Ultimates 3 #1
“Sex, Lies, & DVD”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist/Cover artist: Joe Madureira
Colors: Christian Lichtner
Letters: Richard Starkings
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.05 CAN
Earlier this week, I watched a climactic episode of Heroes on NBC. Clearly taking a lot of cues from super-hero comics, it was thoroughly entertaining, balancing darker, more modern cynicism with instances of heroism and idealism. The episode was credited as being written by Jeph Loeb, and while I haven’t been wild about his recent comics work, the Heroes episode renewed my faith in the genre writer. So it was with cautious optimism that I approached Ultimates 3 #1, despite my general disinterest in the artwork of Joe Madureira. It didn’t take many pages for that cautious optimism to turn to disappointment. This is only a five-issue limited series, as I understand it, and in the first issue, Loeb provides us with no actual plot. His script doesn’t jibe with Marvel’s Ultimate continuity, and all of the “heroes” are off-putting. Even if Loeb and Madureira didn’t face the daunting task of following in the footsteps of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, this comic book would have come up wanting.
Now independent from S.H.I.E.L.D., the Ultimates are based out of Tony Stark’s Manhattan mansion, but the closer quarters haven’t made for stronger bonds among the superhuman champions. And now that a sex video featuring Tony Stark and the late, traitorous Black Widow has been leaked to the public, dynamics among the team members have become even more strained. As even bigger scandals lurk in the wings, a single super-villain invades the heroes’ private retreat, giving them a run for their money.
Joe Madureira’s exaggerated style is certainly flashy, but it really doesn’t tell the story all that well. The action unfolds in an unclear manner; without the script, the reader really wouldn’t know what was happening. He also fails to convey any real individuality in the characters, leaving us only with paragons of physique. And his eye for anatomy is far from accurate, even factoring in exaggeration and style. The Ultimate Wasp’s Asian heritage is all but lost here, and Captain America and Thor seem like nothing more than hulking behemoths, hardly human at all. Christian Lichtner’s colors are soothing at first, bringing a warm glow to the visuals. But that glow permeates almost every panel, and it seems as though an odd haze has fallen over every scene.
It seems as though just about every character in the lineup here is reprehensible in some way. Captain America’s demands that people behave a certain way in the face of his refusal to discuss what he’s been up to is annoyingly hypocritical. Thor and Valkyrie’s oversexed relationship seems terribly shallow, and Loeb’s decision to deal with Pietro and Wanda’s odd relationship so overtly seems rather gratuitous. Loeb seems to go out of his way to present the Ultimates as hard-luck heroes, completely dumping the more idealistic, hopeful tone that capped Ultimates 2. Loeb’s take on the Ultimate version of Venom isn’t consistent with what we’ve seen of the character in Ultimate Spider-Man either. Judging from that part of the script and the promise the gatefolds covers seem to make about the participation of a wide variety of established villains, Loeb seems to want to write something more grounded in regular Marvel continuity rather than the Ultimate universe.
The one bit of characterization that did work for me was the harsher take on Hawkeye that the writer offers up in this issue. Portraying the Ultimate Hawkeye as a grieving husband and father with a deathwish makes sense in the context of the events of Ultimates 2. The costume redesign certainly works within that context as well. Furthermore, Loeb’s script, at least when it comes to Hawkeye, is accessible.
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about this story is that there is no story… not yet. We’re presented with two seemingly random attacks on the heroes, but that’s it. And the attacks seem to serve no purpose, as the protagonists all seem to be self-destructing anyway. The script is driven by darkness and action, but there’s no substance, no humanity to be found. 3/10