‘All-New Ultimates’ #1 Turns The Ultimate Universe On Its Ear [Review]
A little over a decade ago, when Marvel's Ultimate Universe was really coming into its own, the creative teams behind the Ultimate books established a distinct storytelling style that seemed to serve as a contrast to the mainstream books being published at the time. The pacing was deliberate, with a lot of time spent on character conversations. The art was big, bold and filmic, with an emphasis on realism. Iconic characters had long arcs.
All-New Ultimates #1 by writer Michel Fiffe, artist Amilcar Pinna and colorist Nolan Woodard doesn't do any of that (other than perhaps the art being bold). It's lightning-fast, takes place in a very heightened reality and, Spider-Man aside, revels in its focus on characters you're unlikely to see starring in a movie anytime soon. In many ways, it's a rejection of the established Ultimate style, a very Ultimate idea, indeed.
Let's start with the colors, because they were the first sign to me that this book was really going to do something different. Page one of this issue is awash in vivid, neon purples, greens and yellows. It's an immediate sign that this comic doesn't take place in a "real" world of any kind. This is a New York City full of gangs that look like they're out of a 1980s cartoon, whose members terrorize the streets and have powers as a result of a Roxxon-developed drug that's somewhat similar to mutant growth hormone.
Compared with the original Ultimates series, where everything was basically the color it is in reality, it's an approach that seems to say, "We're not trying to be a movie anymore. This is a comic. Period." That color palate persists throughout the issue, though it is somewhat subdued in a scene near the midpoint that takes place in an apartment (one of only two out-and-out talky scenes in the issue).
Speaking of talky stuff, on more than one occasion, a character will say, "Enough talking" and the team will spring into action quickly thereafter. This is a comic where stuff is happening all the time, to the point where it even gets a little hard to keep up if you're used to the more methodical pacing of other Ultimate books. It took me two readings to nail the rhythm of this issue. The first time I read it, a quick change in costume that Spider-Woman makes seemed like it came out of nowhere. Only later did I realize that the dialogue had been building to it since page two. Everything is here on the page, but to readers who are used to a tad more spoonfeeding, it can be a little jarring.
To offer a couple more examples: The team, which consists of Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Cloak, Dagger, Spider-Woman and Bombshell, is assembled from the get-go, where other books would take their time bringing the members together. This depicts a brief conversation about what to name the team, and they're off to the races. Likewise, we're introduced to a group of police officers who are investigating the Roxxon connection to the power drug with very little exposition. Readers are simply expected to get it.
If these sound like complaints, they're not. I love it. This is the kind of pacing that suits a book about a team of teen heroes. They make quick, rash decisions. They fly off the handle. They get their feelings hurt, and say so (one of the best lines of the book, a laugh-out-loud Spider-Man quip, is about that). They act before they probably should. It nails the teenager mindset beautifully.
I can imagine a lot of the complaints people will have about this comic, though. It feels sort of like a throwback, given how prevalent street gangs were as the antagonists of cartoons and comics in the 1980s. The art is highly stylized. This isn't Bryan Hitch realism; Pinna's characters are sort of distorted and have huge mouths. But I feel like that's all part of the point. It's a way to say, "These are a completely different team of Ultimates."
I'm not sure the creative team is actively rejecting the work of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar and the other architects of the Ultimate Universe, considering that Bendis is still such a big part of the picture. Still, it feels like a rejection of that, or at least a distinct counterpoint.
For the first time in quite a while, it feels like the Ultimate Universe is a place where something truly fresh. This title earns its "new," that's for sure.