by Jeph Loeb, Joe Madureira, and Christian Lichtner
reviewed by Adam Schnier
The first week of December saw the return of Joe Madureira to the world of comics, teaming up with Jeph Loeb for the first installment of Ultimates 3. With the first issue in the bag, and the second arriving on shelves in two weeks, I thought it would be fun to go over one of the more entertaining books of the year.
Now, I know there are folks out there who are upset about Millar and Hitch moving on. In fact, I was one of them. It’s undeniable that they were a powerhouse of a team, putting out (however delayed it may have been) a great title for the first two Ultimates arcs. I also am willing to acknowledge that some readers have not been too pleased with Loeb’s recent work, and weren’t too thrilled to hear he was taking on what is recognized as one of the best titles around. I happen to be a big Loeb fan, so I was onboard for the idea since it was first announced.
Well, I’ve heard a few gripes about the book, so let’s go ahead and get them out of the way…
I think the most unfair complaint has to do with the dialogue. I’ve heard the word “cheesy” mumbled by a few readers, yet when I ask them to point out an example they can’t seem to do so. I strongly disagree with these statements. I think the dialogue is just fine, thank you. Compared to Ultimates 1 & 2, it’s essentially the same thing. Sure, the original had some great lines (“You think this letter on my head stands for France?”), but it wasn’t without its own level of rubbish. Let’s face it, Hulk’s rant about Betty and Freddy Prinze Jr., however comical, isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize material.
The other major complaint I’ve heard has to do with the art. Joe Mad has been out of the scene for almost a decade after the ill-fated run of his Wildstorm series Battle Chasers. I loved his work on Uncanny X-Men and was extremely excited when I heard he was going to be on this book. Unfortunately, my excitement was short-lived, as my fan boy dreams were shattered upon glancing over the first page of Ultimates 3 #1. I share the opinion that the pages look cluttered. Yet, I think this has far less to do with Mad’s art, and is more with the inking style of Christian Lichtner. I’m just not down with the whole computer inked, faux airbrush style. In my humble opinion, it takes away from the details of the pencils and makes all the colors and lines blur together. The colors are so dark that the details of the images are almost completely erased.
Now for the good stuff…
One thing that I thought hurt the Millar run was the combination of decompressed storylines and missed deadlines. It frustrated the heck out of me that it was months between issues and I would have to go back and reread at least two previous books in order to understand exactly what was going on in the new release. Loeb has put together a story that comes in five parts, a sharp departure from the double digit series of the past.
He wastes no time, as the conflict is introduced in the first two pages. We’re quickly reminded of the problems the characters are facing in their personal lives (most notably a naughty tape featuring Iron Man as a little less than invincible), then without warning Venom crashes through the wall doing his whole kill-then-eat-you thing. It was nice to see a battle take only one issue in an Ultimates book. In Ultimates 2 I felt like I was reading the same book over and over during the final few issues of the arc. Loeb has decided to bring a much faster pace to a book that, in the past, almost made a fight boring and repetitive. Some readers have seemed to be a little frustrated with the lack of explanation as to why Venom attacks, but let’s all keep in mind that this is the first issue in the arc. If we know from the beginning exactly as to why the bad guy is committing his acts of badness, why would we continue to read? The mystery as to who the “she” is that Venom was looking for should keep us all interested and asking exactly who he wanted and what he needed her for.
Another aspect of the book that readers seemed frustrated by and I really enjoyed was Hawkeye’s new look and attitude. Sure, the bull’s-eye on his forehead is a little much, but his somber, self-destructive demeanor is a logical evolution of his character. This is a guy who spent his life as a black-ops soldier whose family was brutally murdered in a raid to kidnap him. The man was tortured, had his mind probed, and ultimately kills his so-called friend Black Widow, the woman responsible for his wife and daughter’s death. He’s lost everything. His sense of security is shattered. For most guys who do the type of work he did, all they have to go home to, the only thing that keeps them sane, is their family. It’s understandable that he has trouble trusting those around him, for it was another member of the team who caused his misery. I think the downward spiral of Hawkeye may become an integral part of the upcoming story involving the Brotherhood, especially since his methods are being put into question. After all, his new look does resemble another character not necessarily known for anything other than his impulsive love of murder.
My favorite part of this book comes at the very end. It wasn’t the death of Wanda, but the person who attempted to help her. Our good friend Dr. Donald Blake comes forth from the crowd, stick in hand, and attempts to give her CPR. I thought that was fantastic. Dr. Blake was always my favorite Thor alter ego. His return in the regular Marvel U (Earth-616) in the recent issues of Straczynski’s Thor was fantastic, and his appearance in 3.1 gives makes me hope he’ll become a mainstay of the Ultimate books. Since Ultimate Thor’s introduction, the rumor has been that he’s just a crazy guy by the name of Thorlief Golman who stole his brother’s super-soldier technology. I know this may just be my imagination running wild, but I really hope that ol’ Doc Blake taps that stick of his, turns into the real Thor, and then a battle for the title of the Norse God takes place between the two. Honestly, how can you get any better than a couple of Thor’s kicking the poo out of each other? Talk about an idea that sells itself!
I know this review may seem a little defensive of the book, and in all truth, it is. I think this run is going to be fun and exciting. The first issue was nonstop action, so I’m sure the series will continue to build upon what we have already seen. I trust Jeph Loeb to deliver a great story that will add to the mythos of the Ultimates. I hope more people give this title the chance it deserves.