A mysterious alien force has launched stealth attacks on the American scientific establishment and on particular members of the New York superhero community. In response to this, the Fantastic Three (yes, Reed Richards died in the first strike) are hunting down the aliens; Captain Marvel and Rick Jones are guarding Project Pegasus; and Spider-Man and Spider-Woman are investigating Roxxon Industries’ ties to all of these goings-on.
Jessica ‘Spider-Woman’ Drew is taking a job interview at Roxxon, using the alias ‘Dr. Julia Carpenter’ (ha!). Now, Roxxon is your typical comic-book Evil Corporation, but in a refreshing change of pace, the interviewer here comes off as a decent guy: proud of his work and his colleagues; tired of the stress that living in Ultimate New York brings; and determined to do a good job. Unfortunately, as he himself admits, thanks to the Ultimatum Wave, etc., it’s next to impossible to keep his unit fully staffed or to check references. So he’s forced to go with his gut, and his gut tells him that Dr. Julia Carpenter is a good hire.
His instinct may be influenced by the facts that Jessica is young, attractive, and non-verbally flirts with him through the whole talk. Or at least it looks that she’s flirting with him. The artwork is ambiguous but suggestive on this point. In any case, Jessica gets the job. She’s finally on the inside at Roxxon.
Later, swinging around the city in costume, she compares notes with Spider-Man. It doesn’t look like they need to have this conversation in mufti, nor that they’re going anywhere in particular, but I suppose every issue needs to have them in costume at some point so we don’t forget whom we’re dealing with here. Jessica’s quite happy with the way things have played out: “I am going to find out what the hell they are up to and we are going to pull that entire corporation down around their ears.”
“Uh, what do I do?” asks Spidey.
“Oh, you? You got the hard part.”
“Oh, uh, okay. You just let me know when I need to know what that is.”
Be sure to tell us readers too, please.
Meanwhile, at Project Pegasus, the troops are giving Carol Danvers a status update, specifically that Captain Marvel and a mysterious glowing yellow guy (that’s Rick Jones to us readers) are outside having a tête-á-tête. Danvers seethes about this: “I hate that alien asshat.” Wait, didn’t they use to date? I suppose if they broke things off, she might well hate him.
Marvel and Jones are introducing themselves, and neither is terribly impressed with the other. Jones has never heard of the Kree, and is surprised that an alien from an advanced race would immediately punch people that he didn’t recognize. Marvel has never heard of the Watchers, who supposedly gave Jones his powers, and is surprised that they would give those powers to some garden-variety 15-year-old kid.
We interrupt the talky stuff for some inexplicable superheroic action! Without warning, Marvel’s battlesuit goes nuts. He only has time to spit out “I’ve been compromised” before he shapeshifts into a weird-looking alien frogman and engages the SHIELD forces watching him from below. There’s a massive, double-page-spread explosion. Did Marvel cause this, or Jones? It’s impossible for us readers to know.
Not knowing what else to do, Jones teleports himself and Marvel to New York, where – in the ruins of the Baxter Building – the Fantastic Three are investigating the aftermath of the alien attack. Or rather, Sue Storm is, while the other two kibbitz with Nick Fury. (Fury, in another nod to 616 continuity, has disguised himself as an older white guy with an eye patch; as 616 Fury, in fact.) Sue observes that “the thing that attacked us, what was interesting about it is it seemed to grow on contact and then it sort of lost its hold on its form... it showed up, grew, destroyed, and died. A perfect attack.”
“But you don’t think it just teleported here,” asks Fury.
“See, now I’m thinking no. What if it grew out of... not like a computer virus, maybe a—”
This interesting stream of exposition is broken out by the explosive arrival of Jones and Marvel. Marvel is still gigantic and crazy, and Jones is freaking out: “I can’t fight this guy... I needed more power!!” [sic].
“I got this, kid,” says Ben Grimm. Now that he’s no longer orange and rocky, but is purple and glowy instead, he thinks he has the same power he had before, albeit in a more attractive package, but he’s not sure. “It’s time to find out what the all new me can do.”
And we end on a two-page splash of Grimm and Marvel’s fists meeting with a gigantic shockwave.
Each time I assess one of these Ultimate Enemy / Ultimate Mystery issues, I seem to end up repeating myself, but there you are: the story suffers from Bendis’ penchant for decompressed storytelling, and is redeemed to a greater or lesser extent by Bendis’ penchant for compelling, evocative dialogue. This one is about even. On the story side, we have Captain Marvel running amok, Jessica successfully infiltrating Roxxon, and some strong hints from the Invisible Woman about what is going on. It’s still pretty thin for a comic-book story: neither the battle, nor the espionage, nor the investigation reach anything approaching a satisfying resolution. If you want resolution, you’ll have to wait, and wait, and wait for it, I guess. But on the plus side, Jessica’s job interview is a good read: hearing about Roxxon’s HR problems and the stress they pose on Roxxon staff sounds pedestrian, but in practice it makes this comic-book world come to life.
I understand from Bendis’ Twitter feed (he’s so current) that the answer to the mystery will be revealed in Ultimate Mystery #3. I haven’t read that issue yet, so let me go on record here with my guess as to what’s going on. I think Roxxon has created some sort of techno-organic virus that has achieved sentience, and is trying to create the conditions where it can thrive. It’s smart enough to know what the threats to it are – Roxxon, the super-science community, the superheroes, and SHIELD – but inexperienced enough that it can only engage its perceived foes with immediate, unthinking violence. As a virus, it can infect both Marvel and the Thing (I wonder what the vector of transmission to Marvel was?) and can destroy buildings in a fashion consistent with what Sue Storm described.
Not much to go on, and not at all obvious why the Watchers of the Universe would care. But that’s what I got. We’ll see next issue how close to the mark I came.
(Update: Not very.)
Bendis’ dialogue is fun to read as always, but I can’t help but shake the feeling the whole Ultimate Mystery mini-series should have been told in one issue, or two tops, and that it’s being attenuated for the purpose of selling more issues and filling out a trade paperback. And that’s not cool.
Cover accuracy check: No, Marvel never punches Rick Jones in this issue. And on those occasions when Marvel does punch anyone, he doesn’t look humanoid, but like a giant frog-man. This cover is Totally Inaccurate. It would have been great for issue #1, though.