Last issue, Taskmaster knocked out and trapped all the heroes of the Ultimates except Bombshell. Additionally, he grabbed former Serpent Skulls member Diamondback. Taskmaster was surprised when Diamondback's friend, Sidewinder, stole his van, containing his prisoners and drove off! He latched onto the van with a cord, and Bombshell soon began following as well.
Also, the former Serpent Skulls leader, Crossbones, escaped after battling the Ultimates, injured, but he hasn't been seen again. Detectives O'Reilly and Schreck have banded together to hunt down crime. There is a would-be crime boss named Ecstasy in the whole mix and her partner, Mr. Jip was exposed to some crazy drugs.
The story begins with our heroes and Diamondback trapped in the back of Taskmaster’s van, with the owner on top of the vehicle, Sidewinder driving, and Bombshell following. She throws blasts at the van, and Taskmaster attempts to stop her from incinerating them. “Then stop the van! I’m calling your bluff!” she yells. In the vehicle, Sidewinder knocks to make sure his partner, Diamondback, is awake, and she is. She orders Spider-Man to come close to her, and he agrees as long as she doesn’t try to kiss him. Instead, she uses a diamond to cut the ropes binding him. He thanks her, but obviously doesn’t trust her, freeing his fellow Ultimates instead.
Meanwhile, , Bombshell clumsily lands on the van, about to fight Taskmaster. Abruptly, Spider-Man punches through the roof and stops Taskmaster from shooting him by kicking his pistol. The gun still goes off, though, and the bullet accidentally hits Sidewinder, the driver of the van, in the thigh. The automobile crashes, causing it to flip. Luckily, Cloak is able to teleport the van into a body of water (the Hudson River, perhaps) before the people inside are hurt. “Don’t want to relive Prom Night,” he says, referring to his and Tandy’s unfortunate origin in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #24.
The heroes and villains both swim to the shore, with Miles carrying Diamondback because she’s still restrained. Spidey webs Taskmaster into the air, and throws him to Lana, who blasts him into Cloak’s cloak. He then launches the villain headfirst into the ground, effectively knocking him out. Next, Lana approaches Diamondback and grabs her by the hair. “That drug you gave me, you knew I would still get to see and remember everything, huh? Every little detail,” Lana explains, referring to her boyfriend’s death. She prepares to kill Diamondback in an explosion, and she tries to convince her not to. Lana asks who will care if she was to put a bullet through her head, but then decides it’s “not even worth finding out.” She lets her go.
Elsewhere, a bloody Crossbones walks through the Deladier Tower after having taken out the guards and secretary. Crossbones thinks, “[I have] one more chance … to cut my losses.” He enters the room inhabited by Ecstasy and Mr. Jip, and asks where they've been while he was alone. “I've come to the source. I’ve come to get mine,” he seethes. He is also surprised by Mr. Jip, who he guesses might have “inhaled an entire drug shipment” because he looks so horrible. (He’s 100% correct, actually.) Crossbones figures they must have presumed he was dead after the battle with the Ultimates, but Jip explains they sent people to look for him. The angry assassin doesn’t buy it, grabs him by the neck, and explains, “You promised me a seat in your ‘master plan,’ your ticket to Hydr-” Jip interrupts him, convinced that he owes him nothing, and Ecstasy mentions that they have lost millions of dollars because of him.
Shaking and stuttering, Mr. Jip explains that it is Crossbones’ fault that the shipment failed and he inhaled it, and he came at a “bad time.” Veins pop from his head, and he begins to sweat. Soon, Jip begins to transform, ripping his shirt as he grows to a giant size. “So that’s the untested drug you wanted our gang to release?” Crossbones asks.
At the East River, Bombshell is suddenly yelling at Spider-Man, angry that he was associating himself with Diamondback. Sidewinder complains that he’s bleeding out, so Dagger throws a projectile at his leg, calling it cauterized. Talking separately, Kitty is surprised they’re even in the situation, while Jessica is thankful that their suits are insulated. Cloak apologizes to Dagger about their fighting in past issues, but she doesn’t want to talk about it. When asked why he was collecting the heroes, Taskmaster explains that Roxxon, the company responsible for their origins, simply wanted to recollect them. He explains their origins separately as they reflect on it. Kitty is the only one who wasn't created by Roxxon, but he wanted to turn her in for a bonus. Taskmaster calls them a “load of ingrates” and explains that it wasn't anything personal; he’s just a “repo man.”
Suddenly, the heroes spot Mr. Jip, in giant, purple monster form, walking among the buildings. Lana jokingly wishes for the growing pills Kitty took to fight Galactus in Cataclysm. As he’s crushing buildings, Jip asks for Ecstasy’s help, whom he has with Crossbones in his grasp. She asks him to release them, which he does not too gracefully. Cloak manages to reach Ecstasy from hitting the floor, but Crossbones lands hard. Jessica orders Cloak to teleport everybody in nearby buildings away to save them. She asks Kitty to “phase this [monster] up and away from here,” and she replies she needs concentration.
