After the mess that was Ultimatum, there’s a certain optimistic sheen to the “Ultimate Comics” titles released this week. It’s probably a bit tinfoil-hat to start suggesting Ultimatum was deliberately crap, but certainly, these comics can’t help look good by comparison.
It doesn’t hurt to have Mark Millar back where he belongs, either. After a poorly received run on Fantastic Four, a self-indulgent stint on Wolverine, and an enjoyable but grossly delayed run on Kick-Ass, it’s good to see Millar return to the story where he truly made his name. What’s less encouraging is the dawning realisation that he’s not going to do what everyone hoped, and immediately junk Loeb’s run.
Rather than take the easy way out, Millar seems determined to approach things the old-fashioned way. In this issue, it’s Hawkeye, the most inconsistent “Ultimate” thus far, who steps into the spotlight. He’s still wearing the ridiculous costume, and he’s still packing heat instead of arrows, but he seems altogether more lucid. Meanwhile, it’s Captain America who wins the “most improved” award for the issue – from the moment he bursts out of the side of a building, waving the shield, riding a motocycle and gets into a fight with a helicopter, it’s like he never went away. Elsewhere, Stark is back at his superficial best, having missed the fight entirely. The cast might be thin right now, having been far more obviously damaged than Ultimate Spider-Man’s, for instance, but at least it feels like the same characters Millar left 2 years ago.
The biggest change from Millar’s previous run comes in the shape of Carlos Pachecho’s artwork. Luckily, Pacheco’s superhero artwork has been some of the industry’s best for years, and it’s good to see him back at Marvel and looking better than ever. Although the conventional wisdom says that imitating Hitch would be a bad idea, Pacheco appears to have toned his style ever so slightly to be more in line with Hitch’s work – a little extra detail, the same tightness in the choreography. He’s not quite apeing Hitch’s style, but he is building off it.
If any complaint can be levied against this issue, it’s that it represents only the smallest morsel of story. Millar’s pacing works best in trade format, and if we’re being honest, that’s the way to read this story. Certainly, it’s the way I’ll be doing it now that I know The Ultimates (call it what you will) is back in business. Make no mistake, they are back, and Ultimates 3/Ultimatum is left feeling like little more than a bad dream. Let’s pretend that’s what it was.