“Chapter One: Three Kings”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: David Finch
Inks: Danny Miki
Colors: Steve Firchow
Cover artists: Finch & Miki (regular cover)/Ed McGuinness & Mark Farmer (variant)
Editor: Ralph Macchio & Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.50 CAN
When Marvel first unveiled its Ultimate brand, I was on board, as where thousands and thousands of other readers. By relaunching its familiar properties from scratch in a separate continuity, it freed creators up and opened the door to new possibilities and unpredictable twists. The Ultimate line was Marvel’s biggest cash cow for a while, but the bloom is off the rose somewhat these days. For a while, I had every Ultimate book on my pull list (I’m down to just Ultimate Spider-Man these days). Ultimatum is either Marvel’s move to end the line (unlikely, as it still seems to bring in some profits) or to re-energize the brand. This first of five issues certainly does a good job of establishing the world-altering stakes of the plot, but really, it just serves as an introduction to the most familiar of Marvel’s super-heroes in this particular shared universe.
All of New York’s heroes — the Fantastic Four, the Ultimates, the X-Men and Spider-Man — enjoy a leisurely, quiet afternoon in the city… for about a minute and a half. A devastating event befalls the city, claiming not only some of the heroes, but millions of other lives as well. Reed Richards is convinced one of his enemies is responsible, but the world’s most powerful telepath, Prof. Charles Xavier, sense who the real culprit is.
David Finch’s style is an appropriate one for an event book such as this, especially one with such a darker bent to it. One won’t find a great variety when it comes to the characters’ faces; he seems to have a limited repertoire in that regard. His style is clearly influenced by that of Top Cow Productions founder Marc Silvestri’s artwork, but Finch and inker Danny Miki have arrived at a less sketchy, more polished look. Finch’s vision of New York City is detailed and convincing. Furthermore, his depiction of the cataclysm that befalls the city certainly captures the scope of such an unimaginable and horrific event.
Marvel offers us up 24 pages of story and art, and it’s slapped an extra buck on the cover price. I don’t get it. Is it because the talent on this book cost more? Is there something unique about the printing process for this comic book of which I’m unaware? Is it because the publisher just thought readers would pay an extra buck for its latest event book? I don’t know, but I do know that with more and more super-hero comics tagged at $3.99 US, Marvel and DC are going to need to offer an explanation.
The catalyst for this event storyline is a mass murder on a scale limited to big-budget disaster movies. I have to admit, the quick and almost casual way in which Loeb’s plot deals with this notion is a little unsettling. Ultimately, we learn those millions of deaths are the result of an act of terrorism. In New York City. I can’t imagine Loeb didn’t have the thousands of deaths from Sept. 11, 2001, in his mind as he penned this script. I would imagine his intent was to find a way to make this event book resonate with readers. I definitely saw a connection, but I’m a bit torn about it. I wonder if some might feel he treats the concept a bit too casually here. It struck me as just a little bit inappropriate somehow.
On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the emphasis in the first few pages on the everyday lives of the super-hero characters. Loeb could have focused on regular people in the moments before the massive attack, but instead, we visit with the various heroes in the down time. It’s a smart move, for two reasons. First of all, Loeb doesn’t connect the readers emotionally to the millions of deaths with real, average people. The focus on the fantastic figures keeps it from being real. Furthermore, he humanizes these fictional players just enough to get us to care what happens to them.
Loeb also does a good job of introducing the cast of characters here. Ultimatum #1 is something of a crash course on the icons of Marvel Comics; it doesn’t really matter that it’s an intro to the “Ultimate” versions or not. Of course, at this point in pop-culture history, I think Marvel would be hard pressed to find a reader that really needed this primer on its biggest characters. Film and television have done the work for them, certainly when it comes to the scant detail provided here. Overall, this opening issue just barely gets the story moving. Sure, Big Things happen, but the real conflict and explanations lie ahead. It’s really too early to judge this story as a result, though as I mention earlier, I wonder if some readers might make a judgment call about whether or not they got real value for their four U.S. greenbacks. 5/10