Meanwhile, Diamondback is surprised to find Crossbones alive, and the two think about escaping. Dagger doesn’t want that to happen, but Crossbones punches her in the stomach and releases Diamondback from her restraints. “I’m not looking to get the band back together or anything. I just wanna get the hell off this roof,” she explains. He doesn’t have the same motivation, as he plans on getting revenge on Ecstasy before leaving. Not far away, Spider-Man jumps down to stop Taskmaster from fleeing, but a random tentacle from the Jip monster catches him off-guard. The villain, who is still in bondage, figures he knows when he’s “outgunned” and runs until gunfire in front of him halts him. The bullets can from a coalition of Detectives Bridget O’Reilly, Terry Schreck, and a few others and they have been themselves “Terror Inc.”! Oh brother…
Oftentimes in conclusions of short series, the writers take a bunch of plotlines and throw them together hastily just to tie things up and be done with it. Generally, these types of conclusions rarely work out, resulting in a confusing, anticlimactic ending. It occurred in the series Scarlet Spider (Vol. 2), in which Chris Yost literally threw all the characters together and hurled them out the window. And it looks like Michel Fiffe is taking similar actions in this concluding arc of All-New Ultimates, as there are too many characters, a confusing plotline, lazy storytelling, and horrible artwork.
First off, Fiffe just packs this issue with characters. Altogether, there are seventeen characters within the span of 20 pages: Bombshell, Spider-Man, Kitty Pryde, Black Widow, Cloak, Dagger, Diamondback, Taskmaster, Sidewinder, Crossbones, Mr. Jip, Ecstasy, Terry Schreck, Bridget O’Reilly, Random Detective #1, Random Detective #2, and Random Detective #3. I understand that Fiffe needs to fit all the characters from his past arcs in, but he’s just making it hard on himself, as he introduced five new characters in this arc (although one did make a brief appearance beforehand). I guess if this was some Jonathan Hickman epic 100-issue story arc, I could understand the crazy character count, but it isn’t. This is not a book for casual readers, as the characters are largely forgettable, and you find yourself constantly going back, wondering, “Who is that?” And that is exactly the problem: None of the villains are remotely interesting. Ecstasy, Mr. Jip, Sidewinder, and Diamondback are throw-away, typical crime bosses. Schreck, O’Reilly, and the other three detectives not important enough for names are all typical, boring characters that you could find on the cop-show-of-the-month. Taskmaster and Crossbones are familiar only because of their 616 counterparts.
Secondly, the plot is way more complex than a street-level story should be. Fiffe is trying to make the Serpent Skulls a more expansive threat, but is just getting the reader and himself more and more confused. Let me see if I have the hierarchy correct: there are the simply gang members, then bosses like Sidewinder and Diamondback, then the main boss Crossbones, then Ecstasy and Mr. Jip, then Hydra, as hinted in the story. I’m confused, how about you? Not only that but Fiffe felt like using the major stereotype of a giant monster roaming around for the finale to make things “epic.” It’s a lazy plot development and honestly doesn’t make too much sense in the story other than to have a Godzilla / King Kong cliché for the heckuvit. Now, I’m not saying the cliché is always bad; I enjoyed its use in Dan Slott’s brilliant Spider-Island, but that story had buildup to the plot development while this one came out of left field completely.
A major complaint of mine about this issue is that Fiffe overdid the whole “Diamondback-killed-Lana’s-boyfriend” thing. First off, Lana’s boyfriend, Poey, was a total jerk and doesn’t receive any compassion from me. He was a punk, and I honestly thought it would be a positive change to Lana’s character if he was killed off. Second, Lana has been mourning about Poey for way too long. They were teenagers in an on-off relationship that wasn’t going anywhere. Poey’s death wasn’t touching or sad in the least bit. She’s acting worse than Peter Parker did when Gwen Stacy died, but he had reason to be down. Third, Fiffe is annoying me with the whole “Lana’s-grown-as-a-character-and-won’t-kill-Diamondback-for-revenge” thing. It’s a cliché, but I don’t mind it being used once for a character. Sadly, Fiffe has already used the card in All-New Ultimates #6, so it isn’t character development as much as it is covering old ground.
Third, Fiffe’s storytelling is overall very lethargic. The transitions between scenes are very rough and leading to even more confusion about the characters. Characters’ emotions seem to change suddenly, as displayed with Lana’s sudden contempt towards Spider-Man after a scene change. Fiffe wastes a page reflecting on the heroes’ origins, and the final panel at the end of the issue is overall very bizarre, as there is no text and just a picture of Mr. Jip’s nostrils. Fiffe’s storytelling doesn’t help the complex plot at all, because the recap in the front is ridiculously sparse and random characters just show up at random times without much backstory provided.
Finally, and surely least, is Amilcar Pinna’s artwork. I’ve pretty much stated how much I hate it about seven times now, so I think I’ll focus on the inkers here. Pinna usually inks himself with thin, weak lines, but he obviously ran out of time because there are three other inkers in the issue. Terry Pallot is Marvel’s back-up artist that they typically pull onto titles to get pages inked quickly. Of course, quickly is not efficiently, with thin inking lacking any flow. Pallot seems to have used a simple ballpoint pen to get it done. Now, I’m not familiar with Ruggiero or Underwood’s inking, but one or both of them use bold, expressive inking on Pinna’s pencils, and it actually looks okay. The characters don’t all have awkward faces and the action flows better. In fact, the last few pages almost look like something from Joe Quinones' pencil, whose work I admire. (Looking forward to that Howard the Duck series!) Still, that inker only showed up for a few pages, and the rest of the book looks as bad as usual, if not worse.
Blah. Not good. Too many characters, too complex of a plot, poor storytelling. bad art. What more can we expect from a poorly done, dispassionately written team book?