“The boy who killed America.”
With those words, Jonathan Hickman has fundamentally changed the Ultimate Universe. It is another bold move from this series and it is one of the most effective jaw dropping cliffhangers in recent memory. It literally dwarfs everything else presented in the issue. That’s not to say that Hickman doesn’t deliver anything of worth leading up to that moment.
The sheer scale of the book has taken on a life of its own as the plot continues to juggle multiple threads. The war between The Children of Tomorrow and The People of Tian has well and truly begun. The first battle between these two powers is mythic in its execution as both Hickman and Esad Ribic deliver the feeling of an epic struggle. This is quite an achievement as we only see snippets of the battle. Using Fury, Hawkeye and Black Widow as our eyes on the battle is a great way to get these characters involved and not just have this book become The Children/People show. Hickman’s use of Fury and co. in these moments hammers home just how overmatched our heroes are as they watch on in disbelief at the magnitude of the carnage. Zorn’s final act as his People struggle to defeat the technologically advanced Children not only has a visual impact on the book, but it is delivered with some interesting writing on Hickman’s part. It brings in the theme of “reaping what you sow”, which is prevalent within this issue and the series as a whole.
This thematic strand is heavily addressed in the latter pages of the issue, with the ending being a literal depiction of it. The fall out from the Presidents decision to attack The City with a full-scale nuclear attack is given a lot of room here. We are given two perspectives, one from Reed Richards inside The City and the other from the US Congress. The devastation to The City allows Reed to further cement the Hulk’s loyalty to his cause and gives him an opportunity to retaliate. Reed Richards has become somewhat of a star of this title as his depiction as this omnipotent villain has made him such a compelling voice within the narrative. His ending dialogue from Hickman is as poetic and decisive as it is chilling, evoking a sense of finality that makes the last page so effective. On the flip side, we have the President’s words, which are presented as desperate and mournful. These are desperate actions of a man at the head of a nation who is no longer in control of the world. It was the last actions of the old power before it is swept aside, and it is truly their last actions. This moment echoes events from our own history and gives the whole book grounding in reality, even if the concepts are fictitious. This is what good science fiction is all about, acting as an analogue to our own world.
It isn’t all big thematic strands and epics battles though, as Hickman still manages to keep an eye on the rest of the team. But if there is one thing the issue does lack is the characterization that has been with the book since day one. There are sparks of it here, but it is moved aside for the significant plot beats. That isn’t a bad thing at all but it is a shame. We do however get to see Spider-Woman and Captain Britain’s fate, which teases both the power of Jamie Braddock and the possible appearance of another character. Also Thor and Tony Stark make quick work of the predicament they’re in. Hickman has given Stark and Thor a clear goal for the foreseeable future and a possible problem for Stark as well.
Esad Ribic doesn’t quite manage to match his work from the previous issue but he still delivers a gorgeous looking book. It has become somewhat of a moot point whether Ribic will ever produce something less than marvelous and within the pages of this book he throws in more jaw dropping visuals. The title continues to be given the grandiose scope it requires from Ribic and the one page depiction of the battle between The Children and The People is a prime example of this. Ribic’s Akira-esque bubble explosions are lovely renderings, with both Zorn unleashed and the final page being the most striking images of the book. As always he manages to give the characters the same attention to detail as he does with the action. Although there is quite a few open mouths this issue, Ribic still makes sure that the impact of the battle on Fury and the others is masterfully depicted. Ribic continues to make The ultimates one of, if not, the best looking superhero comics on the stands.
Although the book doesn’t focus much on the characters, it does succeed in presenting a well-crafted plot. However it is that final page that will leave a lasting impression. It will have readers returning to see the fallout from it. But the ending aside the rest of the book is as compelling as ever as Hickman continues to moves his pieces in interesting ways. With the help of Ribic, Hickman’s Ultimates both looks like nothing else out there and also stays true to the core visual identity of the original series. It continues to be a tale of epic proportions and with this issue the Ultimate Universe has changed forever.