All-New Ultimates #8 marks the first solid issue in this series. It also acts as the appropriate starting point for the series in many ways. There is a wealth of characterization and plot buffing to spring this story back to life. Going seven issues into the series to get here seems like a very round-about way to tell a story, but finally we see these teenagers act out their worst and best traits as friends, as team members, as lovers, and as superheroes. Plus, it’s good.
In case readers hadn’t felt the point of Tandy (Dagger) and Tyrone (Cloak) being in a relationship hasn’t been shoved down their throats yet, this issue makes sure to highlight that multiple times before the final dramatic moments of the issue. Though for awhile now it has felt heavy handed, there is something about the way writer Michel Fiffe has their arguing come to a head that actually feels, well, meaningful. At times the dialogue has felt inauthentic (though it still does) but it has surely built a dynamic into the team that is going to create even more awkward, if not obtuse, scenes in the future. Their development is finally coming along and it’s nice to see them be Tandy and Tyrone rather than Tandy-and-Tyrone.
There’s another poignant moment early in the issue when Jessica & Miles inform the rest of the team (who are crashing/slumber partying at Jessica’s until a new location is discovered) that J. Jonah Jameson owes them a favor, possibly a financial one. This is a great moment because the maturity levels of the two Spiders are shown when the other three excitedly discuss and argue the perks of the hypothetical benefactor. Unfortunately no one discusses getting Black Widow a new outfit.
We also see some actual teamwork from the group in this issue, rather than that slippery-slope of failure the team is accustomed to. Taking point are Miles and Jessica who have a rapport that harkens back to the companion ongoing title, Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, where he and Ultimate Maybe-Not-Peter have teamed up. It’s nice to see Jessica giving that Parker-attitude and portraying skilled fighting talents, like someone who has lived in a S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarier for over a year and trained with the original Ultimate Avengers. She and Miles keep their heads on straight throughout the battle, an element of their characters that had been missing thus far.
This fun issue also comes with great, funky villains. The Femme Fatales, who represent a very different style of villainy than we have seen until now, are comprised of Mindblast, Bloodlust, Whiplash, and Knockout. This fearsome foursome represents just another (impressive) example of Fiffe’s ability to dig into that C-List Marvel deck of characters he loves to pull from. These four reincarnations are diverse in voice, attitude, appearance, and power sets. The Femme Fatales represent a whole new level of difficulty for these recent superhero graduates.
Despite having about ten pages of action, this is a character building issue, without the bikinis. This time we have “awkward turtle moments” between Jessica and Kitty when discussing getting new HQ’s, a moment heightened thanks to the swimsuit-edition-sex-conversation about what type of girl Jessica digs as a recently realized/out lesbian. There’s also the Tandy/Tyrone arguments, that seem to happen every few pages, and of course Lana’s moment of regretting her secrets while she stands over Poey’s grave. Oh yeah, Poey! For the first time in eight issues, we actually get a reason to care about this guy, who until now played the field between positions of total creep and total romantic. At his grave, his friends and Lana share a moment of remembrance and we get to see a nice slice of Lana’s life with him. In dialogue only, of course.
It can still be assumed the decision to change artists from Amilcar Pinna to Giannis Milonogiannis was for the best, but it’s becoming apparent that it was also a necessary change in style for the tone-shift in story. While that Americanized-manga flare that Milonogiannis brings to the page is not particularly my cup of tea, many readers enjoy it and it has proven to be successful in other titles such as Ms. Marvel. There’s nothing wrong with it per say, but the lack of any facial features from far away, or when a character is expressing frustration or embarrassment, doesn’t feel like it belongs in the Ultimate line of books where these specific players have been handled by such detailed artists in the past. Call it a case of comfort, but these characters are young and expressive, their faces should be too.
That said, the art style for action scenes and panel layout fits much better with Fiffe’s style. Milonogiannis’ bold-lines-and-cheek-shading combined with Jordie Bellaire’s color schemes don’t make for the most crisp images, but you get recognizable characters on the page with specific physical ticks and traits that are unique to each one. The arrival of Ultimate FF’s team was a bit out-of-the-blue, but color-me-impressed if I am still stunned that a fuschia colored Iron Man doesn’t look totally out of place on the page. Though Miles’ head certainly does. Why is it always grey?
Undoubtedly the all around tightest issue thus far, All-New Ultimates #8 gets back to the basics, keeps out the “big picture”, and focuses in on the real character moments. A major plus for this issue is that you can walk into this series right here and probably feel comfortable. The art is manageable and doesn’t dissuade eyes from keeping on the page. It seems Fiffe and team are well on their way to a full recovery and this is a great second start.
All-New Ultimates #8 marks the best issue yet, with great character moments, manga-style artwork, and exciting new villains. A much needed resuscitation from Fiffe & team may give this title the heartbeat it needs to get a lifeline from readers once again, reminding them what a great cast this book has.