanation? Why does Cap -- who's a super-powered uber-soldier military genius, remember -- insist on flying his teleporting fighter jet through populated urban areas so dangerously and callously whilst en route to his destination? And just how does he manage to get the drop on the Red Skull in such a simplistic manner when the Red Skull has the power of the cosmic cube at his disposal? It's one of those books that seems to resist making sense to such a degree that you just have to sit back and try and enjoy the mindless action.

And the action is fairly pretty, thanks to Carlos Pacheco's artwork. It's not perfect -- some of the sequences are a little unclear (for example, towards the end of the book I was a little confused as to whether Cap was still in his teleporting plane or not, as Pacheco's close-ups didn't give any indication of his environment), and I'm still not sure why this art takes so long to produce -- but it's generally fairly consistent, detailed, and polished-looking stuff, thanks in no small part to the inking of Dexter Vines.

The issue isn't a total loss. There are one or two amusing lines of dialogue, and I have to admit that I enjoyed the moment in which we finally get to see Hawkeye crack a smile behind his mask. There's also some vaguely interesting stuff towards the end of the issue that paints Ultimate Nick Fury as just as much of a manipulative control-freak as ever he was, but it lacks any of the light and shade that makes a Machiavellian character like him interesting. Instead, it sees a modern-day writer of comics yet again assume that making a supposedly heroic character behave like a bastard somehow makes him automatically more "adult" and compelling. Interestingly, this is an accusation that was often (wrongly, in my view) directed at Millar's deceptively complex and thoughtful characterisation of the heroes of Ultimates -- and one that I've often defended that book against -- but it sadly feels all too pertinent here.

As money becomes an ever-more decisive factor in whether I decide to pick up a comic or not -- particularly when it comes to Marvel books, many of which I've thoroughly enjoyed over the last few years, but which seem to have been going off the boil a little lately -- the time comes to make decisions about what books to keep following and which ones to drop. And despite my love of the original Ultimates and my general enjoyment of much of Mark Millar's work, on the strength of this first arc of Ultimate Comics Avengers, I won't be picking up the second.






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