With Divided We Fall/United We Stand in the rearview mirror, where will Humphries take the Ultimates? It's the start of his run on his own - no crossover, no cowriter. But first, the Ultimates have to go through a bit of a transition and clean up the mess.
end of spoilers
-Hawkeye has a runin with a souped up tractor/armor that's later referred to as Titanium Man.
-Clint is taken out pretty quickly.
-Monica calls for the Ultimates to assemble.
-Cap answers the call after saving miners from a collapsed well; Carol is also there.
-Tony is working on new designs for rebuilding America with Anthony the Tumor when Cap calls him.
-Thor is pissed off still, so he's hitting a mountain. Cap and Iron Man fly in to pick him up.
-They have a battle with Titanium Man, who is trying to destroy a Nuclear Plant.
-It turns out the man inside, Dr. Jake Miller, saved the plant during the crossover, but his family was killed by looters. So now he's angry.
-The Ultimates stop him, arrest him, and Tony asks him to work with him while he's in prison.
-Cap asks Monica to put together a new team of Ultimates, as he doesn't feel confident with Tony and Thor right now.
-Tony then flies off in his new Iron Patriot armor.
Okay, Sam Humphries has taken this book downhill over the past few issues. Let's get that out of the way. I'll admit that I was very skeptical coming into this issue because of that, but I think this showed improvement. It does exactly what a Point One issue should do, which is show the reader who the characters are and do a little bit of a set up for what's to come. Sure, not a lot happened - and the issue is overall skippable - but it was a decent read.
For the first time since he started his run on the book, Humphries really takes time to focus on the Big 3. Each of the main Ultimates gets a nice extended scene here, and he shows that he actually can handle these characters pretty well. I'm still not a big fan of Anthony, but he actually works really well when it's just him and Tony talking. I loved this line from Tony - "You are by far the smartest of my brain tumors. And not just because you're the first one to talk back to me." The Doc Ock joke was a bit weak, but overall, I enjoyed Tony in this issue. Cap was kind of by the numbers, but I love the reinforcement that he's here to save the American people, everything else is secondary. It still leaves up to question what kind of president he'll be, but he makes a solid Cap still. And Thor gets down to the issue that should have been dug into WAY deeper during UWS - his loneliness. His people are gone; he just killed the last one. How does he cope with that? I would really like to see more of the ghosts of Asgard that Hickman setup, but this is at least a start. And Hawkeye, though he wasn't super effective on the battlefield, showed a nice bit of cockiness in the opening, which was nice. I also enjoy Monica's hardass soldier leadership.
For all the improvements with the characters, there wasn't much to offer in plot. I get that this issue was a character study, but the story could have been much stronger. Did the new Titanium Man really need to be made from a tractor? It just felt lazy. I did like Dr. Miller, though. And I guess this served its purpose as a small scale fallout from UWS, but I wish there had been more here. As for the "big reveal" of Iron Patriot... weak. They really need to quit teasing things that aren't going to be big, because this just felt like a huge dud. Who knows, maybe it's cool, but it doesn't feel that way yet.
Forget Sam Humphries for a second, the art was fantastic. Dale Englesham has been a favorite of mine for a while, and I loved him here. I wouldn't want him as an ongoing artist on this book, because I don't think he's the right fit, but it worked really well here. There were a few odd panels here and there, but nothing too bad. I love his Thor and I thought the Tony/Anthony scene was great. It's an old school feel on what should be a modern book, but I like it for a one off.
Overall, this was definitely an improvement for me. It certainly wasn't a great issue, by any means, but I don't expect a huge change overnight. I think it showed that Humphries is getting a feel for this book and these characters, and it leaves me optimistic. I'm also really intrigued by the new team of Ultimates that is teased. I'm less excited about Iron Patriot though. I think Humphries needs to learn how to make big moments big, because that's what's really missing from this book right now. Well, it's one of the things really missing.
Writing - 7/10
Story - 5/10
Art - 8/10
Overall - 7/10
For my vote up at the top, I will be giving this a "good" rating, but that's mostly due to the optimism that came from this issue. Hopefully that is delivered upon in the next few issues. If there was an option for "meh plus" I'd probably go with that one, though.
It's not a great issue of the Ultimates, but it's a nice look at the book's characters. If you dropped the book because of DWF/UWS, I'd probably wait until #19 to jump back in, but this wouldn't be a bad place to start.