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Ultimate Comics Ultimates #20 – Review

By: Sam Humphries (Writer), Scot Eaton (Artist), Rick Magyar w/Andrew Hennessey & Dave Meikis (Inkers), Matt Milla w/Andy Troy (Colorist), Clayton Cowles (Letterer)

The Review: If Jeph Loeb hadn’t irrevocably depleted my levels of Ultimate-based rage with the debacle that was Ultimates 3/Ultimatum, I’m pretty sure I’d be tearing this comic to bits with my teeth right now. As it stands, I’ve grown used to the Ultimates occasionally being neglected by Marvel’s quality control department like it was a red-headed stepchild and, as such, Sam Humphries’ run has elicited little more than a ‘meh’ from me most months. This month however, something in me snapped; we Ultimate fans deserve better than this.

Okay, so let’s start with possibly the biggest problem: the art. Since the wonderful Esad Ribic hit the ‘Eject’ button, departing Ultimate Comics Ultimates alongside Jonathan Hickman, the title has largely taken on an uneasy Boy’s Own look which felt totally at odds with the mature themes it was seeking to explore. It’s been difficult to take the Civil War-vibe and political posturing seriously with everything looking so bright, puffy and rounded, and that sense of disparity lingers here like a bad smell. For me, this is one of those Marvel titles which requires its art style to have one foot firmly rooted in the grimy, gritty ‘real’ to be truly effective. Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Leinil Yu – who I feel have produced some of most definitive treatments of the Ultimates – all had a knack of conveying that sense of widescreen action that is so key to Mark Millar’s original blueprint. Scott Eaton’s work, much like Luke Ross’ before it, just feels too squeaky clean and fails to imbue enough drama into the scenes of volatile Hydra rebellion which lie at the heart of Humphries’ story.

As for Humphries, he’s certainly trying his best to make things interesting. There’s a double-agent plot, Hydra member melodrama, a shadowy organisation bent on unleashing a team of anti-Ultimates and Thor and Susan Storm investigating the secrets and whereabouts of the Infinity Gems/Gauntlet. That’s a hell of a lot of ground to cover in 20 pages and inevitably some of the spinning plates were destined to take a tumble. Frustratingly, what I found the most interesting element of all was the Thor and Susan Storm vignette, but with space at such a premium 2 pages is all Humphries could afford that story this month – the same is true of the “shadowy organisation” bit.

But then again, Marvel seems intent to sell this book on easily marketable gimmicks for the time being. A few months ago it was the bold move of putting Captain America in the White House, and the latest is the appearance of 616/Hasselhoff Nick Fury in the Ultimate Universe. Fear not continuity fans for it’s not really him, but is instead good ‘ol Samuel L Fury in a “bio-camouflage disguise,” who appears to have defected to Hydra after having initially set out to infiltrate the organisation. This part of the story gets the most page space, but feels somewhat uninspired and more than a little unbelievable. The dialogue is often overwrought and heavy-handed with Hydra grunts labouring under  wafer-thin personalities and corny nicknames like ‘Nails’ and ‘Skull’, and they face some bizarre versions of cast regulars that, under Humphries command, seem dislocated from regular Ultimate continuity.

Case in point: Hawkeye rocks up in his Joe Mad-designed purple costume, eschewing his now standard red and black leather get up. He has not worn this outfit in well over a year now, and back when he did, it was strongly implied that it was linked to the death of his family in Ultimates 2, a kind of “keeping the world out by masking myself from it” costume. It was suited to a particular time and place in the character’s history, but its use here makes it feels like it was chosen randomly, like Eaton just fancied pencilling it on a whim and gave it a go. Plus, I’m pretty sure that the Hawkeye who once took out a room of super-powered soldiers with nought but his fingernails would never go down this easy.

Then again, there is very little linking this version of the Ultimates to its former glories.  No danger, no wit, no innovation. I hate to pour out and out scorn upon a title, but there has been so very little to recommend in the pages of Ultimate Comics Ultimates of late that I’m at something of a loss to offer much else.  I will, once again, give Humphries the benefit of the doubt that a sharp incline in quality is just around the corner, but as each month in the series’ company drags on, the less I can claim to truly believe it.

Grade: D-

-Matt Sargeson

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4 Responses

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  3. Wow. What a brutally honest (and courageous) review. Hope the boys at Marvel are paying attention. When the true fans are this disappointed in a title, it’s time to do something.

    • Thanks Gerry. I hate to sound so full of fanboy ire but we all have our weaker moments I guess, times when cold objectivity is too big an ask for our flared tempers.

      I love the Ultimate Universe and it makes me sad to see such a poor show from a comic that’s integral to the line’s success. The standard MU can take its fair share of misfiring titles without comprising its integrity but with only three comics operating within the Ultimate Universe (4 when the occasional mini-series pops up) there’s nowhere for a creative dud to hide.

      I really hope it gets better. Mainly because it can’t get much worse without getting cancelled.

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