After three issue of All-New Ultimates, this book gets genuinely interesting. Following Jessica’s near-fatal poisoning and the infighting between the young team of the All-New Ultimates, everything is starting to come together. The constant push from Fiffe to introduce new characters and settings is now starting to retreat back to the centerpiece of the story, the team, and how it functions.
There’s a lot to talk about in this issue in terms of story. Fiffe’s background players are undecidedly on the back burner, their story wants to be the main pressing point but it seems the teen-team is at the forefront again. This is far from a bad thing as Fiffe’s got a great grasp on the cast, with the exception of Cloak and Dagger. Whether this particular story arc simply does not involve them or whether Fiffe has no clue what to do with them on the team, it seems his focus is elsewhere and for now, at a fresh beginning, that’s acceptable.
What is really special about this issue is, for what feels like the third time now, the women are the most functionally characters important in the story. To take a brief moment to soapbox, there’s not always enough of this in comics and it’s wonderful when a writer takes the time to develop the women as much as the men in a story. That said, Lana works her boyfriend like a puppet while Black Widow (Jessica), Dagger, and Kitty give the elusive Scourge a run for his money. The story has left a window of opportunity open to get into the grit of these characters (especially when considering the less-than-trustful crowd that Lana runs with) and it seems that a focus on character progression in this series rather than story is what gets delivered.
Fiffe, to his credit, seems determined to have these characters grow into friendships, rather than just writing those relationships in there and leaving the reader to assume this was obvious in the first place. Not all superheroes are “superfriends” right off the bat. Keeping things real, Fiffe portrays these characters as believable teenagers struggling with teenage issues (looking presentable/saying dumb things/relationships going from hot to not) and others that are vastly out of their ability to grasp. But with a leader and go-getter like Jessica, who clings to the lessons attached to the likes of Captain America and Peter Parker, the team has been lucky to not incur a fatal mistake. This may change soon though, as this new bad guy Scourge is clearly going to be a legitimate threat in the future.
Scourge is an enigma to say the least. He is finally revealed in detail throughout the latter half of the issue, but artist Amilcar Pinna does a great job at giving him a villainous mystique in the opening panels by keeping a majority of his figure out of the light or even off-panel. It isn’t until the pages of him fleeing the Ultimates that we get any real idea of what his face (mask?) looks like. Scourge appears reckless and confident, as seen by flinging himself off a building and landing hard through an apartment window and his weapons are enough to escape four super powered teens (one of whom took down Galactus) and yet he still runs on foot. There are so many wonderful revelations about this villain to come and the slow build Fiffe has to reveal his identity is genuinely intriguing.
The latter half of the comic is where things begin to feel rushed. Be it panel layout or a lack of attention to details, the last few pages run into contradictions. Jessica and Kitty run into Scourge in a (fantastically rendered) downpour in Chelsea, somewhere on the piers of the West End, but seconds later its a clear night. The artwork presents a sky so clear you can see the full moon as the smoke and fumes of the dangerous Roxxon chemicals float into a rainless sky, a dramatically different set of imagery than panels before. In an attempt to convey two dramatic scenes simultaneously it feels like the pacing and order of action gets muddled. Miles gets an opportunity to reveal his more stealthy side but due to the panel layouts, it’s not entirely clear what exposes him to the Serpent Skulls. Spider-Man is seen taking out Serpent Skull goons in a fashion familiar mostly to Batman and then suddenly, after a strange sound-effect with no origin anywhere on the page (“VEETBP”) he is revealed. It feels disorganized and immediately disengages readers from the events on the page. Combine that with the last page being a four panel summary that feels more akin to a Power Rangers episode than a contemporary Marvel comic, our beloved teamsters congratulate themselves on a hearty effort, even though some bad guys got away. At least they’re still friends right?
Yet again, Pinna’s art and Woodard’s strangely placed uses of warm colors refuse to dazzle. Woodard’s extra-saturated coloration feels off, even for New York City. The scenes where Scourge appears are amongst their best work and Pinna’s work on the main cast of the New Ultimates, in costume, are always most impressive. Out of costume, the characters, especially the women, look gaunt. It’s easy to appreciate that for a bunch of seventeen year olds they’re not oversexualized, but the likenesses of the three women, especially panels they share out of costume, are far too similar and appear to be major departures from their previous depictions by other artists who have had opportunities to work with the characters. Again, Pinna’s art is not bad, it just might not be the right fit and it.
One thing’s for sure, this book is putting chess pieces into play for the Ultimate Universe that the solo book of Miles Morales and a tight-knit group book like FF just can’t. Fiffe is playing with some major puzzle pieces here and he is successfully placing them in just the right order to segue into some new Ultimate developments. The release of the Roxxon fumes as Mr. Jip attempts to flee is a great plot device to have a multitude of super-powered characters suddenly arise from the streets of New York. What can be noted, rather definitively, is that Fiffe has his pieces exactly where he wants them. Confident, young, and oblivious to the dangers that are clearly lurking right around the corner during the “Summer of Scourge.”