Spider-Man, Bombshell, Black Widow (formerly Spider-Woman), Cloak, and Dagger have teamed up as the All-New Ultimates!
Last issue, the teenage heroes discovered that a gang named the Serpent Skulls have been taking over Roxxon outposts and are selling lethal enhancement drugs. Styx and Stone attacked an outpost in hopes of curing the latter, but the Skulls met them with battle. The Ultimates became involved and now, Styx is shot dead, Police Detective Schreck and Cloak are weak from Styx's degenerating touch, and the heroes are surrounded by the Skulls and their leader, Diamondback.
Also, Kitty Pryde, who resides with Black Widow, has refused to join the team and is bitter that the world has so quickly turned from hating to loving her after her saving of the universe from Galactus.
The story begins promptly where we left off: the heroes are surrounded by Diamondback and her goons, both sides preparing to fight. The battle begins when the Skull leader hurtles projectiles at Spider-Man and Dagger fires light daggers at a thug. As far as fights go, our heroes seem to have the upper hand as Bombshell, Dagger, and the two remaining police officers all get some shots at the villains.
When Detective Brigid O’Reilly notices a thug preparing to kill her crippled partner, Terry Schreck, she quickly opens fire at him. Spider-Man and Diamondback’s clash goes back and forth evenly. Although she is momentarily spooked by Styx’s dead body, Bombshell succeeds in subduing Diamondback’s assistant, Death Adder. Cloak and Dagger act together to defeat Fin and a few other goons.
As O’Reilly frets over her partner, Dagger avoids getting shot by brutally beating a gunman with a mace. Black Widow isn’t quite as successful when battling a duo of goons, getting her new jacket torn and being injected with a mysterious drug.
Soon, police reinforcements appear on the scene, and the Skulls rush away, with Diamondback randomly kissing Spidey. Before the officers begin to fire, Cloak manages to teleport the Ultimates from the scene to their base on the church in Hell’s Kitchen.
Cloak, burnt out, lies down while Bombshell complains about how poorly they fought. She is angry that her powers stopped working inconveniently, and Miles explains she just needs more practice to control them. Suddenly, Black Widow whispers to Spidey about whether they should mention “the JJJ thing.”
Irritated, Lana becomes that they are being secretive and continues with her ranting, mentioning she prepared to blow somebody up at the fight. Black Widow reminds her that Stark had said they need to be better versions of themselves at Captain America’s funeral. “Pretty easy for some rich dude riding around in armor to say,” she grumbles, and Spider-Man quickly comes to Stark’s defense.
When Jessica calls her ignorant, Bombshell becomes further irrational, swearing and disrespecting her leader. After threatening to shove a dagger up Dagger’s…ahem, Lana leaves, saying she quits. The remaining heroes are startled, and Miles mentions they could use Kitty Pryde’s help in the future. He decides to walk Black Widow, looking weak, home and Dagger decides they’ll meet next week…unless the world blows up on them.
At the alley crime scene, the detectives are all bewildered that the Skulls were so hostile and concerned that the Ultimates have entered the fray. They are thankful that they caught Styx, but Stone is still on the loose. Speaking of the devil, Stone stands in a separate alley, stunned about Styx’s death. A hobo asks him for change, but he doesn’t have any. The drifter takes out a pistol and shoots the villain, then tears off his mask to reveal a white, wrinkled head. “Justice…is served.”
At the Serpent Skulls HQ, Sidewinder explains his fears about the Ultimates, but Diamondback isn’t worried, replying they have set up the fallen lab elsewhere already. Black Racer explains that Black Widow should die within the day from the poison he injected in her, and Diamondback says, “Cops are gonna be all over the place now that one of them’s dead.”
Sidewinder changes the subject, informing his gang that they lost three men, shot in the faces. A man shaving his face, who looks like the chief leader of the Skulls, tells his gang, “The more outside action we see, the tighter and quicker things will have to turn. Bump up the sale date to next week, Sidewinder. Sell it straight, let’s dump it, get in, get out. Give it to King Cobra to distribute. His pier’s ready to go.”
