Author: Jeph Loeb
Illustrators: Joe Madureira and Christian Lichtner
After chowing down on Skittles and watching Wonder Woman and Spiderman: Homecoming, I decided it was time to return to the super hero universe . . . and to do so, I had to finish the final Ultimates compendium: Who Killed the Scarlet Witch? The darkness, stiflingly conveyed via 90s grit, has never been my favorite representation of stolid Marvel characters, although the detailed, vibrant artwork rendered by Bryan Hitch has always enhanced the experience. However, the Ultimates 3 collection, which contains the final five volumes of this Ultimates series, is mixing everything up, taking a chaotic universe and shifting the showdown to a new author and two new illustrators with zero transition and a large style/storytelling gap to compliment the switch. One look at the different, blocky visaged, non-human looking muscle bound blobs on the cover is enough to alert readers that everything good about the series is now at an end and all the annoying things that didn’t work or you didn’t like are now at the helm of a suicide mission. It’s time to crash and burn kids.
Preparing the Legendary board game one night for more Marvel themed madness with the hubby, we basically summed up our mutual dissatisfaction with this series, and most adamantly this final collection, in the following conversation. It all begins with me yammering about not liking the characters, who have no characterization and no seeming correlation to the multi-layered yet essentially good souls of the movie universe. I then went on a rant about the silliness of “grit” and its vast overuse in the Ultimates.
Trav: “You essentially don’t like 90s grit is what you’re saying.”
Me: “Does anyone?”
Trav: “Well, good point.”
With Jeph Loeb as the writer, taking over from Mark Millar, grit gets a whole lot dumber. The knife in the back relationships and modus operand of our group, now isolated from S.H.I.E.L.D and operating from a distraught Tony Stark’s mansion, is still very much the end “realistic” goal. Now, however, instead of having the complexity unwound, we have one confusing overpopulated fight sequence leading into another, with no breathing time and minimal character dialogue. This light dialogue is mostly a good thing though considering that when it does happen its non-descript (i.e. “you go Tony!” or the time Tony called Venom a fat pile of goo) or just downright dumb in the seventh-grader trying to write an adult scene kind of dumb. So please, don’t talk, just keep the mindless, poorly depicted violence in an ever-repeating loop.
Between Ultimates 2 and Ultimates 3 a great deal of information is lost. Wasp is no longer with Cap, and now appears to be the leader, with Cap skulking around on the outskirts for no obvious reason. Wolverine and Spiderman are just suddenly in this story, and no, I don’t know why. There’s a subplot about the Panther and some mysterious hints regarding his affiliation which are too referential to other books in other series, meaning I was lost. Thor is back from hippie-land and now speaks like an ancient Norse (which, if anything, is even more annoying albeit more appropriate to character.) Valkyrie is suddenly in the picture and suddenly almost as powerful as Thor. Hawkeye is a suicidal murder machine, haunted by the brutal slaying of his family, but surprisingly not in any empathetic manner. Ultimate Venom is around for some reason and Ultron is still chugging robotic shenanigans in the background. Evidentially, in between volumes a lot has happened and Loeb isn’t going to take pity and catch us up. This makes an already confusing mish-mash of half-baked motives and hormone fueled fights even more inexplicable and ultimately dissatisfying. Add in incest as the weird grittiness for this brew and you have an entire, roiling cauldron of WTF.
With a vast array of characters, who due to the bad drawing look awfully alike (and not very human – especially Thor and Wolverine), minimal dialogue, no character development, and an unidentifiable story which somehow gets both Magneto and Ultron involved, the book is little more than a series of unrelated pictures depicting confusing fights where you cannot tell who is getting hit and why, much less which side is winning. Ostensibly it’s about solving the murder of the Scarlet Witch, but apparently there is so much more to this story and the layers are so complex, and touch basically everyone and every damn thing in the universe, that vagueness was the only solution Loeb could find to combat the sheer, stultifying nature of the unnecessarily complex story attempt. That, or maybe no one ever thought the plot out, formed a story, edited it, etc….
Now, this is usually the point in an Ultimates review where I state that I hated the plot and/or characters, yet was transfixed by the artistry shown in the illustrations – arguably one of the most important components of a comic book. Joe Madureira and Christian Lichtner, however, leave much to be desired with their Rob Liefeld-eque drawing style. Everything is exaggerated, characters are all angles and blobs with no details, the images are ugly and brutal yet unrealistic and indistinguishable, much like the feeling you get staring into stagnate swamp water – there may be a lot of stuff floating around in there, but it’s all just rubbish to you and you can’t figure out how it goes together (if it does). Like the swamp water, you’re too off-put to look very closely anyway, so there is that small mercy, except now you can’t tell which character is doing what (or why…)
The conclusion takes the plotlines and loosely jumbles them into an airy tumbleweed, which mercifully escapes our minds fairly instantly. It looks like the author hoped there would be more, leaving a few openings for sequels here and there, meaning that after slogging through all this… we still have zero closure. At least, thankfully, Ultimates is done as is my foray in this universe. I will not be coming back. I prefer my super heroes if not traditional at least well drawn – both emotionally and on the page.
– Frances Carden
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