The Ultimate relaunch was two-for-two in terms of success after the release of the new Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Avengers comics. The question on everyone’s lips is whether Ultimate Armor Wars will continue that trend. The writer’s previous sojourns in the Ultimate Universe have all fallen somewhere between Uninspired Ellis (Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate Secret) and Textbook Ellis (Ultimate Human), so there’s a sense that we’re still waiting for Ellis’ definitive Ultimate story.
As of the first issue, it’s clear that Ultimate Armor Wars has the potential to be that story. For a start, it contains a brilliant depiction of Tony Stark that meshes perfectly with Millar’s version while still displaying the same savage and ruthless wit as the best Ellis characters. Furthermore, the story is a tried and tested one, so where Ultimate Human spent a lot of time expounding Ellis’ obsession with transhumanism, there’s a little less scope for diversion within the context of this story.
Set very soon after the events of Ultimatum – perhaps slightly prior to the current Ultimate Avengers arc – the story sees Stark returning to one of his facilities to assess the damage – only to find himself confronted – and outmatched – by the Ghost. Although that villain is currently enjoying a fantastic reinvention over in the real Marvel Universe, courtesy of Thunderbolts, it’s good to see him show up in the Ultimate Universe as a credible match for Iron Man.
Artist Steve Kurth, previously seen illustrating the Ellis’ AWOL series, newuniversal: shockfront, displays a previously unseen level of talent. He was never bad – but nor was he this good. The Ultimate books as a line appear to have undergone a visual realignment, and in the same way Pacheco brings the echoes of Hitch’s design work to Ultimate Avengers, so Kurth manages to do so here. There’s still some room for improvement, particularly in the expressions characters display – one suspects the sometimes stilted, awkward facial features might be a result of too much photo-referencing, and an over-reliance on that technique never leads to much good (insert your own Greg Land jokes here.)
Ultimate Armor Wars displays all the promise one could hope for from a post-Loeb Ultimate title, made all the sweeter because Stark himself appears to be largely absent from Ultimate Avengers. Although there’s very little war in this issue, there’s plenty of armor – and as a first act, it will leave you ready for more. If it delivers, it could be the best Ultimate miniseries yet.