All-New Ultimates has presented conundrums both big and small for the cast of superteens, but at the heart of the story should always be what makes a great comic — real people problems. Real emotions present problems that readers immediately can cling to, pick up on and appreciate. This all boils down to pacing and how you draw the characters out. Sometimes the pacing is flawed, other times it feels completely improvised.
The pacing of #5 is thought out and it offers the series a turning point for some of the characters as connections are made and conflict is escalated. You can trace back the latter issues and plainly see where the story built to this point, it’s just unfortunate it felt like a drag to get here.
It feels like Fiffe designed a story around teenagers in over their heads. Until now, that has not felt very fair to their characters. Miles Morales, Kitty Pryde, Jess Drew, even Lana Baumgarter, have each had their share of encounters in super-hero-antics, each capable of far greater threats. They were seemingly the most prepared for their time on this team and they have, each of them, been continually caught off guard or taken advantage of. Greener members Cloak and Dagger have hardly had time to develop during this. Finally, issue #5 starts to make sense as to why these experienced heroes have been acting like total greenhorns.
Crossbones and his gang of Serpent Skulls are (surprisingly) no pushovers. Diamondback’s “diamond dust” has an impressive hold on Lana while Kitty Pryde’s experienced punches are dodged by Sidewinder, all of this cultivating into a losing-battle for the new Ultimates. Before their team felt un-practiced, now they come off as understandably off-guard. Part of that is due to Fiffe’s Crossbones, who appears to be Captain America tough and possibly Captain America strong. His punches have jaw-breaking sound effects (“krchk” when he back-fists Miles) and he is teeming with ruthless intent to kill these do-gooder teens.
The Scourge storyline is briefly revisited. Detectives have reports of someone dressed like Scourge leaving an apartment in the West Side Highway slums. It’s really disappointing that his secret hideout is a one-bedroom crap hole (complete with shuttered closet) and gives off an air of inexperience, which is only slightly inconsistent with his run-in with the Ultimates in #3. But regardless, bumbling detectives Vern Brooks and Paul Dennis zero in on his location whilst Scourge hides in the closet. Incompetence with these detectives appears to know no bounds, but the result of missing Scourge in his closet means the readers are going to get something special in issue #6 when Scourge, the Serpent Skulls and Crossbones, the Ultimates, and the police finally converge in one fight.
Before I have criticized the art and mentioned that when panelwork gets difficult to understand it falls on Amilcar Pinna. While that can be the case, it’s important to note that the writer/artist dynamic is an inconsistent one, changing from creative team to creative team, and what works best for some people doesn’t work well for others. It also is dutifully noted that Pinna’s effects work on Bombshell, Cloak, and Dagger’s abilities continue to flabbergast.
At the conclusion to this issue I was left with an antsy feeling to get to the next issue so that some of my lingering questions might finally be resolved. The diamond (if that’s indeed what it was) that was left unexplained in #4 has yet to come back up. This is strange for while Diamondback’s hold on Lana remains pretty strong throughout the issue, Miles appears to have no quarrels stepping up against the Serpent Skulls. Is he under control or not? Is he just infatuated? Where did that diamond come from and what does it have to do with anything? The next issue basically has to resolve some things at the risk of losing reader interest. Six issues is a long way to go without resolving some of this stuff.
Thankfully, with a better understanding of the threat that the Serpent Skulls offer (though they are still garbed in Warriors-esque attire that demands they not be taken seriously) there’s a better appreciation for this title within the pages of this issue. Though it begs to be seen as an intense turn of the knob to 11 it unfortunately is not until the last four or so pages that we get a big surprise and turn of the screw (read: shit hits the fan). This just means we can expect a lot of change coming up.
So much can be offered from this series from here on out. The Ultimates and the police (at least Det. O’Reily) have a rapport and as a street-level team, similar to maybe the Defenders or Heroes-For-Hire, this is important. Crossbones, far more so than Scourge at this point, is a viable threat and the likelihood that he’s going to become a constant antagonist in the series is ever growing. Cloak and Dagger are slowly growing more into a believable couple and Lana’s uncontrollable outrage and potentially uncontrollable powerset, are going to be a future problem.
These last five issues have been a rough build up to what we want to see in this series. A book should be fun but it should deliver what it promises. With this cast of all-star characters, All-New Ultimates should be a lot more exciting than it had been thus far. This issue was a good push from the creative team to detonate the big calamitous event that the series has been building to. All-New Ultimates #5 might finally find a way to hook readers (and can be argued, prevent cancellation); Dominoes were set, pushed, and not much happened for a bit there. Nevertheless, this book still has a team of kick-ass heroes and diverse characters as well as intriguing mystery villains and street-level, superhero crime stories. It offers so much and after five issues, a story better have it’s hook (read: reason to keep spending $3.99 a month on a title)! It is pretty safe to say that the last four pages gave us that hook. Go pick it up.
A limping start out of the gate for four issues has finally has turned into a steadily paced story this fifth issue. With the final four pages offering a great reason to keep reading, it seems the All-New Ultimates might be shaping into a great team book with this issue. Crossbones makes for a great villain and these dynamic and diverse super-teens might actually be in over their heads. Art is still irksome but Pinna's FX with Cloak's ability still awe and amaze.