Ultimatum #5

3rd August 2009 | by | 4 Comments

ultimatum5It may surprise you to learn this, but we critics don’t always take pleasure in bad reviews. Oh sure, it can be entertaining both to read and to write a damned good kicking, but sometimes you come across something so utterly lamentable that its wretchedness goes far, far beyond amusing – and into the realms of wondering how anyone, anywhere that describes themselves as “professional” could think that it was a product worth asking people to pay money for. Ultimatum is just such a comic.

There’s no joy in tearing Ultimatum down, because it cannot be enjoyed in even the most car-crash-esque, can’t-look-away-because-I’m-morbidly-curious manner (indeed, its very existence makes one appreciate how Ultimates 3 was at least possible to read on that level). It is, simply, a deeply unpleasant comic, with no grasp of how to tell a story – and, indeed, no story to tell even if it were somehow capable of engaging the reader – and a bloody-minded determination to do nothing other than destroy, destroy and destroy a carefully constructed fictional world and set of characters. Its only end result is to make one despair for the industry that produced it.

It’s not even as if it successfully deploys a big “event” to irrevocably change the Ultimate Universe (which is the one thing that it actually promised to do). The only major, world-affecting incident occurred in the first issue – everything that has happened since then has been a simple roll call of characters stepping up to be killed off one by one. There’s absolutely no tension or drama in the confrontation between Magneto and the world’s heroes – and everything that occurs feels like a retread of something that’s been done better, whether it’s Millar’s “Return of the King” storyline in this very Universe, or a moment that’s presumably supposed to be shocking but will simply feel achingly familiar to anyone who’s read X-Men #25 (and a lot of people bought that book – even I’ve read it).

Characters act with little regard for established traits (in one instance, performing a stunning about-face in order to become a cold-blooded executioner), or indeed for established logic (anyone who can explain to me just how Magneto is able to control Tony Stark’s palm beams, AND stop Scott Summers from closing his own eyes, will get a massive prize). And as if to emphasize the fact that there really is no actual coherent, planned plot to all of this (beyond “He kills him so he kills him so he kills him repeat ad nauseam”), Loeb pulls exactly the same “trick” as at the end of Ultimates 3, by having a previously unconnected character turn out to be apparently responsible for everything (while simultaneously rendering the role of the supposed instigator of the previous series’ events even less than pointless – seriously, what did Doctor Doom have to do with ANY of this?). It’s actually quite ridiculous – the unforeshadowed (and note that I’m not referring to stories that actually carefully plant their seeds, hello Xorn) “ta-da! I was behind it all along!” reveal is surely something that most storytellers grow out of by the age of… ooh, seven? But not Loeb. He’s unique among his peers, I’ll give him that.

As far as I can see, the only way that the Ultimate Universe has been significantly changed by all of this is that there are a lot fewer mutants around (and, as such, there probably won’t be an X-Men book – at least, certainly not one with any characters worth reading about). Oh, and Thor is dead. At least, I think Thor is dead. Good luck finding any closure on his – or indeed most people’s – storyline in these pages, though. And it says a lot for Ultimatum‘s ability to get worse by the issue that there are moments even more gratuitously gruesome than the infamous “Wasp bowel chomping” incident.

I’ve already wasted far more energy than is in any way necessary on this dismal, pathetic excuse for entertainment. But then, picking up and turning the pages of this issue is expending more energy than it deserves. I hesitate to stray too far into hyperbole (actually, that’s bollocks – I always stray too far into hyperbole), but it’s very possible that mainstream superhero comics have reached an absolute nadir with this series. It’s almost enough to make me want to go back to Maximum Clonage