The series continues to astound as Jonathan Hickman juggles dense plots, solid characterization and multiple concepts. Add to the mix Brandon Peterson bringing some amazing amount of emotion to his pencils and the ever amazing Esad Ribic, who continues to depict the future nightmare that is The City, and you have a book that both looks great and reads fantastically.Like a beautiful well oiled machine, The Ultimates continue to grow upon what has gone before. Hickman constantly references old storylines, which adds a depth of continuity to the book, driving the narrative forward and in some cases (Black Widow’s child) giving the characters a purpose to fight. But they would mean nothing if it wasn’t for the actual emotional beats contained within the script.
Hickman has outdone himself with this issue, in terms of broad and relatable emotional development for the characters. Stark is ashamed that his desire to have deniability towards the unsavory actions of the Kratos club has come back to bite him in the ass. It’s a powerful moment as we watch the billionaire playboy brought down a peg by a consortium of super rich snobs. The fact that at the end of the day he wants to know the outcome of their plan taints his feelings of guilt and shame, making him in essence just as vile (or even worse) as his fellow Kratos members. This gives a great deal of complexity to his character and continues to showcase Hickman’s skill.
Hickman also decides to drop in on Jamie Braddock, a character fueled by more familiar emotions. Altogether the scene is rife with cliché; angry with Dad, injured brother, general corny British dialogue (“A toast to you, brother…with father’s very best scotch”). It somehow works as Hickman delivers a well-composed and succinct moment. Its success is due in no small part to the fact that Jamie, not Brian, is Captain Britain. Instantly, things seem different andmore exciting. Even if we know that Jamie will join the team for his soon to be dead brother, Hickman has staged it perfectly.
Possibly the most interesting moments of the issue though are the planning of The Ultimates retaliation. Nick Fury actively asking Captain America to denounce the President is a lovely moment. It’s ballsy, feels fresh and continues the book’s attitude of “anything might happen.” Although the outcome is somewhat predictable on subsequent readings, the scene does have the best line of the book from Captain America: “So, make no mistake, while I’m a murderer. I am not…a traitor”. This scene leads directly into the Hawkeye/Fury scene, which sets up the next major plot line. Unpredictable is a word that easily describes the book so far and it’s best depicted here in the Reed Richards/Falcon scene. Generally you’d assume Falcon would end up in a fight after being discovered and manage to get out unscathed because he’s a bad ass. But no, Reed, channeling the best aspects of Magneto and Dr. Doom, gives him a tour of The City. He allows Falcon to look around because he wants Mr. Wilson to come to the same conclusion he has: The Children can’t be stopped and humanity must prepare itself for it’s extinction. Grandiose claims in a book with a grand vision; a perfect example of why it’s so entertaining.
Another reason it works so well is the art. Peterson just nails it this issue. Everything is perfectly rendered, each character emotion well conceived. The book is a marvel to look at. From the disappointment and anger on the faces of Fury and Cap to the tearful expression of Jamie Braddock as he asked his brother to get better, each moment stands out and that is no mean feat. However it is Tony’s scene and Tony himself that is the highlight. Tony goes from arrogant to indignant to crushed in what can only be described as a dizzyingly real portrayal from Peterson’s pencils. You really do feel it with him and that is something not often achieved in the art department. With all this talk of Peterson you’d wonder what Esad Ribic was doing. Well he was continuing to make The City something you’d like to look at for hours. It’s like a hundred future cities you’ve seen before, but Ribic has given it a character that raises its status. Also the additional mutation for Reed is suitable grotesque and Ribic seems to have fun with the villains look. It is also worth mentioning that both John Rauch and Edgar Delgado bring the book to life with the right tones. Rauch enthuses Peterson’s pencils with the right moods, not too dark but enough to hammer home the emotions. Delgado compliments the clean look of Ribic’s depiction of The City with neutral colors.
So as The Ultimates themselves march forward through the debris left behind by their confrontation with The Children, Hickman delivers another fantastic script. Dense, but well paced, full of character, but at the same time it drives the plot forward. It is not often that a book can be this full and still be coherent, intelligent and enjoyable. It is in no small part to the art team who sell every moment of the script. This is the best The Ultimates have been since their inception.