By: Sam Humphries (Writer), Luke Ross (Artist), Matt Milla (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)
The Review: Divided We Fall/United We Stand has been a strange crossover event. Primarily it’s been driven by the drastic events of Jonathan Hickman’s Ultimates run, where Reed Richards and his Children Of Tomorrow left America without a president, with its capital destroyed and its people scared and divided. These events alone were the basis for a great story; it was a scenario that felt distinctly suited to the Ultimate Marvel Universe, like Brian Wood’s DMZ stretched across a continent and with superheroes and mutants thrown into the fray. At the last minute however, at least on the Ultimates side of things, an unnecessary straw has been added that’s almost broken the Camel’s back.
My main problem is with the mystery villain who’s been teased in the last several issues but only fully revealed here. Without spoiling too much, he’s a character that’s sprung from the pages of Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates (your first warning sign) who’s been positioned in a role that rehashes Loki’s plot points from Millar’s Ultimates 2. He feels like a completely unnecessary addition, and at first doesn’t come across as much more than a one-dimensional means by which *spoiler alert* Thor can be turned against Captain America *end spoilers*. However, he’s then highlighted as the moustache-twirling villain who has inspired and controlled the rebellious armies of the Western states from behind-the-scenes all along.
Surely the most compelling part of this crossover was the idea that this conflict was born in the vacuum of leadership that followed the destruction of Washington and the war of ideologies that followed. Can’t it just be people like you and me who were at fault? Nope, the blame is squarely placed on some also-ran Asgardian mischief maker doing his best to meddle with Midgard. The grandest concept of this storyline feels like it’s been neutered as a result.
But hey, I can overlook certain shortcomings if they’re presented convincingly enough (I’m shallow like that). Unfortunately, things aren’t going great here either. Some of the dialogue feels kinda forced and awkward, from the villain’s hammy monologues to Black Widow’s constant narration of proceedings. And what’s up with Iron Man’s boner for Nuclear Strikes on domestic soil? I swear, the first hint he gets that the battle against Hydra isn’t going completely to plan, he straight-up asks if they can’t just obliterate Wyoming instead. Cap overhears and seems pretty cool with it. Hmmmm.
Actually, the battle against Hydra presents several problems. I think I’m right in saying that this is the first time large-scale warfare between hundreds/thousands of soldiers has taken place in this series since the halcyon Millar/Hitch days; there it always felt epic, with a real-world tactical bent somewhat informing the action. While I appreciate that Hitch is a tough act for anyone to be compared to, in contrast Luke Ross’ depiction of these scenes feels a little ‘made for TV’. He may not have had the sufficient space to accurately depict the scale of the conflict (as good or bad there’s a lot going on in this issue) but the sight of unarmoured combat specialists like Hawkeye or the Falcon running across open ground towards an enemy flank shouting “Charge!” just seems ludicrous. And Cap’s little mobility hover-scooter thing is…oh man, just no. However, he does do a great job on the facial expressions, his Thor looks badass and his Giant-Women are pretty hot. So, not all bad, but we know he can do better.
Conclusion: For Sam Humphries, inheriting this book from Jonathan Hickman meant both good news and bad news. The good news was that he’d been gifted a deconstructed Ultimate Universe, freshly torn down and ready for him to re-build. The bad news was he had to follow Jonathan Hickman, surely a hard-as-nails challenge for any writer. To be fair, for the most part he’s done a pretty good job. He brought Cap back in from the cold and sunk his teeth into the challenge of making him president. At the same time he capably documented the action in the largest theatre of war within the Divided We Fall/United We Stand landscape. Still, this issue suffers from the feeling that the creative team was tasked with wrapping up a storyline in less-than-perfect time/page constraints and shoe-horning in a Deus Ex Machina, one that will (hopefully) get punched in the face a lot in the next issue.