A Comic Book Entry – Ultimately Bad

Hey, I said I wouldn’t criticize the Ulti-verse (1610) because it wasn’t Universe-616 anymore.  I said I would criticize the Ulti-verse for its own flaws.  And there are so many, but I’ll focus on the two storylines that put in a hurt in my soul and caused me to clamp up my wallet for all things Ultimate except for my beloved Spider-man.  Because I am old fan, some comparisons to 616 are inevitable, but I will try to keep those to a minimum.

I speak of course of Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum.  I also had some issues with Ultimate X-men, especially Ultimate Magneto.  These problems were only highlighted by Ultimates 3.  Now, I’ll admit I had a lot of issues with the Ultimates because they were not the Avengers.  I had certain expectations of Captain America and Ulti-Cap wasn’t quite up to par.  I also was not pleased with how the worst behaviors and subtexts of the various Avengers’ members was taken up to eleven and definitely made context (this is what I mean by “darker and edgier” for its own sake).  As an old fan, this did not endear me to a new world.  But then again, I wasn’t the target audience.  Once I realized that, I thought perhaps I should review some of what put me off about the Ulti-verse in the light of that realization.  Perhaps I had rather misjudged what I had read and my views were distorted by what I thought the Ulti-verse should be and not what it was.

Yeah, so it turns out the light of realization only made the flaws stand out more harshly.  Ouch.  The whole Ulti-verse is supposed to be darker and edgier than 616, and that’s not my thing.  But even accounting for matters of taste, there are some elements of the story that are inconsistent, lazy, and just plain squicky.  I’ll just hit the highlights but I’m sorry to say I can’t put them in any good order.  It’s not that any one thing bothers me way more than any other one thing because they all really bother me, but that the sum of these things becomes one ugly, mean-spirited whole.

Ultimates 3:
1) The dark and edgy gets so intense by Ultimates 3 that Hawkeye is effectively Bullseye (which was not entirely consistent with Ultimates 2 either).  I’m not saying that as, “Oh, no, Hawkeye shouldn’t be Bullseye because 616.”  I’m saying that because a supposed hero is behaving in the same fashion as a villain!  And frankly, I am always, always annoyed when teams that have procedures and rules like SHIELD don’t ever use them except for contrived drama.  In this instance, Hawkeye has clearly and obviously and unambiguously and more synonyms for obviously become mentally unstable.  He should not be on the team.  Why why why didn’t anyone remove him from the team?  He had just lost his entire family in a horrible way.  You don’t need someone with a degree in psychiatry to realize he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Why keep someone who is mentally unstable in a position where he could hurt other people and/or jeopardize the mission?

2) Captain America gets emo and dresses up like the Black Panther.  I’m still unclear on the reasons why this was a good idea.  The comic didn’t really explain this, and the characterization was not consistent from Ultimates 2.

3) Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are dating.  They are brother and sister.  I can’t emphasize this enough nor do I understand why I am in a position where I am aghast that this is even a thing I am looking at.  Why is this a thing?  Do I want to know WTF the “creative team” was thinking?  Also, Wasp seems to be okay with this.  WTF?

4) I complain, as do others, about oversexualizing of women in comics.  Sometimes it’s bad.  Really, really bad.  Like this example is just really, really bad – there is a panel of the Scarlet Witch’s dead body in which the bullet wound seems deliberately obscured while her breasts are seemingly highlighted.  This is inarguably gross.  She is dead.  Dead and sexy.  Ewwww.  I think I threw up a little in my mouth there.

5) Doctor Doom planned for Scarlet Witch to accidentally use her reality-altering powers (which she pretends she doesn’t have because they scare her and really no one except her family and Wolverine [because Wolverine] should even know about) to make a robot creation of Pym’s fall in love with her and then out of jealousy of her squicky relationship with Quicksilver makes the robot kill her (not him) which causes an altercation with Magneto over the fate of the Scarlet Witch’s body that also leaves Quicksilver on the verge of death and Magneto vowing revenge.  I…er…what?  Even 616-Doom (who is considerably more awesome than Ulti-Vic here) wouldn’t come up with such a contorted plan, and it’s not even clear what Ulti-Vic’s end goal is.  World domination, I guess?  With whatever is left of the world after Magneto’s had his revenge?  I really don’t think Ulti-Vic has thought this out very well.

