Everyone deserves their shot at rehabilitation. Just because Jeph Loeb committed some of the worst crimes against comics of the last few years, it doesn’t mean we should judge a new work of his – particularly after a little breathing space – with any sort of preconception or prejudice (even though, let’s be honest, working in the Ultimate universe again would seem to be asking for trouble, given everything that’s gone before). But with Ultimatum now a distant memory, and signs that even his Hulk run is starting to improve a smidge, has the writer finally regained the ability – one that he certainly had in the past – to write a good comic? And is Ultimate X (or Ultimate Comics X, or whatever the hell it’s actually called) it?
Well, yes and no. This isn’t amazing, but nor is it wretched. It does some things fairly well, while others don’t quite hit the mark. At the very least, what it does have in its favour is that it’s an attempt to do something entirely different with the Ultimate universe – at least, notwithstanding the fact that a son of Wolverine’s has also shown up in the main Marvel universe in recent years. If the line of thinking goes that books like Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four simply turned too quickly into parallel universe doppelgangers of the “main” series and characters, and that a change of approach towards creating completely original characters with which to populate this world has become necessary, then that’s to be applauded (you can argue that USM has already made enough significant-yet-worthwhile changes to its cast’s personalities and settings that it justifies its existence). It’s even almost enough to make you forgive Loeb’s continued lack of awareness of some of the originally-established differences between the Ultimate and 616 universes (I’m fairly sure that Ultimate Wolverine was originally much younger than he’s portrayed here and in other Loeb books; and yet using that “Timesweek” cover from one of Millar’s best UXM issues shows that maybe he has got round to actually reading some backstory).
The main problem, really, is that there’s no story here. It does a not-entirely-terrible job of setting up the existence of a new character – Logan’s son, James Hudson (whose adopted father would appear to be a non-powered version of Alpha Flight’s Guardian) – with Kitty Pryde showing up to tell him about his origins just as his claws conveniently pop for the first time. None of this is done especially badly, aside from the fact that it’s just so slow – and almost everything is exposition. It’s practically a Handbook of the Ultimate Universe told in strip form. As such, it’s difficult to sustain interest – particularly as, so far at least, Hudson is hardly the most exciting of characters.
The presence of Art Adams, meanwhile, immediately makes this better than previous Loeb Ultimate books (David Finch, anyone? Thought not.) That said, it’s not quite the excitement-inducing prospect for me as it is for others – I imagine the way I feel about his work is the way others often feel about Frank Quitely; I can see that he’s technically a very strong composer and storyteller, but his actual character style isn’t really for me. Hudson is admittedly quite distinctly defined, but Kitty, for example, falls victim to his “all his women looking the same” trap. But his briefly-appearing Logan is great (even if, as mentioned, it’s the wrong version), as is a lovely and very well-coloured final page. Indeed, the look of it sums up the overall quality – promising in places, better than probably expected, but ultimately a little hollow, and wanting for a little more if it’s going to match the strong launches of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Avengers. But in this day and age, a “passable” Loeb comic is something of an achievement, and it even bodes a little well for the upcoming Ultimate New Ultimate Comics Ultimate Ultimates...