It’s been a good long while since I talked about the Ultimate Ultimates. Ultimately I figured I might as well come back to it. I’ve been following along, that is to say I’ve been trying hard to, and here the pivot is complete; gone is Hickman, and in his place the man most known for his predilection for writing futuristic man/dog hookups. Look it up. Issue 15 joins us after a major set of actions have turned the Ultimate Universe on its ear. Before I get into the semantics of all the goings-on, let’s make this clear… Humphries is a talent, but he’s not shown me any reason to continue reading the series beyond chasing the controversial plot lines he’s presenting. It’s all style, little substance.
You see, the Ultimate Universe has gone under some MAJOR renovations. If you weren’t reading along with ALL the Ultimate Comic books, well, you might get a little lost. Let me boil it down to the basics. Reed Richards launched an assault on Washington that in-turn has divided the country. The President was in the blast radius, and in his place is someone so far down the line of succession, it’s essentially a joke. A pair of futurists in California cut off the West Coast as their own private country. Texas threatened to launch a nuke if anyone messed with it. And Nick Fury was drummed outta S.H.I.E.L.D. and is currently incogneto. Captain America quit the team (technically before the whole Reed goes nuts dealie) and has since rejoined. A little “too-little-too-late”, as is pointed out in this issue. But I digress.
What to make of all this? I guess, in the broad strokes, I love the idea. Turning the whole Ultimate Universe into post-apocalyptic wasteland is something that hasn’t been done on this scale. It opens up the books to whole new story possibilities. And it still keeps with the edict that the UU gets to ‘modernize’ concepts to be wholly new. Everyone wins. The problem though is pretty clear; enjoying just one book in this line means you miss out on many details and plot points being explored elsewhere. This is the reason why “super continuity” in comics is always a bad idea. Sure it sounds great on paper—force the fans to buy more books—but it may also lead to people jumping ship when a single title can’t be enjoyed without supplemental material.
Ultimates 15 by and large is merely means to an end for Humpries. Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Not-Russian Black Widow spend the issue fighting a wave of robot wasps that are defending the West Coast Nation border… murdering innocents. Stuff blows up real good, and Thor discovers a potential identifying mark for the nefarious villain Morez. For those living in a hole, the book is one long waste of ink an paper to get us to the big point (SPOILER ALERT), Captain America is now the President of the United States. Never mind the political laws, Humphries sure didn’t care about them. Aside from Cap himself, it seems no one else is given much characterization. If anything, it helped me see too how Jonathan Hickman has been treating this book; the Ultimates is a playground of ideas… the characters are secondary to that.
Consider this: Thor isn’t quite a god anymore. Tony Stark has developed a sentient tumor that has independent thought, and control over electronics. There’s a not-russian Black Widow. And Hawkeye is no longer a semi-suicidal archer. In fact, I’m not sure Hawkeye even has a distinguishing feature aside from his bow anymore. But I digress. The key here is simple: all of these concepts are amazing, but left unexplored in any emotional capacity. These concepts are just means to the ends. Novel, yes. But lasting or memorable? Hardly. Ultimates 15 reeks of this mentality. It’s starting to grate on me.
Artistically speaking, the book is middling too. The first arc, penned by the careful hands of Esad Ribic was a pleasure to explore visually. Here, the clunky hooves of Luke Ross bounce between faux-manga, and mid-aughts house style. And given that in the last arc alone, we’ve been treated to more than a few art styles… it’s created a fear of flipping the page. It’s akin to Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never quite know what you’re gonna get. But I assure you, it’s not been anything worth cooing over.
The pacing of the issue was herky-jerky. And due largely to the “so obvious, maybe it was a red herring… but I guess it’s not” plot point we end on? It feels like a wasted set of pages. Sure we get another brilliantly coordinated battle, which proves to us how amazing Steve Rogers really is… but aside from that, there was no other exploration of our cast. Pieces moved on a chessboard. Stories unfolding by way of the deus-ex-machina. The ideas are clever, I’ll admit it. But the way in which we’re getting there isn’t. Humphries is capable of good dialogue. He’s obviously a talented idea-man. But he’s lacking the X factor (sorry, Charlie…) to make me care about these conceptual developments. With all the change and commotion in the Ultimate Universe… I fear that when the dust settles, the world will be different, but nothing will have changed. Consider this series on my warning list.