Moving on to the killings, the man explains that the killers should be afraid of them, and he’s willing to take down every rival gang to prove it. Death Adder mentions that they have a truce, but when his leader irately looks at him, he decides that their rivals already broke it. “All the gangs, block by block, we will teach these cowards what a kill sweep really is. We will teach them these lessons of the world,” the leader explains as he slips his shaver into the Death Adder’s jacket.
In Chelsea, Kitty notices hurts on Jessica’s back, while the latter has hallucinations worrying about Lana’s quitting. Kitty decides that she’ll accompany the Ultimates in their next battle, and Jessica falls to the floor, unconscious, imaginary skulls floating above her head. Meanwhile, Scourge continues to assassinate thugs, and Detective Schreck dies in his hospital.
I really want to enjoy this series. I really do. I love the Ultimate Universe, and I would be very quick to praise this book as a compelling series for a new generation. That is, if it was the least bit enjoyable. Sadly, it’s not. It fails to be the least bit innovative or inviting to new readers. I am left wondering to myself… How could a writer screw up on as many levels as Michel Fiffe has?
Firstly, the dialogue is very weak and clichéd. The biggest instance of this is Lana’s outburst against Black Widow and Spider-Man. It’s obvious that Fiffe was trying to depict her as rebellious and relatable for the teenagers who feel overwhelmed. Instead, she seems to be an irrational brat that nobody could ever like. I find this character-type to be too obvious in teen-aimed comics: from what I read of Avengers Academy, it appeared often. I don’t know about the aimed audience, but Lana’s pissing me off. My other dialogue concern is how clichéd the Serpent Skulls’ lines are during the fight scene. They are treating the heroes as fools, and Fiffe obviously tries to rile us up with lines such as “Aw, is this little boo-boo’s first dead body? Here, want me to show you another one?” The dialogue is cheesy, and instead of making me more ardent for the heroes’ cause, makes me grimace at the weakness of the villain’s vocabulary.
Secondly, Fiffe’s introduction of characters in poorly conceived. Instead of familiarizing the majority of the Serpent Skulls properly, he decides to do so with forgettable intro boxes next to them as they’re beaten during the fight scene. The fact that we only find the villain’s names as they’re beaten shows the villain’s weakness and blandness. Fiffe’s presentation of the main leader of the Serpent Skulls angers me even more. His dialogue is solid, but his character design is boring and a name isn’t even revealed for him. How are we supposed to remember a character whose design is a bald head and a scar on his eye? Scourge’s introduction is weak too, but I’ll get to that below.
Third, the panel layout of this issue is a bit bizarre and doesn’t work out as well as it was planned to. While the main comic is progressing, random side-panels depict a gun loading and, eventually, firing at Stone’s head. The man wielding the gun is the Scourge, introducing him to the story. This would have worked well, but the layout of the side-panels is weak. A new addition to the gun’s loading seemed to appear right when you forgot the last and it distracted from the script instead of building up to the reveal. Then, in the last four pages of the comic, Fiffe plots Jessica hallucinating, heroes recovering from the battle, and Scourge killing goons, scenes all intertwining with each other. The panels are organized in a disorganized way, obviously meant to make the reader look over them quickly, adding to the suspense of Jessica’s sickness. Instead, it slows the reader down, distracting from Jessica’s illness. Perhaps it may have worked in a movie, but not in comic book form.
Lastly, Pinna’s art is just as horrible as last time. The thin lines lack energy and characters look creepy and unsettling. It’s not usual that I completely hate a comic book’s art, but I do here. There is simply nothing entertaining about it whatsoever. I think the weakest page is the first, where the worst splash I’ve ever seen transpires. In it, characters simply stand there as they attack or are attacked, lacking energy. It’s also depicted far away from a bland angle, with no characters prominently carrying the page.
This is truly terrible. The dialogue is poor, character introductions are mishandled, the panel layout is distracting, and the art is painful to look at.