Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Steve Epting (p), Nelson DeCastro & Tom Palmer (i)
As the two teams investigate the abandoned Russian complex searching for the source of the nightmare transmission, we see each team comes under attack by a creature that looked to be laying in wait. As the Ultimates are able to take down their energy projecting attacker, the X-Men have a rougher go of it as they clash with a hulking, armored monstrosity. We then see their situation becomes even more worrisome, as they are surrounded by a number of sinister looking entities.
The pacing of this miniseries still leaves quite a bit to be desired when it comes to forward momentum, but this issue does offer a couple of encounters that are quite unsettling. I suspect that Warren Ellis is using the plot structure of a horror film as we've started out the gates at a rather leisurely pace and he's slowly introduced sinister elements that make it clear that something is very wrong, as he builds toward what I hope will be a big rousing climax. However, comic books don't really lend themselves to the elements that allows filmmakers to successfully use this format, as gimmicks like moody soundtracks are absent, and comic book audiences have been conditioned for a much quicker pace. Still I will give the book credit for it's successful introduction of the two creatures that threaten our heroes, as the horn man is a wonderfully disturbing creation, and the hulking monstrosity that the X-Men encounter makes a memorable entrance. Now I wasn't overly impressed by the method that is used to defeat horn man, as one would think that a creature who is able to halt bullets would be able to protect themselves from such an attack, but I guess we're supposed to accept that it was a success because it was an unusual method of attack. I will give Warren Ellis credit for coming up with a pretty effective environment for this haunted house story though, as an abandoned Russian military complex is full of dark, sinister looking places where evil can be lurking.
Steve Epting is one of the best artist who is currently not working on a monthly title, and he puts on a pretty impressive showcase on this issue as to why their should be a line-up outside his door to secure his services for a monthly title. He does a wonderful job of capturing the nightmarish elements that this issue introduces, as the scene where the horn man wakes up and attacks the Ulitmates is a great looking sequence, and this impressive effort is than topped by the scene where the X-Men come under attack from an armored monstrosity. I also enjoyed the scene where Colossus moves into face this creature, as the art offers up a number of big impact shots that jump off the page. The final page image also does a pretty effective job of selling the idea that the X-Men have gone from a troublesome situation to one that's even worse. The cover visual is also a pretty powerful image considering it's gracing an Ultimate title, which tend to prefer generic poster shots of its characters on its covers.
As the Ultimates and the X-Men explore the Tunguska complex, they each encounter a disfigured super-being. In fact, the X-Men might have found a whole nest of them.
I now realize this is a horror story, not a superhero adventure story. For a horror comic, this is pretty damn good. Epting and DeCastro’s art is so moody you can practically hear the water dripping from the ceiling. The introduction of the two creatures, (possibly Ultimate versions of the Unicorn and the Crimson Dynamo), are surprising and creepy.
Ellis also gives us some nice character dialogue. When Captain America says he could never imagine Russians abandoning the base, I realized Cap slept through the Cold War. He only knew Russians as America’s allies, never as an Evil Empire. Wolverine also nicely expresses his bitterness at the double standards placed upon him by the X-Men. Guys a killing machine and they tell him to hold back? Yeah, that’s going to piss him off.
The story’s building up to something big. You can feel it.
I gave this series the benefit of the doubt for the first couple of issues, because it was billed as a horror story, and horror stories thrive on the slow build-up. That said, all that happens this issue is a couple of fights with Ultimate versions of B-grade Iron Man villains. What this has to do with the cosmic mystery, or the Tunguska disaster, I don't know. Warren Ellis is capable of dense writing on occasion, but to explain and wrap this plot up in the issues remaining will be a challenge.
Still, what little story we actually get here is well written. Ellis keeps the tension building, and does great character work, although there are a couple of glitches here and there (Colossus can smell the human inside "Ultimate Crimson Dynamo" but Wolverine can't?).
As for the art, I was about four or five pages in before I realised that there was something amiss, which is a good sign with a fill in artist. While Steve Epting does a fine job, I prefer Hairsine's scruffy and scratchy linework to Epting's cleaner lines, and since Hairsine's art was the major reason I was interested in the series, it's a little disappointing.
All that said, the art is effective at conveying the spooky feel of the story, helping to make such absurdities as Ultimate Unicorn work in a horror story context. Much of this is due to Frank D'Armata's colouring, a wonderfully moody and unsettling mix of murky greens and dirty greys that excellently captures the darkness and decay of the underground setting. It's a palette that has seen much use in horror films of recent years (and on that note Unicorn's appearance here is surely a nod to Ringu), and it works well here to evoke the eeriness of some of those films.
