After last issue’s jaw dropping conclusion, Jonathan Hickman and new writing partner Sam Humphries pick up the pieces in another strong issue that keeps up the momentum and brings even more players onto a board that is already overcrowded. But it all works somehow.
With the fallout from the destruction of America’s government, we get a book that really is a set up for the next part of this continuing story. We have a new president, a new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, AWOL Ultimates and a glimmer of hope for our heroes. It is an issue brimming with narrative content and it manages to flow nicely and not feel to overloaded. The new President aspect shows that the book is not done with the US government. Keeping the political elements in the book is a good thing as they have become as interesting as the super heroics and outlandish science fiction. Fury and co. on the run is a tried and tested formula in the normal Marvel Universe, but here it is exciting as this is a very different Fury. The only problem with that aspect of the plot is that the new man in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D, Director Flumm, is a walking cliché of sinister murderous intent (complete with a face scar). But the potential is there for a great cat and mouse tale.
The book also shines a light on several other characters. The book spends time on some civilians before they are all wiped of the face of the planet. It is hauntingly effective and a line that really has some resonance comes from one of these victims. “Do you need a leader to make an impact?” seems almost too knowing, but also like a start of a new thematic strand of the book. Another new starting block is Tony Stark’s idea of getting back at Reed. We get an appearance from the Invisible Woman and from here it is clear that she will join Stark and Thor in their counter attack. It makes perfect sense and since Reed came forward as the villain it was only a matter of time before the other members of the Fantastic Four appeared. At the same time as Stark’s manipulative recruitment drive we also find out that his tumor is back. Although the book does primarily concern itself with plot this issue, this moment helps to give the book some emotional moments. Stark and Thor’s scene on the roof is a great fusion of emotion and plot progression. As for Reed, he is given a page and the writing team manages to somehow make the vague new upgrade for The City seem sinister and foreboding. It is nice to see his final worlds of the issue be entangled with an intriguing cliffhanger that shows that there might be divine intervention in the coming issues.
Artist Luke Ross’ appearance on the book is a shift in style, but not in tone. Esad Ribic had delivered some of the most amazing visual treats in the previous issue and it is unfair to instantly compare the two artists. But the shift in art is one thing that is instantly striking. Ross is a clear and descriptive artist and his work here is well rendered. Nothing really stands out, as the layouts are simple and the character work is solid. But he really does make Director Flumm evil, in fact if he isn’t a crazy madman then he should be from his depiction. The only thing that distracts is the moments where characters have overtly expressive open mouths. Yes a strange criticism, but every time they pop up they seem extremely over the top and really draw your eye to them. To be fair to Ross there isn’t much here for him to truly sink his teeth into and hopefully in the coming months he will be allowed to cut loose on some blockbuster action.
So, as we are presented with another issue that shuffles the pieces around the board, we get hints of some interesting directions the multiple plot strands are heading. The way the issue deals with the fallout of the explosion in the opening pages works well as a staging ground for the events that follow. The introduction of the new President and Flumm are handled well, even if Flumm comes across as a villain from a Saturday morning kids show. The time spent on the actual Ultimates may be slight, but still has shades of the characterization the series is used to. But this is all about the plot and as we head into the next story arc it looks like things will get worst for our heroes before they get better.