Last month, I threw my hands into the air and admitted defeat: Ultimate End #1 had completely eluded me. Since then, Bendis has acknowledged that issue #1 was intended to raise questions for the reader…before mentioning that they will get answered in issue #5.
That may not have been the best way to build excitement for issue #2, which makes an effort to balance even more spectacle with some quieter character-driven scenes. The good news is that it’s slightly more engaging than the first issue. It’s still confusing, though.
I’ll get this out of the way: If you’re looking for Miles, he’s not here. You can find him in Secret Wars #3, where his presence and perspective raise interesting questions in that story.
Let’s look at those character moments. As a timely parallel to what’s happening with Marvel in general, the narrative shifts to make Tony Stark the lead character; or rather, the Tony Starks. In a welcome break from the generally cluttered nature of the series so far, they set to work on understanding the problem of Doom (revealing a major clue about their situation in the process) while acknowledging a struggle that’s become synonymous with the character. This is incredibly interesting territory to have a character learn more about himself in this way, but it’s a frustratingly brief moment in an issue that otherwise feels disoriented. If anything, the scene left me feeling even more eager for this event to wrap up, if only to see Bendis really getting into Tony’s head post-Secret Wars.
What about Spider-Man? I realize that geography is out the window in Battleworld, so it’s nice to know that Queens is now smashed into Manhattan, allowing for a scene where (616?) Peter Parker visits with his (1610?) Aunt May and Gwen Stacy. While these versions of May and Gwen had featured in last year’s Miles Morales series, the real nostalgic value in their return was seeing them realized once more by the artist that brought them to life in the original series. However, the art wasn’t enough to overcome the sense of frustration I’d had with this particular scene. First, as the clues fall into place that all is not what it seems with this world, is there any real emotional weight to this reunion? These characters are clearly not our originals, so why should I care? It seems like the events are going to somehow be undone or erased anyway. Second (and perhaps more importantly for me as a reader), this particular reunion was already done far more effectively in the 2012 miniseries Spider-Men. That was a beautifully rendered sequence on every level, so it was disappointing to see the characters here have no memory of it. As such, its brief inclusion sadly comes off like a checklist item.
The rest of the issue is more spectacle, including a hero being swiftly dispatched after questioning the authority of God Doom. It’s not shocking (pun intended) because really, nothing in this world has made the least bit of sense so far. Perhaps it was intended as a throwback to the spirit of the Ultimate Universe in which anyone could die at any moment, but I found myself feeling strangely indifferent about this scene. Again, the characters don’t seem to be their original or actual selves within this world, but instead reimagined versions. So why should I care if one is killed? As the Tony Starks’ conversation confirms, there are multiple versions kicking around anyway.
We also see the clash depicted on the cover, suggesting that either Doc Green has lost his mind between panels or that there’s now a third Hulk in this domain. The Ultimates are summoned, giving Bagley, along with inker Drew Hennessy and colorist Justin Ponsor the opportunity to briefly depict an unusual group of random 616 and 1610 characters (including duplicates) racing to save the day. It should be a dramatic and exciting moment (and it absolutely is from an artistic standpoint), but at this point I’m just shrugging my shoulders at how random and empty it feels. One small saving grace: The chaotic sequence offers a glimpse of plot development as we get to see Frank Castle slowly take his first steps toward the role he finds himself in during the opening scene of issue #1.
Knowing that this miniseries is intended to be the definitive close to the Ultimate Universe story, it’s frustrating to see it spinning its wheels. Hopefully issue #3 will start tying its seemingly random ideas closer together.
It pains me to rate these so poorly, as we know that this team can deliver great stories. So far, Ultimate End #2 isn’t one of them.