I was quite the vocal fan of Hickman and Ribic’s The Ultimates #1, a fantastic book that still stands out in my mind as one of the best superhero comics of the year. It was the perfect storm of endearing characterization, an exciting plot, and cross-media synergy, nearly stealing all the thunder from DC’s new reader-aimed 52 number ones. Those elements are all still present here in the retooled series’ third issue, though they’ve shifted in proportion so as to comprise a slightly less potent mix. As good a comic as this is, it’s now a little easier to restrain myself from shouting its praises from the rooftops.
Of the three core ingredients I mentioned above, unrelenting excitement is the one Hickman doles out most heavily this time around. Following the escalation of conflict featured last issue, the Ultimates and the technologically advanced warriors of The City are now engaged in an all-out war, one that the good guys don’t seem too poised to win. Much like the Borg of Star Trek, the enemy sends out wave after wave of unimpassioned soldiers who casually make Nick Fury and company’s grit and guile look like an exercise in futility.
But while action dominates the bulk of the page count, at least one character — Thor — gets a few personal moments to shine. The pride he feels for his Asgardian homeland, which the denizens of The City annihilated last issue, bleeds through every scene in which he appears, from his reluctance in the “pre-credits” scene to don a manmade replacement suit of armor to the self-sacrificial determination he displays on the field of battle. By the time he’s baring his heart to Tony Stark in a post-game conversation at the end of the issue, it’s enough to make you mist up, even if, like me, you aren’t typically much of a Thor guy.
All of those good things make it harder to swallow the cumulative effect of the various small problems that drag this issue down. While Ribic excels at depicting the steel-jawed members of the Ultimates doing what they do best, there are several times during which the actions of the villains are hard to follow. Whether it’s due to the confusing design of their armor or a simple poor choice of framing on Ribic’s part, it’s a flaw that really drains the story of some of its suspense.
Hickman, too, missteps, chiefly through the usage of some characters who were never properly introduced. As a longtime reader of Ultimate Spider-Man, I’m excited to see Spider-Woman join the Ultimates, but if I were one of the new readers to whom I recommended the first issue, I’d be perplexed as to who she was. Even the armies of The City, which has been around since issue one, remain somewhat undefined. I’m still unsure of their goals or the exact nature of the threat they pose.
What burst on the scene a couple months ago as a thrilling tour de force in the making now seems more like a plain old pretty good comic. By any measure, it’s still a welcome revival of the franchise, the best Ultimates series since Millar’s second volume. If you’ve ever had an interest in the Ultimate Universe, you should definitely be checking this out.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin. He once reviewed every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and survived to tell the tale. Ask him about it on Twitter, where he can be found as @Chris_Kiser!