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Nick Spencer’s Run on Ultimate Comics: X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Strangely enough, it’s the second relaunch of the Ultimate comic book line that feels like it is finally dealing with Ultimatum. Jeph Loeb’s “kill ’em all and let editorial sort ’em out” event had served as the catalyst of a relaunch for the entire line, ending long-running books like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men. The line was re-tooled and re-focused and relaunched following that event.

However, that relaunch quickly fizzled out. Mark Millar’s run on Ultimate Comics: Avengers could not quite measure up to the dizzying heights of his original run on The Ultimates. Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate Comics: X shipped sporadically at best and his run on Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates was something of a mess. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis continued his run on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man as if nothing much had changed.

A song of ice and fire...

A song of ice and fire…

Oddly enough, it was the second relaunch that seemed to click. Coming out of The Death of Spider-Man, the slate was cleaned and the various books all got new beginnings. Jonathan Hickman took over Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Nick Spencer helmed Ultimate Comics: X-Men, while Brian Michael Bendis launched Miles Morales in a new volume of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. This was a very real shift in the status quo, and one that marked a clear departure from what came before, with bold new vision.

One of the more interesting attributes of the latest relaunch of the Ultimate line was the sense of heightened continuity between the various books. In particular, Jonathan Hickman’s run on The Ultimates overlapped quite heavily with Nick Spencer’s work on X-Men. As a result, the first year of each of the three titles seemed to be building towards Divided We Stand, a massive crossover between the various titles.

Sentinels-of-not-quite Liberty...

Sentinels-of-not-quite Liberty…

Spencer’s X-Men doesn’t work quite as well as Hickman’s Ultimates, suffering from the fact that nothing seems to get resolved. Dealing with a massive cast and an epic scope, Spencer’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men spends its first year establishing where all of its characters are and how their situations reflect on the larger story that is in motion. It’s an ambitious storytelling model, as Spencer crafts one big story from the ground (or the sewers) to the heights of the Oval Office, but it means that everything is barely set up before it is time to knock it down again.

Spencer’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men is a run with no shortage of great ideas and impressive scale, but one that suffers from the fact that the writer never gets to follow through on the world that he has built.

Shocking treatment...

Shocking treatment…

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Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand – X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

I actually like the scope of Divided We Fall. It’s a big universe-altering event spanning Marvel’s three Ultimate Universe titles, but it isn’t so granular or so tightly-wound that the three books are tripping over one another. Each of the three books involved tell their own side of the story. Each can be read independently, with no real dependence on the other two. There’s a sense that the creators involved are being allowed a reasonable degree of creative freedom, and that Brian Wood is crafting his own X-Men epic that doesn’t exist simply to tie into the headline-making decision to bump Captain America up to superhero-in-chief over in Ultimate Comics: Ultimates.

In a weird way, for a book in the middle of a gigantic crossover, Wood’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men feels like it’s seeking a fresh start, like it’s kicking off a new chapter, and relishing the status quo shattering crossover as an excuse to just get on with it.

Mutant Pryde...

Mutant Pryde…

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Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand – Ultimates (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

There was a time when Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was the place to be. Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates were among the best-reviewed and best-selling books published at Marvel in the early part of the last decade, offering a fresh new take on classic comic book characters, and offering readers an opportunity to engage with a continuity-free world just as the super-hero movie craze took off. I’ll always be fond of the Ultimate Universe, because without The Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man, I simply wouldn’t be a comic book fan today.

However, in the last number of years, for any number of reasons, the line has wavered a little bit. Despite attracting Mark Millar back to write Ultimate Comics: Avengers, and Brian Michael Bendis generating massive headlines by writing The Death of Spider-Man, it seemed like the publishing brand was fading a bit. There have been several attempts to re-energise the line. Divided We Fall is just the most recent one, a crossover between the three books currently making up the Ultimate imprint.

The story of America falling apart, told from three different perspectives, it’s certainly timely. And, as crossovers go, shrewdly constructed. While Divided We Fall suffers a bit from the fact that Marvel is no longer consistently collecting the books leading into it, it is still an interesting comic book story, and one that takes advantage of the Ultimate Universe setting to tell a story that would be impossible in the mainstream Marvel brand.

President Cap...

President Cap…

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Mike Carey’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 4-6 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Fantastic Four was never really the crown jewel of the Ultimate line. It wasn’t ever as consistent as Brian Michael Bendis’ 100+ issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, nor as zeitgeist-y as Ultimate X-Men (which had the success of the X-Men trilogy to back it up at least). Instead, like Fox’s Fantastic Four movies, Ultimate Fantastic Four was just… well, just kinda there, really. To be fair, I dug Mark Millar’s twelve-issue run on the title. Hell, I even enjoyed elements of the opening arc by Millar and Bendis, and the year-long run by Warren Ellis that followed. However, Mike Carey’s run is somewhat disappointing. This was the run which essentially saw the series through to the big Ultimatum event, and perhaps it justified the decision to clean the slate when it came to Marvel’s Ultimate line. Because, whatever Carey’s run was, it certainly wasn’t consistently fantastic.

That surfer dude looks spaced...

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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1 (Hardcover)

The Fantastic Four, as originally imagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were an instant overnight success for Marvel. Although perhaps Spider-Man would go on to surpass them as the most recognisable creation from the comic book publisher, the four were intrinsically linked with the spirit of newness and pop science that defined comic books in the sixties – the run was so iconic that I’m even considering placing an order for the two volumes of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four Omnibus, even though I find Silver Age comic books tough to read. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the characters were among the last to be coopted into Marvel’s Ultimate line, an experiment designed to essentially start their characters from scratch again to attract a new audience. However, depite the late arrival of Ultimate Fantastic Four – four years after Ultimate Spider-Man and three years after Ultimate X-Men – the talent involed in the launch of the series suggests that Marvel was trying to get this version of the family off to the same flying start as their mainstream counterpart.

That's gonna put a dent in local real estate prices...

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Ultimate Galactus Trilogy (Review/Retrospective)

After spending the tail end of last year looking at the tangled inter-continuity crossovers at Marvel, I thought I’d spend January looking at some of the looser “out of continuity” tales at the major companies.

What does a continuity-lite crossover look like? I mean, a relatively self-contained comic book event that isn’t based upon years and years of events? Marvel famously launched their Ultimate line a decade ago to offer a chance to “reimagine” their classic stories – the Avengers became The Ultimates, and monthly issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four were available on the stands. The goal was to offer tales that would allow new readers to jump on board without having to worry about the weight of half-a-century (or more) worth of back story for the characters. Despite some minor crossover between the books – Mark Millar writing the Ultimates into his Ultimate X-Men run or Ultimate Spider-Man occasionally paying a short visit to the Baxter building – the line largely steered clear of the sort of bombastic big events that Marvel seems to love churning out month-on-month. So, what does an actual “big crossover event” look like when written for these characters? A bit like the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, I suppose.

He's got the world in the palm of his hand...

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