The first thing that struck me about this issue is how silly and inconsequential the crossover with the “Death of Ultimate Spider-Man” event has turned out to be. Considering that Spidey being shot by the Punisher formed the cliffhanger to the previous issue, the development is dispensed with very briskly here, apparently forgotten halfway through the issue as Millar tries to wrestle the book back to his own plotline rather than one that's taking place in a completely different -- and otherwise largely unconnected -- title.
This is the kind of 'crossover' that I can't see pleasing anybody: if you're keen on Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man tying up in a meaningful and substantial way, you'll probably be disappointed by how shallow and brief the connections are here. And if you're a reader like me, who'd rather just read a straight Ultimates book, you have to put up with a distracting and apparently arbitrary guest-appearance from Spider-Man that throws the rhythm of the rest of the story completely out of whack.
Luckily, once the interlude involving an injured Peter Parker (mortally injured? We never find out. He could have died five minutes after his scene here, for all we know) is out of the way, the book course-corrects pretty quickly. We're dragged back into an intricate battle of wits between military strategists that plays out via lots of larger-than-life superheroes kicking and punching each other, interspersed with gritty macho dialogue. Which is really the kind of book that Millar excels at, in his own way.
It might not feel as revolutionary and fresh as the original Ultimates, and there are certainly far more concessions to conventional superheroics here than in the writer's original conception of his updated version of Marvel's Avengers, but it's still an enjoyable concept that makes for a pretty entertaining story under Millar's pen.
In particular, there's a genuinely interesting incorporation of current real-world political ideas towards the end of the issue that paints the arc's main villain in a surprisingly ambiguous light. And there's a reasonably compelling cliffhanger -- that admittedly could be explained away in any number of ways next issue, but which still makes for a pretty dramatic end to this one.
If I have any real criticism, it's that the book can't escape feeling pretty shallow and lacking in any really original or exciting ideas. However, the artwork of Leinil Yu and his apparent clone Stephen Segovia (I can't tell them apart, anyway) makes up for this intellectual shortfall with some impressive, highly-detailed shots of superhero combat on the streets of New York. Whether it's War Machine's devastating attack on a bridge or the elegant simplicity of Captain America holding a wounded Spider-Man in his arms, Yu and Segovia bring a huge amount of energy and drama to each scene.
Finally, it's probably worth commenting on this issue's status in the context of the rest of Millar's run on Ultimate Avengers. Whilst it's only the fourth issue of this miniseries, it's really the 22nd issue of his larger storyline (including the previous three minis) -- and with that in mind, the writer seems to have left himself with quite a lot to accomplish in just two more issues, with handfuls of subplots still left dangling and plenty of story threads requiring further explanation or development to really make sense.
It probably hasn't helped that the Spider-Man crossover has eaten into the page count of this final miniseries, and Millar could have also given himself a little more room by restraining himself from slyly slagging off the work of other Ultimate creators (a couple of issues ago, it was Orson Scott Card's two Ultimate Iron Man miniseries being casually declared out-of-continuity; here, Millar can't resist a dig at the admittedly silly decision of J. Michael Straczynski to make Ultimate Thor speak with the cod-Shakespearean stylings of his regular-MU counterpart). I guess it just remains to be seen whether he can somehow bring everything together in a satisfying way by the time the series is over -- just in time for the next big Ultimate relaunch.
EDITOR'S NOTE: John Giltinan reviewed Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates #4. Read his thoughts, too!
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