A mysterious alien force has launched stealth attacks on the American scientific establishment and on particular members of the New York superhero community. The Baxter Building and Roxxon Industries lab facilities have been destroyed, or perhaps absconded with. Nick Fury, Spider-Woman, and Spider-Man have suffered attacks in their civilian lives. And as a consequence of these attacks, Reed Richards is dead; Peter Parker has decided he can’t go home until the alien menace is defeated; and the power-set of Ben ‘the Thing’ Grimm has changed. Whatever Ben is now, he looks more like a human and less like a rockslide.
That’s a lot of backstory for an issue #1 to bear! Of course, it’s not really issue #1 of a new mini-series, it’s issue #5 of a maxi-series that is pretending it’s three mini-series in order to goose the sale numbers. So let’s dive right in...
Philip “Captain Marvel” Lawson is visiting Project Pegasus. Just as in the 616 universe, the Ultimate Project Pegasus is a secure research facility for unearthly objects. We readers have seen it in Ultimate Power #1 and more recently in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #8. Carol Danvers has reached the reasonable conclusion that, in the event of a second wave of alien attacks, the facility is a likely target, so she’s detached Marvel as an additional security asset.
For several pages we get Marvel snarking off to the local security forces while, in the background, we get glimpses of the Ultimate equivalents of significant objects. I spotted the Wand of Watoomb; the Cosmic Cube; the head of Ultron; the Serpent Crown; the armour of the High Evolutionary; Captain America’s original shield; and maybe Mjolnir? Pretty sure I missed some, though. In any case, this background fan-service is a lot more fun than going through Marvel’s annoying dialogue. At least it’s meant to be annoying, as the text acknowledges:
SECURITY CHIEF: “I guess I imagined that if I ever did meet an alien he wouldn’t be so snarky.”
CAPTAIN MARVEL: “...I thought I was acting cool.”
CHIEF: “...Snarky is not cool.”
MARVEL: “Your television confuses me.”
Well observed, Bendis! This pays off (almost) all of the pain of Marvel’s dialogue.
At this point we get our regularly-scheduled dose of superhero action, as alarm klaxons wail. Marvel blasts into action in his Kree battle-armour: zipping outside, he tackles a mysterious glowing figure and subdues it. This is easy to do, because the figure doesn’t fight back. It even makes the universally-recognized hand symbol for ‘time-out’, saying “...my name is Rick Jones”. We readers last saw Rick in the aforementioned Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #8, when he blasted off to find his destiny. I guess this is it.
He explains that “The Watchers of the Universe” sent him here. “They sent me here to stop what’s going to come. They gave me powers and told me—”
“What’s going to come?” interrupts Marvel.
“Destruction!” says Jones. Suspenseful! Not very informative, though.
Elsewhere in the issue, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman have a heart-to-heart about recent events, in traditional Bendis style – a huge splash page with lots and lots of dialogue splattered across it. Not that I’m complaining, as this dialogue sequence is much more zippy and amusing than Marvel’s snark. In between asides about Peter’s fevered imaginings of how his clone’s life differs from his own – did Jessica keep his I-like-girls sexual orientation, or did that change with her new body parts, for example – the two agree that Roxxon’s inclusion among the aliens’ attack targets warrants further investigation, and that the two web-slingers should focus their efforts on figuring out what Roxxon’s role in all of this is.
Also, we get a little bit of an update on the Fantastic Three. Seems that Ben Grimm is human again, but can transform into a glowing purple man at will. “I got all my power and none of the orange rocky discharge,” he boasts. Eww, yuck. Was that phrasing necessary? “The guys upstairs think the orange rock me was like a cocoon.” An interesting take! Kudos, Bendis.
The upshot of all this is that the Fantastic Three have been drafted. “Reed Richards was murdered... and I want you to help me find his murderer,” explains Danvers. “You three are now agents of SHIELD.”
The story inches along. Apparently an alien attack on Project Pegasus is imminent, but it hasn’t happened yet. The Spider-twins are going to take on Roxxon, but they haven’t started yet. The Fantastic Three are going to bring Reed Richards’ killer to justice, but they haven’t started yet either.
So instead of anything happening, we get lots of dialogue. Some of this is good – I liked the Peter and Jessica exchange – and some is painful, notably anything that Captain Marvel says to anybody at any time.
At least nobody tortures anyone. That alone makes this issue a big improvement over Ultimate Enemy #4.
Critics complain a lot about decompressed storytelling in comics, especially where Bendis is involved. Normally I forgive Bendis this because, normally, his dialogue is a joy to read. Not in this case, though. The Marvel sequence in this book, which is the bulk of it, is excruciating. The fact that it is meant to be that way provides very small compensation for having to wade through it in the first place.
Two webs. I’d ask for more on the Spider-twins and the Fantastic Three and less Marvel and Rick Jones, but the sneak preview of Ultimate Mystery #2’s cover squelches those hopes.
Cover accuracy check: Yes, all of these characters appear in this issue, which is an improvement over Ultimate Enemy #1’s cover. But come on: Rick Jones gets a handful of panels, and Nick Fury gets only one, and has no lines to deliver either. He certainly doesn’t fire a gun, or do anything remotely aggressive. The character who does the most talking, Captain Marvel, appears in the background. I rate this cover Misleading / borderline Inaccurate.