3.30.2012

The Ultimate Post


Ok, at the time of this writing, I’ve consumed Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye #1-4, and Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #1-6, and Ultimate Comics: X-Men #1-9. I originally thought I’d keep going and get to Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, but as much as I’m intrigued by Pichelli’s art, I’ve just never been into Spider-Man, and the Bendis factor is honestly a detractor. That said, I thought I’d share my general observations about this whole universe thus far.

ON THE PLUS SIDE

There’s a real deliberate effort to maintain continuity in this world, unlike, say, everything else published by Marvel and DC. For example, there are scenes that are essentially duplicated in UCH and UCU showing Nick sending Clint to the SEAR on his mission, which spins out of the main book and into the mini-series. I really appreciated that level of care.

UCU feels very global in scope, Nick inside the monitor womb of a SHIELD Helicarrier felt vaguely like the old Stormwatch books where “Weatherman” Henry Bendix was controlling the entire world from a 20 x 20 room.

Hickman’s pretty good about operating his books with a solid underlying theme, here it’s essentially Science vs. Religion, with Tony’s tech and SHIELD government funded might against the Power of The Gods.

“Bold” is a good word for UCU and UCH, the proceedings are made to feel important, the lines are appropriate to match the tone, and the action feels consequential, that anything could happen, or more likely, go wrong at any given moment.

It’s not often you see Thor getting his ass kicked, and I just appreciated that type of intellectual honesty in the face of this new threat. Similarly, I enjoyed the transposing of Jamie and Brian Braddock, and the decimation of the EU Captain Britain Corps or whatever that group’s official designation was.

The dystopian elements of UCXM really grab me. There’s a very “Days of Future Past” vibe to the whole thing, with Sentinels patrolling Mutant Concentration Camps. There’s a palpable sense of dread here. With Professor X, Magneto, Scott Summers, and other big players all dead after an apocalyptic event, Captain America in hiding, Jean Grey concealing her identity, it’s as if everyone’s worst fears have already come to pass. With that out of the way, it opens up a whole new world of story possibilities. What happens next?

Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde, with Alex “Havok” Summers a close second, is my favorite X-Man of all time, so I was pleased to see her front and center in UCXM. On top of that, initially positioning her as some type of mutant terrorist was a lot of tense fun. I could do without The Shroud guise, but it looks like that’ll fade away. Judging by the first promo cover I saw in the recent announcements (up top there), I’m glad to see that new writer Brian Wood will continue using her with his impending tenure on the title beginning in June (with #13, which obviously tickles me). The redesign of her new white costume with X arm band elicits an elegant effectiveness that calls to mind the yellow Bruce Lee style track suit that Uma Thurman rocked in the Kill Bill movies.

The use of Mutant Concentration Camps in UCXM is a great way to modernize one of the socially relevant 1960’s themes when this property was initially created. In a post-9/11 world, how do you strike the right balance between National Security and personal liberties?

I was surprised to not be annoyed by the Nick Fury and Clint Barton relationship. Nick is the strategic guy, with Clint his go-to enforcer at the tactical level. The quality of the procedural mission banter brings a level of intelligence to the espioactionthriller genre. I like that Fury is not infallible or uber-competent as he’s sometimes portrayed. You get the sense that he’s great at his job, has some tricks up his sleeve, and there’s obviously a reason he’s the man in charge, but here he’s just faced with something never seen before and is struggling to keep up in this crazy new world.

There’s lots of recontextualization going on, one of the hallmarks of contemporary art. For example, the notion of The Runaways means something totally different, like they’re setting up an idea for a new book for another writer to come along and take advantage of, which is really generous world-building in that sense.

As a fan of the old X-Factor series by Peter David and Joe Quesada, it’s always a treat to see anyone use Valerie Cooper in her government liaison role.

The villains Xorn and Zorn are pretty fun, as opposing forces of “enlightenment” and “entropy,” which is a phrase I obviously remembered, so that’s always a good sign.

Reed Richards is kind of transposed as a Doctor Doom figure here, using his incredible intelligence and ability for all the wrong reasons, but from his perspective obviously thinking he’s in the right.

The insidious nature of the government creating mutants through experimentation vs. genetic mutation brings a brand new angle to the entire mutant dilemma.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Let’s just call it what it is and point out the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the titling of this line is just silly. I mean, “Ultimate Comics: Ultimates?” C’mon, y’all can do better than that. If you really believe in the multiverse or whatever, and if the main Marvel U is established as 616, then just call this the 617 line or whatever. Marvel 617. That’s infinitely more interesting than using the same tired word you already used for another line, and I literally just thought of that as the first thing off the top of my head as I was typing this sentence. “Ultimate?” isn’t that like a played-out 90’s word? “Ultimate Comics: Ultimates?” Really? “Ultimate Comics: X-Men” after you already had “Ultimate X-Men?” Confusing. Dumb. Not Imaginative. Try Harder. Be Better.

