Last issue, the Ultimates has a showdown with the Serpent Skulls. This resulted in their leader, Crossbones, falling into the sewers, injured, and the vigilante Scourge being arrested. Also, Detective Terry Schreck is pretty much a zombie-monster wandering the sewers. (It's a party in New York's underground system!)
The story opens up with the Ultimates looking for Crossbones in the sewers, but they have come across the villain, Vermin, instead. Black Widow suggests the gang leader was “covered in radioactive goo” and turned into the rat-like creature. After she kicks it in the back, Miles suggests that “radioactive goo” would turn him a turtle (get it, Ninja Turtles?). Unimpressed by the villain’s small vocabulary, Spider-Man punches him in the face. Vermin attempts to strike back, but Kitty Pryde makes Spidey intangible so his fist passes through him. Sadly for Kitty, Vermin smacks her into the wall.
Luckily, Cloak and Dagger successfully strike the creature and convince him to exit the battle. The two then begin to bicker about each other’s fighting styles. Spidey figures that they must be close to Crossbones because his blood trail ended. “I’m totally down to walk through miles of human waste. I don’t know how you guys do this kinds stuff without masks,” Miles mentions. Kitty decides they should pursue Vermin and wonders if there’s an entire civilization of creatures like him in the sewers. Looking back, Cloak comments that he thinks he’s heard Vermin’s howl from the church vents before. Dagger decides they must search for Crossbones and hunt Vermin later.
In the Midtown South Precinct, Detective Dennis asks Charlie Delazny, Scourge’s secret identity, for a list of his many victims. Delazny mentions no such list exists and justifies his slayings as him enforcing consequences of crime. Detective Brooks says, “What I want to know is how some high school janitor got a wild hair up his butt to start gunning down gang members.” Delazny defends himself as doing what the police are “to rotten” to do. He’s witnessed how gangsters “ruin their lives” with tribe mentality, mob rule, and authority. Also, Scourge is a racist, making the misguided point, “Coincidence most of these gangs are black or Puerto Rican or foreigners?” He got angry with them “messing with [his] quality of his life” and decided to do something about it. (He may have been mugged once too many times during his lunch break, as Dennis suggests.)
Detective O’Reilly watches the investigation in a separate room. Detective Duc No Tranh (“The Bengal”) enters the room and greets O’Reilly. Apparently, he was transferred to help her with her current gang situation. O’Reilly explains she appreciated the fact that Scourge has helping with her job, but now she’s embarrassed knowing he’s a “racist maniac.” Tranh apologizes for the death of O’Reilly’s partner, Detective Schreck, but she’s just sad there’s no body to bury.
Back in the sewer, Kitty is disgusted by what she just stepped in, and Dagger sarcastically says, “All-white costumes were made for missions like this.” Miles mentions Bombshell isn’t on their mission because recovering for a while. Suddenly, the heroes find their sewer tunnel opens into a large, villain-base-like area. Dagger finds some “mystery gunk” on the floor that smells badly. The heroes soon discover that the stench belongs to the zombified form of Detective Terry Schreck. They don’t recognize him at first, but Miles eventually distinguishes him and offers to take him to a hospital. There is a pile of corpses behind him.
Before Spider-Man can assist Schreck, he is nearly electrocuted by a man with markings on his head and a weaponized staff. He is accompanied by Vermin, and he explains he thought the rat-like creature took care of them. He also calls the pile of dead bodies his “friends.” The Ultimates try to peacefully resolve the problem, but the man, named Agent Crock, is insistent on violence. He punches Spider-Man, and is met with equal force by Black Widow. When Schreck begins walking away, Cloak is altered, but he’s occupied by Vermin. Meanwhile, Crock hits Dagger with her own projectile and zaps Jessica.
Tired of all the fighting, Kitty decides to stick her hand in Crock’s head, disrupting his robotic brain. The villain goes crazy because of this and zaps Vermin. The creature responds by cutting off his master’s hand, and the severed, delicious body part attracts Schreck back to the scene. Black Widow grabs Crock’s staff and electrocutes Vermin, effectively knocking him out.
Meanwhile, Schreck finds the severed hand creates a digitalized screen and gives him background information on Crock. Apparently, Crock had joined S.H.I.E.L.D. and the agency decided to experiment on him to become a super soldier. Crock was a failure, so they disposed of his body. He settled in the sewers and made friends with other failed experiments, including Vermin. The Ultimates begin listening to Crock’s story as he describes himself and Vermin as “part of the body count.” He dies and the heroes stand in silence.
Later, Detective O’Reilly drives home thinking about how Scourge got arrested for wanting what the rest of the world does: recognition. She is thankful that she now has “Bengal” on her team. At her house, O’Reilly is pretty depressed and wants all the crime and death to end. The doorbell rings, and she assumes it’s the Mexican food delivery man. When she opens the door, O’Reilly is shocked to not find a delivery man, but the zombified version of her thought-to-be-dead partner. “I…should’ve…c-called first, O’Reilly,” Schreck explains.
This beginning to Fiffe’s next arc is a very strong one. I’m thankful to see he isn’t bringing back the Serpent Skulls from the last arc quite yet. Instead, his short-lived Agent Crock is a very strongly developed, tragic character. When the villain is introduced, the reader believes he’s a one-dimensional creep, but these assumptions are turned around when it’s revealed that he’s really just a tragic reject from S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s kind of funny to see how Fiffe characterized Crock better in seven pages than the Serpent Skulls in six whole issues. Vermin is as mindless as his 616 counterpart, but very tragic as well.
I’m also glad to see Fiffe’s finally getting his way with dialogue. Of course, his character work is excellent, but his in-fight banter is far better than we’ve been seeing. That ninja turtle line by Miles was funny, and the other jokes don’t fall flat like past issues. Noticeably, Fiffe’s few lines for O’Reilly on the second-to-last page finally give the otherwise one-dimensional character good depth.
Another aspect I like about this issue is it feels like the Ultimates are finally beginning to feel like a team that appeals to a younger audience. The characters have chemistry, and their fighting styles are starting to work with each other. The Ultimates are finally fresh, fun, and engaging, perfect to attract teens. It seems like Fiffe has left behind the mess of the last arc and figured out how to properly write a youth-aimed comic book.
Perhaps the most bewildering element of this issue is Milonogiannis’ artwork. I’ve never seen this artist, but his style kind of reminds me of the doodles you might find on the pages of a high school textbook. At first, I didn’t like it, but as I progressed reading the issue, the art grew on me. The action has surprisingly good flow, and the emotional beats are captured well. The rawness of the art is exciting. It’s nice to finally have a solid artist on the title, and I honestly hope Amilcar Pinna NEVER returns to the title.
This may be one of the first times I've enjoyed reviewing Ultimates and look forward to the next issue. Fiffe has finally found his way, and the art is far better than when Pinna was on the title. DON'T LET PINNA COME BACK!!!!!!