So it looks like Sam Humphries has been put in charge of this title and his script is every bit as dense as Hickman’s previous ones. Though Hickman is still on the book in some form, it is safe to say the narrative is in good hands.
Now Humphries hits the ground running here and doesn’t stop for breath until the final page. Stark and Thor continue their mission, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Falcon are still on the run, the new President makes his first decisions and Reed Richards makes his customary appearance. To say the book is jam packed is an understatement as the narrative adds more characters/ideas to the mix. With so much going on, it is to Humphries credit that he manages to make the whole thing come together. The narrative has a punchy pace, which it benefits from, never lingering too long on certain strands. As for those strands each one is interesting in its own right. The dynamic duo of Stark and Thor is the highlight of the book, due in part to Humphries great grasp on Stark’s charming demeanor. He does dominate the scenes the two characters are in, but Thor is great in his role as the strong, stoic type. There are the beginnings of a buddy comic in these scenes, which help to alleviate the seriousness that surrounds the rest of the book.
Something else that helps the narrative feel balanced is the fact that each aspect is used in a different manner. Stark and Thor bring a bit of humor and move the overall plot involving the City forward. Black Widow and company bring in the action beats as they go toe to toe with a squad of Giant Men. It is also interesting that this part of the book introduces the idea of a Ultimate version of a certain West Coast super team. This is easy fan service, but it still tantalizes a cast of unseen characters that will either get the Ultimate treatment or be people we have seen before.
Humphries focus on the President is also connected to the overall plot, but adds a few subplots that seem interesting in their own right. The idea Texas has become its own republic increases the feeling that the States have become fractured. How this new republic gains its independent wealth is an interesting moment and this subplot is clearly set up for a post Reed Richards storyline. Humphries’ new President is feeling the pressure and it is already clear that new S.H.I.E.L.D director Flumm won’t be helping matters. But this President isn’t without his own bite as he holds his own against not only Flumm but also Thor and Stark as well. His summation of Thor and stark is a nice little dig, which really helps to characterize this new President and due to his final words to the two of them the final reveal seems more ambiguous. Is it part of Stark’s plan or has the President really given him over to Reed Richards? This makes for a nice cliffhanger.
This is the first time Reed Richards doesn’t steal the show and it’s probably the most overt difference between Hickman and Humphries. Reed’s dialogue is missing that delicious tyrannical edge it previously had. This maybe just a problem this issue, but it still is noticeable. However another difference that is welcome is that Humphries has refocused the book on the Ultimates. Hickman’s work was a tapestry that often placed the action in Tian or The City above the actual heroes. Although that worked and gave the book a larger and more ambitious canvas, it is nice to reestablish the presence of our title heroes.
Now the book does have one big problem and that is the art. The fact it has four artists seems a bit excessive. But what it actually does to the book is make it feel disjointed and really detracts from the narrative as it feels like the visuals are constantly shifting. Luke Ross does most of the work here and for the most part he continues with his clean pencils. Nothing truly special but it does the script justice. However his work seems smaller than the title requires, as his panels tightly frame the action and loose the cinematic style that is its trademark. The other three artists don’t have much to work with and do little to make an impact. However, Patrick Zircher really does make the Stark/President scene feel tense, as his characters are extremely expressive.
So, as Humphries manages to refocuses the narrative onto the heroes whilst bouncing around different plots, the transition between writers doesn’t seem that problematic. But the visual aspect of the book is a stumbling point and really does bring the whole experience down. There is a lot to like about the narrative and it is nice to see Humphries continue to create something interestingly dense. However, one does fear that the aspects that made this title stand out are disappearing, especially in the art department. But for now we have a solid narrative married with patchwork of serviceable art.