It’s been a good few weeks for depictions of London in comics. First, Grant Morrison gives us a Batman & Robin sequence that proves it doesn’t take much fudging to get superheroes traversing the Big Smoke’s skyline like they’ve been there all their lives. Second, we get this, Ultimate London, and a lovingly faithful recreation of the Thames as Ultimate Iron Man plunges headfirst into it. As a resident of the city in question, I can’t help but feel a little won over by it.
It isn’t long before the action’s back on more generic ground, though, in private jets, bunkers and cocktail bars. Ah well. At least, if Ultimate Human taught us anything, it’s that Warren Ellis writes one hell of an Ultimate Iron Man. And that is more than enough to take over once the initial enthusiasm for the opening scene wanes. Scenes between Stark and Justine Hammer briefly echo his relationship with the Black Widow (it seems Stark does have a type) and there a level of emotional engagement shown that’s unusual for Stark, despite their brief relationship.
Indeed, it seems that perhaps things are taking their toll on the character. This issue is all a bit Empire Strikes Back. Stark succeeds in getting back his technology, but the cost to the character is a considerable one, and the final, sullen scene demonstrates that Ultimate Stark isn’t completely unaffected by his experiences up to and including this story.
Steve Kurth’s artwork has improved in leaps and bounds even over this series, with his adeptitude in depicting the Iron Man-style suits and technology finally spilling over into his portrayal of normal people. Ellis’ script calls for emotional subtlety, and Kurth can certainly handle it.
If anything lets the book down, it’s the big reveal of who’s behind the plot against Stark, and what he does with that knowledge. Potentially major plot threads seem sliced off and quickly cauterised, while the mechanism that brings about the story’s end, while creepy and inventive, is a bit too convenient at the same time. More than anything, Ultimate Armor Wars feels like a holdover from the “old” Ultimate universe – and it’s probably not a positive thing when I say that I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not.