I actually loved Spider-Woman weirdly lurking in the background and not saying anything, but she’s never really taken advantage of, that character doesn’t seem to pay off in the books I read. Maybe that’s coming?

Quicksilver’s characterization started strong in the White House scenes and quickly devolved into something I hated. Speaking of that old Peter David and Joe Quesada X-Factor run, one of my favorite singles ever is X-Factor #87, which was an infamous issue where Doc Samson came in to psychoanalyze the team following a particularly traumatic mission. For me, that was the quintessential Pietro Maximoff interpretation, a guy who is a hyper-intelligent asshole simply because he’s 100 steps ahead of everyone else operating at as snail’s pace, and is frustrated. Seeing him turn into a whelp here is off-putting and, I think, missing the point of his character.

Similarly, the interpretation of the Stryker kid is disappointing. He goes from being a very militant fanatical leading the religious zealot Purifiers to being an insufferable whelp that I compared on Twitter to the infamous Johnny Fontane in The Godfather when Vito Corleone is berating him for not being a man and bitching about his petty problems.

I actually like how the acronym SEAR rolls off the tongue, the South East Asian Republic. But, the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the vague ethnocentrism of this title one bit. DC and Marvel have always invented their own countries for nefarious purposes, from Khandaq and Quraq to Latveria and Wakanda. But the genericism of the “South East Asian Republic” is weird. It’s like how some writers kind of treat Africa as one big country. Try telling Egyptians, Ethiopians, and South Africans they’re all the same. Shit, try telling a New Yorker, a Louisianan, and a Californian that. My wife is Filipino and she doesn’t even consider herself Asian. SEAR? I mean, what country is that? What would the North East American Republic (NEAR) be? The states formerly known as New England forming their own sovereign nation? Some loose confederation of former Canadian Provinces and New England? I don’t really care what it is, just explain it so I don’t assume you’re being The Ugly American.

UCXM is a fairly dark and serious book, which I like, so the misplaced humor between Iceman and Human Torch is awful. Maybe it was a deliberate attempt to lighten the mood or remarket these two as the wise-cracking mutant buddy cop duo of the Ultimate Comics ‘verse, but for me it’s a fail. Their powers are essentially Fire and Ice, is that like Tango & Cash? Their dialogue is like a watered down attempt to emulate Bendis style banter, but falls completely flat. Hey, giant mutant assassin robots are killing your entire species and you’re basically a terrorist outlaw, so let’s make boob and Twitter jokes while we fight!

If I liked the villains for the most part, I was not a fan of how Stryker’s dad was characterized. So over-the-top evil as a parent that he might as well have been twirling his moustache and tying young female mutants down on the nearest train tracks. This was kind of ridiculous.

Stryker, The Purifiers, Nimrod Sentinels, I’ve really seen it all done before, and better, in recent various iterations of X-Force. So this was a little tired. Again, unless you’re really going to recontextualize something, why repeat what the audience has probably already seen? You’re being given carte blanche in a Whole New Universe. Be more creative, please.

Art inconsistency is weighing down most of these titles. I don’t recall the exact style in my mind’s eye now, but I remember thinking the UCH art was dynamic and detailed, so we’ll give that a pass. UCU started strong, but I remember it feeling rushed and a little wonky toward the end of that first arc. UCXM under the hands of Barberi was always a little light and cheesecake and Saturday morning cartoony for me, particularly when you consider the tone of this dystopian world. I mean, look at Storm’s enormous angularly sloping tits. I rest my case. By the end of the run I read, Medina jumps on and that was a huge improvement. His style is less affected by say, J. Scott Campbell, is cleaner visually, and has more compact detail and finish to the backgrounds, really giving you a sense of place for all the characters and action in the foreground.

Generally speaking, I don’t feel Nick Spencer was a good fit as a writer here. There was way too much TELL TELL TELL vs. showing any substantive story mechanics. In almost every issue, he spends a few pages up front recapping everything with tons of omniscient narration style exposition, seemingly taking the “every issue is someone’s first” mantra way too literally. He could have easily chopped out 2-3 pages of text per issue and front-loaded the “Previously In…” section instead, maximizing the page count real estate for some actual storytelling.

Agree? Disagree? What did you think?

3 Comments:

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Tom P said...

Great to read your thoughts in the Ultimate U, Justin. Spider-Woman is a part of Ultimate Spider-Man for the most part. I'm temped to send you my copies. It's the best stuff in the UU I think. Bendis's writing style fits the characters well as they are his. As oppressed to regular Marvel were everyone talks the same. He's brilliant at the teenage chit-chat. He came up with the whole evil Reed thing too. You raise some good points and once again a great read, could talk about this for ages, but it's late and typeing on a phone is not great! Keep it up!

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Argh!!! Now you're making me want to read UC Spider-Man again. Maybe I will...

 
At 5:37 AM, Blogger Jobayed ODesk said...

“The Network Documentation needs some more work” (if there was an Extreme Makeover for network documentation they’d be crying through the show)

 

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