Saturday, June 7, 2008

The only thing "Ultimate" around here is my sense of disappointment

"Ultimates Assemble! Ruby Tuesday closes in an hour and those coupons we got in the mail expire tomorrow!"

from issue 1, volume 2

Ultimates 3 #1

“Written” by: Jeph Loeb
Drawn by: Joe Madureira

I love my local comics store, Plan 9, okay? It’s a damn good comics store in its own right, and compared to the old Dragon’s Den it’s like… oh balls. My gift for metaphor has suddenly deserted me (that’s how bad the dialogue is in this comic. It makes you dumber.). It’s the difference between Original Trilogy and the Prequels. Between a Big Mac and a $50 Porterhouse steak. Between Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, Bumwine and a good Pinot Noir, Batman & Robin and Batman Begins, and… oh yeah! The difference between Dragon’s Den and Plan 9 is the difference between Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates and Mark Millar’s Ultimates. My point is, I want Plan 9 to make a lot of money and be successful. I really do. But DO NOT BUY THIS COMIC. Buy any other comic at all. Buy every other comic you can afford! Just not this one. Never this one. But Mr. Editor, shouldn’t you give the book more of a chance? Shouldn’t you reserve judgment until the story is more fleshed out?


First of all, Ultimates 3 is apparently only going to be a five-issue series. I mean, now that I’ve read the first issue I consider this a mercy, but before then I thought, only five?

Millar and Hitch took forever to push out Ultimates 2, but it was by and large worth it for thirteen issues. How is five issues anything to make a big fuss about? Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that Marvel was much affected by the WGA strike, so why did this book get cut short like Heroes? Did the temporary end of good stuff on TV make Jeph Loeb think he was granted an all-expenses-paid vacation? I am tempted to think that that is what happened.

Say what you will about the terribly lax shipping schedule of Ultimates 2—and no matter what you can think of, I’ve said it too—I can tell, from every page of every issue, that it was a labor of love, that Millar and Hitch were enjoying their work and that they believed in the story and they loved the characters. If Ultimates 3 is a labor of love, it’s the same kind of love that a member of NAMBLA feels while watching sitcoms on the Disney Channel.

I’m sitting here at the computer, Ultimates 3 #1 in front of me, and I don’t want to re-open it. I’m thinking, every comics writer has a peak and then a downslide, but Stan Lee, Frank Miller and even MOST HATED HACK CHRIS CLAREMONT had the decency to stretch their careers out for twenty or thirty years before sending crap like All-Star Batman & Robin and Sovereign Seven down the chute. Jeph Loeb wrote Superman for All Seasons and Batman: The Long Halloween, and come to think of it, since then it’s pretty much all been downhill. If you’re a hopeless DC dork like I am, look back at all the issues of Superman/Batman he wrote. Issues 1-26. They’re not that good! Taking down Lex Luthor, the reintroduction of Supergirl, and a lot of confusing time-travel/alternate-reality runarounds that don’t really mean anything. I think the man has begun to confuse a big story with a good story. Or at least, that’s what I’d been thinking for awhile until this came out. Now I realize, that’s just what happens when you have a crap writer and a team of really good editors and artists. You can make a lame story into a marketable one. Enter Joe “Throw it to the wall and see what sticks” Quesada and Joe “Who?” Madureira. Quesada these days seems to be in favor of anything that could successfully be turned into a movie, and this comic is certainly vulgar and mindless enough for that. As for Madureira… some of you may not recognize that name. But in 1996, he was one of the most popular artists in Marvel’s stable. He opened the door for other American comic artists whose styles were inspired by anime. By 1999 he’d left Marvel to do a creator-owned steampunk/fantasy book under Wildstorm’s label, called Battle Chasers. He put out seven or eight issues over the course of two years.

Since then, I literally have no idea where he’s been hiding himself. I think once or twice rival comics magazine Wizard mentioned him playing a lot of Final Fantasy X2, and I honestly don’t know whether or not they were joking.

His talents have not improved in the past six years. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say he got a very hung-over Pat Lee to draw the book for him. Which is not to say it’s bad, but it’s not the work that changed everything for me in the pages of Uncanny X-Men twelve years ago.

Anyway (there’s that word again). What’s the story itself? Venom attacks the team at Tony Stark’s mansion. Then the heroes all argue with each other. There’s your story. Now, someone else could make those basic facts into a good story. What route does Loeb take? Well, first of all, since it’s the Ultimate line he’s got to make it as dark and adult as possible, right? So, there’s a Tony Stark sex tape on the Internet that’s sent the team’s reputation down the toilet. And Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (still brother and sister in the Ulti-verse) are in love. Yes, Jeph, we really needed to make America’s burgeoning incest community feel welcome in the comics industry. Thanks for taking charge. What else is going on with the team? The Black Panther is a member now, not that you’d know except for the one page where he fights Venom for a second before being thrown off-panel. He doesn’t have a single letter of dialogue. Which, in some ways, makes him the best character in the issue. He’s better off than the Wasp, who apparently was made field leader of the team by way of affirmative action, since she’s the most ineffective team leader I’ve seen since Rudy Giuliani’s campaign manager (zing!). Yeah, by the way—Captain America, Black Panther and Thor are on the team, and WASP is the field leader? I know Tony Stark is an alcoholic with a brain tumor, but I still expect him to make better decisions than that. My biggest complaint, though, has to be about Hawkeye. Hawkeye was my favorite character out of all the old Avengers. He was a cocky loudmouth who questioned authority, but he proved his worth as a guy with a bow and some arrows amidst a team of superhumans.

Now he’s just an asshole.

He’s an asshole, and he stole his look from Grifter and Bullseye. And he doesn’t pull out a bow once. The closest he gets is a gun that looks kind of like a crossbow. A little bit. This is Loeb’s way of showing how much Hawkeye has changed since his family was killed in the last chapters of Ultimates 2: now he’s just an antisocial killing machine in a costume. Psst! Hey Jeph. Little insider information for you. We already have a character like that. He’s called the Punisher. Kinda underground. You may not have heard of him.

As final proof of the new rating (created for this issue) which I’m giving Ultimates 3, I leave you with the dialogue, verbatim, from the scene where Valkyrie and Thor take down Venom:

[Valkyrie slices into Venom with her sword.]

Valkyrie: Ugh. That’s like, totally gross. Eww.

Venom: You’re a very silly little girl—[Venom grabs the sword and swings it at her]—who’ll look much sillier without a head!

Valkyrie: Oh-my—[Lightning strikes Venom, reducing him to a puddle.]—God.

Thor: I did not care to be hit from behind, Venom—but I will be damned before I allow you to strike the woman I love.

Valkyrie: Awesome. You saved me.

Thor: You wouldst do the same for me.

Valkyrie: Yeah. I wouldst. [They kiss.] Yummmm.

Rating: One bottle of Bumwine.

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