There’s really no point left in pulling punches or trying to spit-shine the veneer into a review so that it sparkles with a glimmer of hope and opportunity. This is it, the final curtain call. All-New Ultimates is over.
All-New Ultimates has, unapologetically, given us twelve issues of meandering characters and convoluted storylines. If there has ever been a series that needed a restructuring from the ground up, it was this one. The issue, and with it the series, crumples beneath hefty editorial oversight and a probably, overwhelmed creative team. The series is not without value, but somehow it just never seemed to make everything work.
But there is something absurdly special about this book. Michel Fiffe is quite proud (and rightfully so) of the use of some vintage D-list characters. His blog has a complete list with each and every individual he utilized, their source appearance, and their creators. Fiffe built an extensive world atop the well-established Ultimate Universe. The old regime (such as Millar, Loeb, Bendis, and Ellis among others) never even imagined using characters as unpopular or anti-mainstream as the ones littering David Nakayama’s clever “Where’s Waldo” cover for #12. Fiffe pulled together quite a cast of seldom spoken or hardly noteworthy characters leaving most of the contemporary audience of 2014 somewhere between confused and impressed.
As a result of packing in so many unmentionables, most of #12 is a dizzying mess. Somehow, despite that and the clamor of villains losing teeth to the butt-ends of guns or clenched fists, Fiffe give us a crescendo in regards to Lana’s story. What is made evidently clear is the creative team’s goal to see Lana (Bombshell) accept her transition from villain to hero and her new “family” of hero brethren.
Lana’s development-through-revelation feels nuanced. In between the panels of the complicated relationships and feuds playing out throughout the early panels, Lana’s stream of consciousness pours out like a sad song on a viola. All her self-doubts and rationality are on display in the ways that they should have been several issues ago and at this stage in the game it carries a tinge of cheapness rather than the heart that it deserves.
Alongside Lana’s sudden development as a character there are still many lingering unanswered questions. How and why is Monica Chang, the ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. director, still hanging out in the abandoned S.H.I.E.L.D. facility? Why are the screens on if they aren’t showing anything but “snowy” noise?
The whole scene between Chang and Jessica just about kills the rhythm of the issue. Fiffe wraps up his series starting here, in what feels like a tell-all epilogue of sorts that relies on summary rather than story. Once again, much to no one’s surprise, these young Ultimates were still just pawns of S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization that for all intents and purposes has been defunct since Ultimate Survive. Yet Chang has been playing them for chumps, still working “off the books” in what appears to be some other unknown, secret, classified branch of defense within the government, and leading them into the dregs of a butchered undercover gig that went awry long before S.H.I.E.L.D. folded. This is it: no answers, no resolution, just questions and ambiguity.
Pinna’s distorted faces and lumpy body frames, as well as Woodard’s hot-stuff neon pallet, circa the MTV age, do not exactly distract from the fluidity of the panel work, which may or may not be a first; wildly enough, it’s the costumes that are a constant case of curiosity. Crippler, or as Sidewinder accurately calls him, “leather dad,” looks like someone told him he was going to a male modeling gig for a fetish magazine. Meanwhile, Bengal (who is incidentally mislabeled in the Who’s Who, complete with a character key that tells you which character has a crush on another) looks like he doesn’t fit into his homemade costume. Kitty’s sweater continues to be the ugliest thing any hipster has ever ironically adorned in the history of hipsterdom. Also, Vernon Brooks looks a lot like Danny Glover from the “Lethal Weapon” films, which is quite honestly the best character design in the series if that was the intent.
From dated characters to dated references, Michel Fiffe’s series is stuck in the 80’s/90’s-era of comics, an era Fiffe clearly is well-rounded in. In truth, this series might have been successful, even move into a second printing on this very issue, had it been ten, maybe fifteen years ago. Unfortunately for All-New Ultimates, the 80’s and early 90’s are gone and in 2014 this type of comic is a hard sell. “The Final Showdown” simply revealed what the comic has been telling us since issue #2, the series is mediocre at its best and hardly entertaining at its worst.
In 1987, All-New Ultimates #12 would have been the comic in your pull-list. In 2015... not so much.