So Secret Wars is up and running, and it’s completely insane. This week saw the first wave of tie-in titles that explore our new Battleworld environment. Ultimate End #1 checks in with the Ultimate Universe cast and the domain of Manhattan. As someone that had been following the Miles Morales series and grown attached to the Ultimate continuity, I was eager to catch up with “my” universe and see how the story would move forward.
Things start out promisingly as our anchor character is none other than Marvel’s definitive New York everyman hero. But which Spider-Man is he? We know that he’s an older Peter Parker and that he’s just as confused as we are, especially when encountering other characters. But it’s not clear how he’s meant to be here given the current (?) events of Secret Wars. He’s only just learned of his deceased Ultimate counterpart, meaning that he has no memory of his trans-universal adventure in 2012’s Spider-Men miniseries (written by the same author). He mentions a family, but is it May and Jay or could it be his wife and daughter from Renew Your Vows? In an issue that was already confusing and unfocused, I didn’t find this approach to a lead character intriguing, but instead really aggravating.
In an episode of our Ultimate Spin podcast, we’d jokingly speculated on how Secret Wars could play out, with random characters suddenly “arriving” and asking basic questions about how the new continuity works. Despite our clowning around at the time, I’d assumed that the actual story would be more nuanced.
Instead I patiently read through Nick Fury’s meeting at the Triskelion, where a random collection of characters talked in circles about how to “fix” things. The thought of another four issues in this series is already not an exciting one, and that shouldn’t be the case.
I admit that I have event fatigue. The last few underscored that they’ve become less and less about well-coordinated storytelling and more of a marketing blitz between cover branding and tie-in issues. I still went in with an open mind and found a story that showed complete disregard for its audience. Even if you did read the main Secret Wars story so far, this issue made zero sense. Why is Spider-Man here? When did Ultimate Stark’s portal come into play? Why are the 616 characters assuming that Nick Fury is working for Dr. Doom when he’s just as confused as they are? What happened to the Maker? Where is Miles? Since when did S.H.I.E.L.D. own a “rip in reality” (Editor’s note: This appeared in the pages of All-New X-Men but was a blink and you’ll miss it moment) and what does any of this impenetrable dialogue even mean?
This isn’t clever or remotely interesting. Rather than seem truly connected to the larger Secret Wars event, Ultimate End #1 reads as if it’s making stuff up on its own. It’s a missed opportunity, which makes for an empty, disappointing and sadly forgettable reading experience. It’s not unreasonable to want the pieces to fit on some level. Instead, this feels disposable and leaves you wanting to get it over with.
I was hoping that the inclusion of the All-New Ultimates would give them a chance to finally get it together as an effective and respectable team. In the spirit of their series, they stop a random gang of villains in themed outfits and then proceed to stand around acting snarky.
It’s not all bad. The strength of the issue lies in its dynamic visuals. As someone who’d basically mainlined the original Ultimate Spider-Man run, there was a sense of nostalgia in seeing Mark Bagley’s slightly softer take on character designs and facial expressions (ranging from playful when Spider-Man encounters Black Widow to tense as Tony Stark faces himself). That said, some visual choices were confusing, such as Jessica back in her old costume and Doc Green looking much different than he does in Secret Wars.
Scott Hanna’s inks bring great depth and drama, particularly in two key full-page spreads both featuring a surprising number and range of characters. Justin Ponsor’s colors cover an impressively wide spectrum considering that this story takes place at night. For me, the three talents fused particularly well in Spider-Man’s first panel, swinging above the illuminated domain as an energy portal whirls behind him.
Cory Petit’s lettering also plays a key role, alternating between capital and lower case to distinguish the 616 characters from their 1610 counterparts. It’s a simple touch but highly effective.
I also enjoyed the design of the recap page, with its elegant use of Manhattan’s actual subway map to explain the Battleworld layout.
Sadly, the visuals are not enough to overcome the highly confusing and inaccessible nature of the plot. The cliffhanger panel is an exciting and perfectly executed image. Yet from a story perspective, all I could do was shrug. “More stuff happening” doesn’t always warrant te entry fee.
Oh, and if you were wondering about that “other” wall-crawler:
Ultimate Spider-Man #12 ended on a cliffhanger and the words, “Miles Morales will return in Secret Wars.” Three issues and $13.97 into the event, he’s appeared in two panels, said three words, and hasn’t been mentioned since.
I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend this as there are so many better things that you could do with $3.99. I’m still genuinely hopeful that things will turn around with issue #2, but for now I feel bad saying that this is a messy start and not something you need to pick up anytime soon.