Comics : Ultimate Enemy #1

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This review was first published on: Aug 2010.

Background...

Back during Ultimatum, Magneto devastated New York City with a massive wave. Since then, much of the city has recovered, but what we might call the ‘Ultimate universe status quo’ has been shaken: the Fantastic Four has broken up, Nick Fury is (still) in hiding, and Bobby “Iceman” Drake has moved into the Parker home.

In Detail...

Ultimate Enemy #1
Mar 2010 : SM Guest
Summary: Ultimate Spider-Man & Ultimate Spider-Girl appear
Editor:  Mark Paniccia
Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils:  Rafa Sandoval
Inker:  Roger Bonet
Cover Art:  Ed McGuiness, Justin Ponsor, Mark Farmer
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Review

In the Ultimate universe, Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew is a female genetic duplicate of Peter Parker. She’s been doing reconnaissance on the Roxxon building, and has been for 32 days. She doesn’t trust Roxxon because it was Roxxon who created her, specifically “the evil maniacs inside that building. Or at least people just like them. They did it in the name of science, and they’ll try to do it again. It could be what they’re doing right now.”

Jessica doesn’t know what they’re doing right now because she can’t see them. She’s simply lurking outside their building, watching the sunlight reflect off of the windows. And she’s been doing this for a month? I wonder what she hopes to learn.

Let’s gloss over that, because her presence is convenient for the narrative. As Spider-Woman watches, a gigantic spore creature erupts out of the building. And I do mean gigantic! It’s so big it not only fills most of the building, it fills most of the surrounding city blocks too. Good thing Jessica is up on the rooftops.

She swings into action and begins evacuating scared scientists from the Roxxon lab. All the while she berates them for their irresponsibility and cavalier attitude towards people’s lives. “What are you talking about?” they reply. “We didn’t do this.”

And then, in another explosion, the giant spore monster disappears, leaving behind a puzzled Spider-Woman.

Cut to elsewhere in the five boroughs, where Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards is asleep on his family’s couch, much to his father’s annoyance. It’s pretty clear Richards Sr. doesn’t understand or like his son, but he’s interrupted in mid-tirade by a knock at the door. As his father goes to answer the door, Reed is awoken by a computer alert, but too late: Richards Sr. opens the door, and the entire house explodes in a blast of pink energy. So much for the Richards family, including Reed.

Cut again, to the Baxter Building, now home only to Sue Storm. Sue’s tired of fame and pleased to be able to focus on her work again, or at least that’s what she tells herself. She’s broken up with Reed, and her brother Johnny has moved out (he’s also living chez Parker, just like Bobby Drake). And Ben “the Thing” Grimm has taken a commission with the US Air Force... except he just got a week’s leave and has dropped in on Susan unannounced. Susan is pleased to see him, and they have some catching up to do... but Ben has more on his mind. He’s come to tell Susan something important.

What’s that? Why, that he’s in love with her. Out of loyalty to Reed, he never mentioned it before, but now that Reed is out of the picture...

Susan doesn’t seem pleased to hear this. Ben grimaces: “Can’t take it back now. It’s out there. I said it.... Can’t take it back now.”

Thankfully, this awkward moment is broken up by two incidents. Firstly, a rocky exterior plate sheds itself from Ben’s forearm. This problem emerged back in the Bendis-scripted first act of Ultimate Power, and apparently hasn’t gotten better in the interim. Secondly, another spore monster materializes in the Baxter Building, with the same devastating effects that the Roxxon building experienced. Ben is knocked to the street, blocks and blocks away, but we readers aren’t privy to what happens to Sue.

Cut for the final time to Chinatown, where some old white dude is having lunch. His narrative captions tell us that “a man is allowed to enjoy a meal.” Or maybe not, because here comes a big purple dude to blow up the building, just as the Richards house was blown up. The white dude leaps clear and pulls off a Mission-Impossible-style latex mask to reveal his true identity.

“Man can’t have a meal?” he snaps.

“You have no one to blame but yourself, Nick Fury,” replies the pink dude.

And the pink dude unleashes another splash-page-sized explosion.

To be continued...

In General...

Ultimate Enemy is a four-part limited series. That will be followed by the four-part Ultimate Mystery and the four-part Ultimate Doom, so really we’re talking about is a single twelve-issue maxi-series, as we called it back in the day. Each mini-series will certainly be collected into a single volume, as will the maxi-series as a whole. And if I had read the pages that make up Ultimate Enemy #1 as part of one of those volumes, I think it would be fine.

But I didn’t. I read it as a stand-alone issue. And taken that way, it falls short.

Do we get any fight scenes? No, we don’t even get a clear view of who the antagonists are.

Do we get a proper ending? No, the Nick Fury scene just stops, without any climax at all.

Do we even get what we were promised on the cover, namely a team-up between Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Shadowcat, Iceman, the Thing, the Human Torch, and the Invisible Woman? No: in fact, more than half of those characters don’t even appear in the issue. I call that false advertising.

Credit where credit is due: this issue (seems to) deliver big changes to the Fantastic Four status quo. Reed dead? Sue and Ben a couple? If Bendis follows through on this, this maxi-series might deliver the most interesting Spidey-and-the-Fantastic-Four story we’ve had in a while. Still, it would have been more respectful of the reader to deliver that story in the traditional comics format, rather than simply ripping out the first 22 pages of a graphic novel and calling it a first issue.

Overall Rating...

Killing off Reed Richards? The Thing confessing his love for Sue Storm? This is the good kind of audacious. Giving us a handful of incidents rather than a story? That’s the bad kind, and it weighs heavier. The scale settles in at 2.5 webs. I will concede, though, that this maxi-series has potential.

Footnote...

Cover accuracy check: looking back from the end of the miniseries, we find that Ultimate Kitty Pryde never appears in the title once. False advertising indeed.