Every Wednesday we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.
Ultimates Annual #2 was, in its own way, a failure of its own timeliness. Telling what was, at that point, the first non-Millar Ultimates story to bear the name, it took place after the conclusion of Ultimates Vol. 2 and was thus in the unfortunate position of providing an epilogue to an ongoing plot, with all the implied spoilers that entails. Undoubtedly, it fared poorly because of it. The previous Ultimates Annual had been written by Millar and seemed integral to the Ultimates universe. There was never any way this one could match up.
After all, the issue was written by Charlie Huston, whose radical take on Moon Knight was achieving moderate success, and it was Illustrated by Mike Deodato and Ryan Sook, both decent artists. None of the three, though, had worked on Ultimates before, and at the time, I found the issue a bit underwhelming – it just didn’t seem capable of carrying the reputation it had been afforded.
Now, as a stand-alone story it wasn’t especially bad. It featured the unsatisfying team-up of the Ultimate Falcon and Ultimate Captain America, seemingly for no other reason than to echo the pair’s friendship in the “regular” Marvel Universe. It then pitted the two against Ultimate Arnim Zola in a fairly pedestrian example of formulaic superheroes, and only Huston’s complicated narration saved it from being utterly generic. It wasn’t rubbish, but it didn’t remotely satisfy.
That’s because, at the time, it was a substantial step down from the work Millar and Hitch were doing, and simply seemed unworthy of carrying the Ultimates name. Oh, if only we had known. Just over 2 years on, I’d give almost anything to have the Ultimates series hit the dizzying-by-comparison highs seen in this issue. Competent. Average. These are words I cannot use to compliment Ultimates 3, that would perfectly fit this annual. The story itself does improve slightly when read in the correct place chronologically, and contrary to what I used to believe, if you’re hungry for Ultimates stories then it probably is worth having a quick look at it.