Well the tension continues to build as events are set in motion, which could spell trouble for The Ultimates. Jonathan Hickman creates another obstacle for the team, which could have lasting repercussions, whilst Esad Ribic creates some of the most striking images the book has seen so far.
Continuing his juggling act, Hickman’s script shifts focus between The City, Tian, The US government and the rest of The Ultimates. It is quite surprising that the book never feels over crowded, but this is due to Hickman’s deft skill at doing what he needs to in one scene and moving on. This gives the book a brisk pace and this suits the tension Hickman is trying to create. The book has a sense of urgency and this raises the stakes of the narrative, so by that final page the reader will really be interested in how it all turns out. The problems of the last issue have been overcome as he once again streamlines his juggling act. Proving he can handle the dense multiple strands he has created.
Easily the most interesting moments of the book happen in The City, not just because of the Hulk’s rampage but because of the actual implications of Reed’s honesty. Confronting the beast head on with the truth is not only a great plan, but a interesting twist. Readers expecting a battle between the two might be disappointed, but what actually occurs is far more interesting and in keeping with Reed’s manipulative ways. Hickman’s take on the Hulk is fun as the characters does the obligatory first person “Hulk…..” moments, but when he is reasoned with he speech becomes clear and he is not the minds rage he is often seen as. Again Reed steals the show with his words and by the time the issue ends the two of them are seemingly in agreement. This continues the sense of unpredictability the series has, as one would assume the Hulk doing damage and then being overcome by The Children with some sort of technology. But instead Hickman takes a different path and the narrative is better for it.
Also Hickman throws in a big new concept as the Winter Protocols are activated. Clearly some sort of final solution when it comes to The Ultimates team and it is a bold step to have the US government actively seek out their own team. Clearly, this is the pay-off from the political strands Hickman has thrown into the book. The President decides to confront Fury and in doing so attack The Ultimates. The President isn’t finished there as his decision on how to deal with the Children is not only over the top, but thematically interesting. Hickman has portrayed the American government and especially the President as people scared of losing control. It’s not a unique perspective or take, but it really does change the feel of this book. It really isn’t Marvel proper. This is Ultimate Marvel and in this universe we show force regardless of the consequences. It is interesting that Hickman and Ribic chose to keep the President faceless, it adds a sense of menace to his actions, but it also changes him into villain which is in keeping with the plot but lessens some of the impact.
With all this going on it is surprising then that there are little moments of character dotted about the book. Obviously both Hulk and Reed get a lot of focus, but the rest of the expansive cast get a few moments. Spider-women and Captain Britain have a brief but entertain moment. Iron Man and Thor continue to build a believable friendship and it will be fun to see these two get out of their current predicament. However not much is done at Tian as Fury, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Falcon get little to say. But Xorn does get some ominous dialogue, which helps to build excitement for the confrontation between his brother and The Children.
All of these moments are brought to life by Esad Ribic’s wondrous pencils. He is truly a tour de force here as he depicts everything with such clarity and detail. His layouts are big and bold, giving the book the sense of an action epic, which is in keeping with The Ultimates style. There are so many jaw-dropping images in the book it’s hard to pick one that stands out. But the first meeting between Reed and Hulk is an amazing piece of work. The panel evokes a sense of the mythological as the towering Hulk is confronted by Reed. His small floating frame really helps to sell the Hulk’s physical presence. This image is surrounded by equally evocative ones as you continue through the book. Images of Zorn and his army and nuclear missiles give the book the scale the script demands. Ribic’s handling of Tony Stark, Thor and the rest of the cast is pitch perfect. He has a lot of shocked faces to draw this issue and he nails every one of them. His depiction of Hulk is a marvel, a savage creature of brute strength. The opening action scene is as meticulously staged as the quieter moments. This is an artist at the height of his game.
It isn’t often that a book comes along that looks as good as this, especially from the Big Two. The art alone is worth the cover price and it will be hard to top in future issues. However, Hickman surprises once more as he gains momentum on his multiple strands and once again gains control of his dense plot. It was a worry that he was becoming overwhelmed, but by pacing the book and giving a more streamlined look at the different plots, he has saved himself. It’s dense, not easy to jump into and unpredictable, aspects that usually spell doom for a title. But it also engages on many levels with its visceral action, emotive characters and interestingly bleak ideas, making it one of the best reads on the stands. This is a big sprawling epic that Hickman is creating and it is one hell of a ride so far.