Oh dear. Ever since the “Ultimate” comics staged a Reggie Perrin-style fall and rise, things have been going fairly well. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man is a revitalised version of its predecessor. Ultimate Comics Avengers has brought back the crystal clarity and panache (if not the sheer inventiveness) of Ultimates to the line. After the widely-panned Ultimatum, any forward momentum is an improvement, so these days, it takes a lot for an Ultimate series to look bad.
But then you have Ultimate Comics Enemy. After one issue, the disappointing truth seems clear – it’s a Bendis Crossover-by-numbers. In this issue, an amorphous threat (quite literally speaking) upsets various characters’ status quo. We get disconnected snippets of characters, until 22 pages in, we’re left blinking and dumbstruck, but with absolutely no story to hang onto besides “what just happened?” – and these days, when you’re paying $3.99 per instalment, that’s not enough.
It’s also a shame, given Rafa Sandoval’s excellent depiction of a city being subsumed by a giant pink blob, that in a post-Ultimatum universe, threats of this magnitude just don’t seem credible. Last time something on this apparent scale happened, we had a year’s worth of promotion and hype. Arguably, now is not the time to rush into a giant, overwhelming threat that can’t be punched into submission, because it can’t possibly follow through like Ultimatum did – but that’s what we appear to be getting. The best scenes in this issue are actually the small, character moments that allow us to explore the new “disbanded” status of the Fantastic Four – but set against such a massive threat, such material pales into insignificance.
However, the truly sad part is that no matter what we’ve been told about “Ultimate Comics” being the new future face of Marvel, it’s all so painfully rooted in the past. This entire issue is plagued by exactly the kind of decompression that Bendis was pioneering in the first half of last decade. Where it once looked nuanced and inventive, it now looks flabby and unadventurous. I don’t like to spend too much time criticising an individual’s signature technique, but three pages for Nick Fury to get attacked while eating dinner feels like a poor use of space. An entire issue in, I feel like I’ve just seen the pre-credits sequence to a TV show. The only difference is that on TV, I only have to wait seconds for the story to continue, whereas there’s nothing here that’s going to bring me back in a month’s time.