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It's time! My first Ultimate X-Men review since June 2011!
Ultimate X-Men by Nick Spencer (Issues #1-12)
My Rating: 8.5/10
It had been a while since the UU had a proper X-Book. About 2 years, to be exact. Sure, Ultimate X was pretty solid, but it was only five issues over those ~18 months, and the delays kept it from becoming anything beyond an introduction. Ultimate newcomer Nick Spencer takes pieces of Loeb's Ultimate X run, some earlier bits of Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Doomsday, Ultimate Origins, and - dare I say it - Ultimatum to make an X-Book rich with the Ultimate mythos, but at the same time very refreshing.
A quick disclaimer - this is clearly not a full story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, so it works well as a whole, but it ends with a HUGE tease. It's unknown at this point how much of that will be followed up with. Fortunately, Spencer was able to tie it up in a way that barely, but satisfactorily, allows his 12-issues to work well as a standalone, even if the big ending is never addressed again.
Okay, with that out of the way - let's take a look at the run itself. Spencer quickly shows, and continues doing so through his run, that he has these characters down. Johnny and Bobby have some really fun back and forth that developed during their time in USM, and it adds some nice humor to the book. He also effectively calls back to the love triangle of Bobby, Rogue, and Kitty. Rogue's shady past, complete with serious trust issues from everyone, comes back as she plays triple-agent against Stryker. But the star of the book is clearly Kitty, and I love what Spencer did with her. She's calmed down from her "Magneto was right" attitude in USM (which was fantastic), but she is still VERY hardened since the events of Ultimatum. She's now fully realizing her training from Wolverine, and she's not going to let anything bad happen again. Storm and Colossus are also handled very competently, despite their brief time in the book. On the villain side of things, I LOVED Spencer's take on the cocky Quicksilver, and his nut-job Stryker was perfect. The only issue I might have had with his characters is in Jimmy AKA Diet Wolverine. Loeb's Ultimate X didn't offer much in a real character setting for Jimmy, so Spencer decided to take him down the route of Wolverine, and I think I would have preferred him to go in a different direction.
As a great demonstration in long form storytelling, there are several threads running through the plot, especially when it comes to antagonists. First, there's the US government who is taking extreme measures to keep mutants at bay in the wake of both a major mutant attack and the revelation that man made mutants (which was a nice - FINALLY - followup to Ultimate Origins). Then you have the "on a mission from God" militia led by Stryker. As a result of group #1, a rogue group of captive mutants start a riot. And then there's Quicksilver who is playing all of them. BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE. In a major last second reveal, you have Sinister and Apocalypse who are using ghosts of the past to REALLY PLAY ALL OF THEM!!!
Some of the twists and turns made for a bit of a disjointed story when reading it monthly, but it works really well when read all at once. The whole thing takes place over just about 24 hours, so it's a very dense story; all of these things are happening at once. I loved the take on mutant concentration camps, which we had heard about in USM, and it's nice to finally see them. The Nimrod Sentinels were also a cool new addition and continuation of the final arc in the first volume of UXM. Though it wasn't explored as deeply as it should have been, the ghosts who kept showing up were a great touch and a nice mystery with a great big payoff. And in addition to the plots, I love Spencer's take on different concepts such as "what makes a mutant," "fight or flight," and even "kill or don't kill."
But Spencer wasn't alone. Paco Medina and Carlos Barberi were a great fit for this story, and their styles compliment each other very well, to the point where the switch between is barely noticeable. It's great to have a consistent art team on a book, and they certainly delivered. Medina is the winner for me though, mostly because of some awesome 2-page spreads, especially the wide shot of Tian.
All in all, this run made for a great, albeit slightly too short, start to the new volume of Ultimate X-Men. It's great to see more into the mutant affairs of the UU, and I'm sure things will continue being awesome from here on out. I can only hope that this run is touched on later, because that ending is too good to ignore. I'm still unsure why Spencer was taken off the title, but it's too bad that he was, since this was definitely going somewhere. He knew his Ultimate history (despite the appearance from Madrox) and he had the characters down quite well. At least his successor, Brian Wood, seems like he'll have some tricks up his sleeves.
Up Next: Ultimate Spider-man - Scorpion (Issues #7-12)
I agree with your review 100%. The book had serious ups and downs as a monthly but when read as 1 story it works extremely well. I will be very disappointed if the "ghosts" story is just left in the cold. Honestly how could you not pick that up.
1) Find a bad guy
2) Be Wolverine
Bring Back Ultimate Wolverine...again!
*I know I've mentioned how awesome the ending was a few times now, but I really can't quickly sum up how excited I was about it. Of all the great things BKV did on his original run - still UXM's best in my opinion - Sinister's Ultimization stands out as my favorite. After 12 issues of waiting for something huge to happen, we got it. That final page turn is my second favorite moment to come out of the post-DoSM relaunch, only being topped by the Thor/Loki exchange in Ultimates #2.
As a side note, I want to expand on one bit of my review. One of my favorite things about this run is how well Spencer used UXM's history. Despite the aforementioned Madrox error (which isn't a big deal, but still a wee bit frustrating), he clearly did his research. We had callbacks to:
-BKV's Ultimate X-Men - Sinister/Fake Apocalypse, Rogue/Kitty/Bobby love triangle
-Kirkman's Ultimate X-Men - Real Apocalypse
-Ultimatum/Aaron Coleite's Ultimate X-Men - Stryker
-Ultimate Spider-man v2/Fallout - Johnny/Bobby friendship, fallout from Peter's death
-Ultimate Origins - Man created mutant
-Ultimate Doomsday - Layla Miller and Nathaniel Essex working for Roxxon
-Ultimate X - group hiding out at motel
That's callbacks to every run of Ultimate X-Men since 2004, including Loeb's on X. Plus a direct continuation of one of the biggest cliffhangers from pre-Ultimatum in Ultimate Origins and a callout to a VERY minor part of the Doomsday Trilogy. That last of those is probably my favorite, because Nathaniel Essex's presence in the Brain Trust was almost certainly unintentional by Bendis, but Spencer ran with it and made it fit.
The only other writers who I feel really used the Ultimate continuity this well are Hickman and Ellis, and that's a big part of what the UU is to me. That's not to say you have to have a lot of references to the past to make a good Ultimate book, but I'm always a fan of it; and obviously, a good story comes first. But this had both.
Will you also be reviewing Spider-Men?
Yo. What up?
Hey Plawsky, I use this forum as a way of organizing my Ultimate Comics(001 - Iron Man I #1 for example), and I must say this is a REALLY good reading order, with ONE exception.. Ultimatum xD That one is a mess! =P Had to make my own system... But, my question is: Will you be reading the newest storyarcs United We Stand and the other one as Marvel says we should, or make it like Avenger 12-18 and so on? xD
Good review, Plawsky. I agree with you for the most part. I'd probably drop the rating to a 7/10 simply because I don't like how disjointed the stories were when read monthly and the art was nothing too special. Spencer really did a good job with the time that he was allotted. It's really a bummer that his run was cut short.
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