So it's a very atmospheric piece, but the content leaves a lot to be desired. It would be nice if future issues pick up the pace a bit, but this is starting to look a lot like an extended prologue to something else. Of course, that’s what it apparently is, but that’s no reason why it can’t be an effective story in its own right. It's alright, but not as impressive as I'd have liked.
So you thought our two teams, so deviously set on an impact course exploring the abandoned facility last issue, might come into bloody conflict this month? Nahhhhhhhhhh……….
Well, at least not with each other. Instead, what we have is the Avengers team and the mutant team each encountering different guardians of this creepy deep, in true horror movie fashion.
There’s not much to say, as they do not get past these gatekeepers. The Avengers meet a horned demon (who turns out to be an altered human). The X-men meet an armored behemoth that’s quite rusty. Each step in their conflict is given enormous weight. The demon takes his time attacking (with some sort of bio-electric charge) until the Falcon slices him up. The X-men bicker and complain desultorily about who is the biggest beast of burden (since it’s Phoenix, Wolverine, and Colossus, the point is moot, especially in light of Jean having just let them in the armored complex last issue), and they take turns riling up their beast. Jean’s psychic turmoil on the cover is not evinced inside the issue.
Epting’s art is a change from Hairsine’s more fluid work last issue, but it’s perfectly serviceable, as he doesn’t break the creepy mood. This is a fine chapter in an ongoing story of exploring a haunted place.
But it’s so decompressed that the issue has to get by on style, as there’s little substance. The ever-deepening mystery … remains an ever-deepening mystery. The heroes are mostly in character, though decidedly grim. Any sense of urgency to their mission (remember the prophecies of alien doom from the first issue?) is leaching away.
At least the comic’s regular-priced, as I’d be expecting much more from a more expensive issue besides just the shiny cover. Enjoyable, but slight.
Deep in desolate Russia, a mysterious, abandoned bunker emanates nightmarish scenes of an alien race’s destruction. These scenes have been broadcast, both visually and psychically, for all of human- and mutant-kind to see. The Ultimates and The X-Men have reached the bunker to investigate, each group unaware that the other is on the scene. Each team enters the same structure from a different entrance. The Ultimates confront a radically altered human form at their end. The X-Men confront a radically altered human form at their end. Everyone attacks. Confined battles are played out. The mystery only deepens.
The writing is fine, the art terrific, and there is a genuinely tension-filled sequence involving The Ultimates, pages 6-15. Nick Fury’s team is definitely treated to the meat of the comic here, while the X-Men are awarded the cliffhanger on page 22. There are a few clues dropped in at the beginning as to what is happening overall -- although if the year “1927” is supposed to ring a revelation bell I still need to do some historical research -- but for the most part the reader has a ways to go before all will be revealed. So “Ultimate Nightmare: Chapter Three” stands as a solid chapter to what is, of course, a serialized book, primed for trade paperback.
hings finally move into a higher gear in this third issue of the first in a series of three miniseries which threaten to uncover the Ultimate Marvel Universe’s dark secret. We meet some of the strange inhabitants of the Tunguskan underground military installation as the Ultimates and the Ultimate X-Men move towards uncovering the reasons behind the bizarre worldwide transmissions that emanate from this possibly alien source. There’s even a fair bit of action to accompany the plot development, as the two teams come up against an odd haggard figure who appears to have been medically experimented upon, and a huge man-robot who threatens to plunge the X-Men into real danger as the issue draws to a close. Such developments will surely go some way to appease critics of the first issues’ slow pace and retain enough of a sense of mystery to leave Ellis some surprises for next issue.
Having said that, I actually enjoyed it slightly less than the last instalment.
The change in art teams is concealed by some heavy darkness which suits the widescreen horror feel that this issue seems to be plumping for, but the absence of Trevor Hairsine’s sketchy pencils – which I’ve really come to enjoy since his great work on the Ultimate Six mini - is perhaps compounded by a change in one of the two inkers, too. Epting does a good job matching his style, but It’s a surprise that a consistent art team can’t be maintained for such a miniseries. However, judging by (what I presume to be) Hairsine’s ugly cover – check out that truly mutated Wolverine - maybe such a change will prove to be a blessing. The issue also lacks the sharp characterisation of the first couple of issues, sacrificed in favour of the necessary exposition which - in fairness - moves the plot of the series on into a far more interesting place.
I still like the series: I’m enjoying Ultimate Sam Wilson (and he gets a cool sequence here), I’m intrigued by the possibilities offered up by the unearthly creations that dwell in this bunker, and the creepy shlock feel is happily countered by the modern, intelligent sensibilities that The Ultimates bring to the title. It’s just a shame that the characterisation couldn’t have been woven in a little better with the plot threads, making Ultimate Nightmare feel a little uneven thus far.
What did you think of this book?
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