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Ultimate Comics: X-Men #4 – Review

By: Nick Spencer (writer), Paco Medina (artist), Juan Vlasko (inker), Marte Gracia (colorist)

The Story: The ninety-nine percent of non-humans Occupy Time Square.

The Review: The premise of Ultimate Comics: X-Men is actually really interesting. With the majority of the old guard dead, the second tier characters have the opportunity to graduate to positions of leadership, while also leaving room for new characters to fill out the book. The reveal that the US government was responsible for the creation of mutants casts doubt on the legitimacy of both the government and mutantkind as a race. The villains are duplicitous and their endgames are mysterious.

All of which is to say, there’s a huge pile of wasted potential here. Almost none of the ideas have room to breathe, the art is lifeless, and the characters are quickly becoming boring. Add to that a pace so slow that it stifles plot development, and you have a book struggling to meet the bar of mediocrity.

I’ve enjoyed Paco Medina’s art in the past, but here everything feels terribly flat. Each panel looks as though the characters are standing in front of a wooden Hollywood backdrop. The characters themselves have almost no nuance to their expressions, the new X-Men in particular suffering from a bad case of blank-face. The scenes at the riots in Time Square lack perspective, and the art is incapable of giving context to the action. Among the violence, Rev. Stryker makes a speech. Who is he talking to? Where is he standing? Is anyone other than his own minions paying attention?

It doesn’t really matter, because he doesn’t have mush to say. Nick Spencer spends the first half of this book trying to explain the motivations of William Stryker Jr., which I normally would have welcomed since he has never been particularly sympathetic. But Spencer overcompensates, trying to explore a family tragedy, father issues, a religious awakening, and a populist rise against the government. None of these have the space to be fully explored. The scene of Stryker finding his family drowned in the Ultimatum wave should have resounded with pathos, but the art is emotionally bankrupt. The religious and anti-government ranting is clichéd, and the father-son dynamic is lifted straight from the Osborn family and inserted here without much justification. If Spencer had chosen one or maybe two of these to delve into, perhaps he could have managed to find something to humanize Stryker; instead, he appears all the more cartoonish.

The one time the issue almost comes to life is during a debate among the new X-Men about how to respond to Stryker’s actions. The argument reveals the impact Peter Parker’s death is still having on them, but it’s over far too quickly and resolves nothing. I’m still not certain whether to blame Spencer for not providing better dialogue, or to blame Medina for not being able to convey the subtext. Either way, what is clear is that the Ultimate Comics: X-Men suffers from a lack of depth. If the creators can’t provide some soon, the series may choke before it completes its first story arc.

Conclusion: Ambitious in concept and pedestrian in execution, this issue is very disappointing.

Jumping on point? Yes, actually. As the whole issue is spent with characters talking about doing things and not actually doing much of anything, this is a perfectly good place to jump on. But I can’t think of a single reason why you should.

Grade: D-

-Jim Middleton

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