Current Reviews


Ultimate Secret #4

Posted: Thursday, November 3, 2005
By: David Wallace

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Tom Raney (p), Scott Hanna (i), Rob Schwager (colours)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Iíve been thoroughly enjoying the big build up to the first appearance of Galactus (or should that be Gah-Lak-Tus?) in the Ultimate universe, but that enjoyment has been marred by the consistent delays which have dogged this event. The previous chapter, Ultimate Nightmare, suffered delays in issues shipping due to an art team which couldnít complete every issue of the miniseries, and despite this second miniseries being an issue shorter than that title, weíve seen a change in art teams yet again. This time, itís Steve McNiven who was pulled from the title in order to illustrate an arc on the popular New Avengers series, and that sends an unclear message about Marvelís editorial priorities. For my money, the Ultimate Galactus trilogy has been a more entertaining read overall than Bendisí underwhelming book, and so itís a sad loss to see the excellent talent that McNiven brought to this book be dragged away to illustrate an inferior story. Happily, replacement artist Tom Raney made a good job of the transition in this seriesí third issue, and he returns here to round out this middle chapter of Warren Ellis grand adventure in the Ultimate Marvel Universe.

In many ways, this is the book that Ultimate Marvel Team-Up should have been, as Ellis shows a knack for exploiting the clash of two very different superhero groups to comic and dramatic effect. The banter between Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Iron Man and Hawkeye may occasionally threaten to overwhelm the more serious narrative which sees them journeying into space to find out more about Gah-Lak-Tus, but itís worth it to give the writer an opportunity to flesh out his characters and examine just how differently they all might react to the alien situation they find themselves in. Hawkeye in particular is far more three-dimensional than he ever has been under Mark Millarís pen, and even if he comes off as whiny and self-absorbed, it at least adds some depth to a character who hasnít really come into his own in his Ultimate form just yet. When it comes to the ground force holding off the alien hordes on Earth however, Ellis wisely opts to concentrate more on powers than personalities, allowing the Thing and the Human Torch to cut loose with their powers to beat on some faceless aliens at the same time as Thor is given some cool moments to sweep the enemy away with some visually-impressive lightning-hammering sequences.

Raneyís art holds things together well, giving all his characters a distinctive look and never feeling out-of-his-depth with the scale of Ellisí widescreen script, or the fantastical nature of the aliens that the ďawayĒ team encounter on the Kree mothership. His style may feel a little more cartoonish than McNiven (Sue Storm in particular is a victim of big-eye button-nose syndrome), but he still manages to give his art a fairly realistic bent which is important in selling the gravity of the situation, and which helps to ground the more modern Ultimate universe in a relatable context. His rendering of Ultimate Captain Marvel keeps the cool look established by McNiven, but also seems a little more human and softer than the first two issues suggested Ė and this gives his subsequent transformation into his alien form more impact when it happens.

However, the book isnít without its problems. The pacing of this middle chapter of the Ultimate Galactus trilogy leaves something to be desired, as the first three issues of build-up suggested a far more dramatic denouement than can be found here. Sure, we get to see a lot more of the Kree than we have so far, and we get a neat battle to provide some decent eye-candy, but thereís little actual meat of the story within these pages. When our heroes finally do get their hands on the Kreeís information about Gah-Lak-Tus (which was the MacGuffin around which this entire mini revolved), there arenít enough pages left to let the reader know any of the secrets before the issueís close Ė despite the subsequent two pages being eaten up by a less-than-stellar shot of the away teamís shuttle escaping the exploding Kree mothership. And when the final cliffhanger page of a miniseries consists of Nick Fury standing next to a pile of dead aliens talking about how he doesnít know whatís coming but might have half a chance of saving the world if he can do this and if he can do that, the audience could be forgiven for coming away from this series with a bit of a ďmehĒ feeling.

This series has been a fun read and an interesting story concept, but it ultimately feels inconclusive in its own right. Ultimate Nightmare managed to provide a good horror vibe, a fine superhero conflict and a self-contained story which also led into the bigger picture of the impending planetary doom of Gah-Lak-Tus, but Secret doesnít manage to pull off the same feat. Iím still interested to read Ultimate Extinction, and Iím sure that if the creators work to the same level on that book as they have here, itíll be an enjoyable read Ė but I canít shake the feeling that Marvel should have provided more closure to Captain Marvelís Ultimate origin story, as well as a more solid hook at the end of this series to lead us into the final chapter.

(And donít get me started on that final ad for the 24-page Ultimate Vision backup story beginning in the oh-so-irrelevant Ultimate Spider-Man title. Marvel could have made this story available to followers of the Ultimate Galactus trilogy in a single book format, but their decision to publish six different installments of four pages each throughout various Ultimate titles has left me cold. Donít buy into it.)

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