All-New Ultimates is on a roll and it’s pretty great. As if to make up for the six questionable issues before it, #9 employs a formulaic but ultimately successful plot. In this issue we finally have well-established rising conflict and paused moments for character growth and discussion. This is dutifully followed by absolute duress and then a crescendo with a kick-bang ending that knocks the reader back. It’s not brilliance-realized by any means, but the issue is sure to bring the series smoothly back into the good graces of wearied readers.
Most Ultimate-verse fans haven’t been given a lot of opportunities to see Lana reflect on the team, despite being subjected to multiple scenes of them all gossiping about her. It was a nice trade-off to have her reconnect with her mother in this issue. Her criminal past is essential to her character make-up, an element Bendis established and owned. It’s been a shame to watch Lana never bring up her criminal exploits in any sort of detail within Fiffe’s handling of her story. The most readers were given is flippant comments about a parole officer. Now it seems that to those who are new to the characters or the series, this is their only tidbit of information as to how Lana got to where she is now. Developing a relationship between her criminal mother from the other side of the bars, so to speak, is something that probably should’ve happened earlier in the series. Despite being a last-second revelation so late in the series, it’s great to see it appear now when she clearly needs her mother most.
An organized super force of white supremacists and dirty racist cops feels a bit more like Fiffe’s personal interpretation of events post-Ferguson (which I totally get) than a legitimate criminal organization worthy of the Ultimates. Regardless, this diverse and multi-cultured team of super-teens has caught this group’s attention in a very negative way. They are an efficient and structured task force who severely underestimated Scourge’s methods. The real question that readers take away from this big fight scene is what are Scourge’s actual methods? Fiffe has his intentions so muddled in prejudice against race and super heroics that there seems to be no motive that sticks long enough to make it through an issue. What is this guy’s prerogative? More importantly, what the heck’s his problem? He’s like Punisher born out of a Sub-Reddit trolling. Not only is his baffling agenda not exposed, but he totally gets away! How did Miles or Jessica not web his legs up while he ran? Once again, the slip-through-the-fingers villain escape in All-New Ultimates feels more like a fumble than a clean get away.
Thankfully, the issue picks the right moment to shock the audience. The last few beats are a jaw-dropping series of panels that may leave the reader in one of several sets of emotions depending on their attachments to the characters involved. Personally speaking, it was a blend of frustration and intrigue. It seems Fiffe is finally re-introducing Bendis’ previously established Ultimate Taskmaster. It’s nice to have Fiffe throw back to the actual franchise instead of pulling out another obtuse c-lister.
Capitalizing on the positive reactions towards the art change in the last couple issues, artist Giannis Milonogiannis teams up with Esther Sanz and together their panels sing in a harmonious fashion. Pinna and Pillar’s panels exercised heavy use of cool and even neon shades to illuminate a scene. Milonogiannis and Sanz’s cooperative work feels more sketchbook and penciled in. The exaggerated hair styles and lack of facial features call back to classic Manga style. which is certainly not your every day art style for a super hero book. Still, the art is hearty and spirited rather than steeped in moodiness with capricious changes in the hues and shading. The artwork is also stable and generous to the characters and you can’t beat that.
The upswing of this issue is that readers still have some good reading to look forward to. The downswing may be that this series is coming to its close. Depending on what rumor source you cling to, the series is either being cancelled or had a planned resolution and close for January. Other sites have yet to confirm anything and expose no hairy details other than observations made solely on sales, but it seems like after #9, All-New Ultimates is definitely at it’s climax. Prepare to hold your breath for a month, who knows what November will bring?
Ultimate-verse fans can rejoice that All-New Ultimates has finally found it's stride. The Fiffe/Milonogiannis/Sanz team is the right equation for a successful comic and #9 is a great example of what a cooperative creative team can deliver.