Continuity (Boom!):
It seems to me the whole goal of evil science in the Ulti-verse is to develop the super-soldier serum.  Obviously it worked once and clearly hasn’t really worked since.  As I understand it (and I could be wrong since it’s all kind of convoluted) Wolverine was the only mutant, and he was used to develop some kind of airborne mutagen that infected people.  Thus all mutants are in fact the results of this experiment, either directly infected or born from infected people.
a) But Apocalypse was thousands of years old.
b) And the cult of the Phoenix was thousands of years old.
c) And the origins or at least genetic expressions of the mutagen infection were well-enough understood the Russian mafia could deal out black-market gene therapy drugs for mutants to enhance and/or stabilize their mutation.
d) But no one can get another Captain America.
e) Nor are evil scientists satisfied with the superhumans they do create in their quest for another Captain America.  Huh.

1) It doesn’t mean anything.  It just sounds cool.

2) Ultimate Magneto.  I had a problem with Ultimate Magneto in the X-men.  He is ridiculously overpowered (reprogramming Sentinals by magnetically moving around the physical circuit boards) and has no character.  I probably imprint more character on Ulti-Mags than he has because of my knowledge of 616-Magneto.  Ulti-Mags is a cardboard villain who does evil for the evulz.  Oh, there’s some stuff thrown in about oppression and domination but it all devolves into insane cackling.  I have no sympathy or interest in Ulti-Mags.  He is a plot device, not a character.

3) This was meant to be a reboot.  It wasn’t quite a reboot, although everyone who died is still dead.  Still, without this being a full on reboot, a lot of the deaths (and there are a lot) feel very cheap.  It’s like the “creative team” threw the names of the prominent characters in a hat and drew out X number of them at random, then sort of built subplots around that.

4) Is there scientific explanation for how the hell Magneto nearly destroyed the world?  No.  Quasi-scientific explanation?  No.  Consistent technobabble scientific explanation from issue to issue?  Nope, not even that.  How about magic?  Nope.  Apparently Thor‘s hammer was just decoration and if the writers intended that to be the ultimate explanation for Magneto’s powers they utterly failed to make that clear.

5) “It’s worse than that he’s dead, Jim.”  Yes, pointless death is on this list twice because there were so many deaths for so little reason.  Most of them off-screen and just mentioned in the recap pages or mentioned by other characters in passing.  My gripe here is that I know that real-life heroes don’t die heroic deaths, but in a comic book world I kind of expect the heroes to die in a way that is meaningful.  They should be saving a life or protecting property or saving the world.  Drowning on the subway and then listed on the recap page?  One angry pass and then eviserated by Sabertooth?  Heroes aren’t supposed to die ignomious deaths.

6) Blob is found eating the Wasp’s dead body.  Ewww….  Pym freaks out, grows as big as he can, and bites the Blob’s head off and then spits it out!  What in the hell am I looking at and why is this even here?!  Ohh, eww…  I threw up in my mouth again.  Who thought this was a good idea to put in print?  Was there thought involved?  Do I want to know what thoughts?  No, no I don’t.  I make blog entries about conversations I think may have happened, but I don’t think I even want to contemplate how that scene ended up in print.

