So here we are, the end of the first arc. A team book where the disjointed New York super youth band together to save the city they love from a gang war. Writer Michel Fiffe and artists Amilcar Pinna and Nolan Woodard have tried to prove that these kids were not ready for the burden they took on but are slowly learning to be accountable. It’s an idea that could have supported a great book but All-New Ultimates has had a difficult time delivering on that premise. Issue #6 tries to finally get the cart back behind the horse and wrap an arc that has been difficult from the start to mixed results.
By this point readers should expect that the story will focus on taking all the various plot threads introduced thus far and be able to make a near-acceptable resolution that moves the series into its next phase. Unfortunately, issue #6 just seems to widdle down into what we have expected from the previous five issues. Fiffe’s long-game is suffering from overlapping subplots and character arcs as well as a swarm of seemingly irrelevant characters who pop into panels as a reminder that they are there. This issue reintroduces us to the three factions (the Ultimates, the Serpent Skulls, and the NYPD) and finally has them square off.
This issue sets itself apart from the pattern of issues preceding it. Perhaps the art had an opportunity to really try and blow us away (those panels of Cloak are still the best) but it’s probably that Fiffe’s revealing his hand. Since issue #1, this book has struggled to figure out what it wants to be. Half the issues seem to yearn for something akin to a John Hughes film, reaching for a cinematic style defined by delinquency and popculture fluff merged with real world problems and attitudes. The other half, and this includes issue #6, strive for good ole’ comic book fun: punching bad guys and blowing shit up.
For art, it seems Pinna’s best stuff is when projectile-based powers get used and this issue features a ton of it. There is so much action happening in one little church and the panels properly convey the confusion of the three groups swarming in on one another. Yet, these panels also become confusing themselves for the reader to understand. Like so many of the issues before this, the line of action gets confusing and it is an unnecessary turn off when you can’t make out the space a panel is portraying. No matter how the reader turns the page, many panels make almost no sense. Sometimes even basic directions of up and down become confusing and/or indecipherable. Even if these panels magically work when a reader turns the book, the oversight on letting that interrupt the reading and enjoyment of the issue is a problem. Unfortunately it is a problem that is frequent in this series.
Throughout All-New Ultimates readers are asked to care about Lana’s former-boyfriend Poey despite his characterization being a slight step above a piece of furniture in his appearances. For fear of sounding harsh, I will state that the issue starts and ends with Lana coming to terms with finally having a moment to grieve and let out anger, (boy is she angry), about Poey’s obligatory death. Granted, walking in on his dead body only to have hers be puppeted by Diamondback for nefarious purposes would do that to anyone (like you do), so Lana’s reaction to that is completely reasonable. But did she, or any of the readers, really care about him that much? That so much of the dramatic momentum of the book hinges on a death of a character that never really stood out really robs this story of a lot of its punch.
Fiffe delivers so many loose ends throughout this issue that it’s actually a wonder how the arc can be wrapping up, but based on current solicits, it is. We have Terry Schreck still clamoring around the NYC Westside sewer system looking like Gollum and Bart Rozum trying to sweat out his addiction in a rehab center on 185th. No storyteller would simply drop panels of characters toward the end of an arc without an intentional purpose to bring them back, so it’s reasonable to assume this is not the last we have heard of them; but one place Fiffe wraps up nicely is the gang war.
Bombshell’s explosive tantrum resulted in the destruction of the secret base/church of the new Ultimates and a fleeing/division of the Serpent Skulls. Crossbones is seen bleeding out in the sewers and the police are quick to write off the efforts of the super teens and settle with their gift-wrapped vigilante, the Scourge, a character we still know nothing about other than that he kills people and has a skull mask (that is decidedly not on fire). At the very least, we have a rapport building between the Ultimates and the police which could spiral into something a bit like what we expect when we read a book taking place in Gotham. This could give us some very fresh and original stories for Miles, Jessica, Kitty, Cloak, Dagger, and Lana.
These six issues waded into deep water and after some gasps for air and a few flailing issues, this sixth issue of All-New Ultimates has finally shrugged off the floatation devices and made an attempt at going at it alone. Unhindered by events in Ultimate FF or Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, this book definitely beats to its own drum. Regardless of whether or not your mind is made up on the series, Fiffe and Pinna have these six bungling into a new adventure next month and with the all-out gang war waning to a close, perhaps we can get some truly solid character moments coming up. As always, my fingers are crossed.