Editor's Note: Ultimate Comics Enemy #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, January 27.
After the deck-clearing exercises in Marvel's Ultimate universe as of late, it looks like the task of piecing things back together again has fallen to Brian Michael Bendis, who, along with continuing his stellar run on Ultimate Spider-Man, is doing this crossover miniseries that does… something with various other characters that have been dispersed hither and yon, in perfect shape to reunite and battle whatever the latest incomprehensible threat is. At least, that seems to be the plan, but this first issue is taken up with reintroducing its players and having them be struck by some unseen or unexplained threat, hopefully to be revealed at some point in the future.
Bendis often seems to have trouble with large casts and plots, and that doesn't change here. Instead, his strength is character work, which is certainly the focus: Spider-Woman delivers an internal monologue about taking down the villainous corporate overlords who created her before encountering what appears to be a protoplasmic explosion engulfing New York (didn't they just rebuild the city?); Reed Richards, who has returned home to live with his parents, seems to be in a morass of depression, but being blasted by some beam might jolt him out of his misery; Ben Grimm, having found a purpose in the Army, reunites with Sue Storm (who is going through her own issues, unhappy with her unwanted fame) and confesses his love to her, just in time to get caught in the middle of that same weird blob rampage. Some of those scenes are interesting, but the "action" that intrudes seems pointless and, well, intrusive, along with being over-the-top. It's the kind of thing that people complained about way back in Bendis' "Avengers Disassembled": huge, inexplicable danger that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Maybe this would work a bit better with a different artist; while Rafa Sandoval's work looks nice on the surface, aping Stuart Immonen's style on Ultimate Spider-Man, but the actual mechanics of panel layouts and movement are awfully clunky, making action hard to follow and taking several reads of scenes to decipher what exactly happened. An early bit with Spider-Woman sees her swinging toward an exploding building, and it's unclear if she's swinging toward a man running in the foreground while shouting at him or alongside him, or whether she's going into the building or out of it. Another bit, in which Sue Storm is walking through Manhattan while remaining invisible, is hard to parse, as is an action scene in which Ben Grimm is either jumping toward the higher floors of the Baxter Building to save her or just standing on the street shouting upward. It's a confusing book on several levels, and the unclear art is definitely a major one.
Maybe all will make sense at some point in future issues, but as of this first installment, this seems to be another conglomeration of plot points and characters that don't fit together very well. If the big, crazy threat was something other than just more destruction, it might mean something, but it might as well just be a photograph of Bendis' scribbling and erasing things. Without some grounding in what we understand as this comic's reality, it's just a magic genie or something, there to show up and push the characters in various directions until the next Ultimate Fantastic Four or Ultimate X-Men series is supposed to start. Nobody, whether creators or readers, needs to waste their time on that.
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