7) After everyone is dead, including Magneto, it turns out Quicksilver is not dead!  And he’s talking to a mystery lady who is so obviously the Scarlet Witch I couldn’t help but wonder who the hell the “creative team” thought they were fooling by trying to keep this a mystery.   Anyway, Quicksilver reveals that this was all in fact his dastardly scheme all along (dun dun DUN!).  So, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch planned for the Scarlet Witch to deliberately use her reality-altering powers to make a robot creation of Pym’s fall in love with her and then out of jealousy of her squicky relationship with Quicksilver make the robot appear to kill her (not him) which causes an altercation with Magneto over the fate of the Scarlet Witch’s body that also leaves Quicksilver on the verge of death and Magneto vowing revenge and try to kill everyone and Doctor Doom claiming credit for the whole deal which leads the Reed Richards to convince the Thing to kill Doctor Doom thus removing him as obstacle and the fall-out from Magento’s trying to kill everyone is that he himself gets killed which is what Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch wanted because Magneto was weak so now they are free to continue their father’s work the right way.  Which is apparently for the evulz, but more hardcore.  I…er…what?

Holy hell what did I just read?  Everyone is dead, everything is squicky, the plot is just insane, and this universe is so dang dark and edgy I’m likely to cut myself on it because I can’t see!  ARGH!

Ahem.  Deep breaths…deep breaths…

Like I said, even trying to take these stories on their own merits and not comparisons of 616 still results in something mean-spirited and ugly.  They are squicky and gross and the characters are inconsistent or two-dimensional or both.  The Batman gambit claimed by Dr. Doom is ridiculous, and the revelation of Quicksilver as the man behind the man and the Batman gambit he claims is ludicrous.  I just can’t suspend enough disbelief, nor do I think I want to.

In short, I’m sticking with Ultimate Spider-man.  That is quite enough Ulti-verse for me.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

2 thoughts on “A Comic Book Entry – Ultimately Bad”

  1. Jeph Loeb.

    Jeph frigging Loeb.

    From what I understand, he was once a great writer. It seems that when his son, Sam, died at 19, Loeb just kinda . . . lost whatever talent he had. He did Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum. He did a Wolverine arc that got derided from all corners. Everything he did just wound up being garbage.

    On the plus side, the issues he did of the new Nova series were actually pretty good. Not just good compared to what Loeb had spent the past few years doing, but just genuinely good comics. I was actually really happy to see that, because it made me think he might finally be getting over losing Sam, and that Nova was cathartic for him.

    I’ve never read Ultimates 3, though I’ve heard that it was complete garbage that often dismissed past characterization and continuity. I did read Ultimatum, and man, it was just a mess. Killing people off for the sake of killing them off, often as gruesomely as possible. Apparently, the original plan had been to make it a full reboot of the Ultimate Universe, but editorial changed its mind after it started. Even so, even if they’d been ending the Ultimate Universe entirely, it still would’ve been terrible.

    Not that I’ve read much Ultimate stuff. It’s too dark for my tastes. I look at superheroes as being inherently aspirational. I mean, you’ve got people who can fly. That’s something that should be meant to appeal to our better natures. Mark Millar . . . doesn’t do that so much. He prefers to dive into our baser natures. Hence his tendency to use rape in his stories.

    And then Jeph Loeb, at the time, was just a talentless hack who couldn’t write a decent story for anything. He, at least, has improved, I think by moving away from dark stories and doing lighter, more fun stuff. Millar, meanwhile, seems to have largely doubled down on grim’n’gritty.

    1. And I agree – superheroes should be inherently aspirational. Oddly, I find Ultimate Spider-man is inspirational, but considering how the rest of the Ulti-verse turned out, I don’t blame you for not reading too much of it.

      I also heard good things about the Nova series. I’m surprised when writers can have such extremes between really good and just plain awful. In least in Loeb’s case, it sounds like there was a reason, a terrible reason, why he may have lost a lot of his talent. It sounds like he’s getting better, but I think I’d still probably not buy anything with his name on it.

      Maybe the problem really is editorial? Maybe Mark Millar really doesn’t want to go so grim and gritty but thinks the only way to keep his job is to do so? Or maybe he’s just sliding towards madness like Frank Miller. But editorial keeps publishing his stuff too so someone thinks this is the way to sell comics.

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