Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chronic Review: Ultimate X # 1

Ultimate X # 1
Marvel Comics

Script: Jeph Loeb

Pencils: Art Adams

22 pages for $3.99

Continuing my recent trend toward picking up books that smell of rancid feces so that I can savage them from an informed position, I dove right into Ultimate X, which has all the trappings, folks.

Jeph Loeb, check. $3.99 price point, check. Moody lookin' Wolverine kid, check. Let me just lick my chops here while I get ready to give this book a good steel toe in the junk.

Except I can't, because it's actually quite good.

Here's the thing. I don't think that the Ultimate line has been handled poorly. They've done an excellent job of updating iconic Marvel concepts with fresh takes and storylines that have veered from the source in satisfying ways.

But it never made sense to me to stick with twists on old flavors, when the entire concept was tailor made for introducing new characters. You may have noticed that it's very rare to see a new concept take off. The closest I think we have to "fresh blood" in comics is Deadpool, and he's twenty years old now, folks. Seriously, who's new and popular...Pixie from the X-Men? I can't think of one concept born in the last five years that could support its own ongoing. We like the nostalgia, us comic geeks.

At any rate, my point is that here you had this "blank slate" as it were, a place where something totally untested might actually fly. I mean the whole point was that the Ultimate line was a gateway drug for new readers, right? They aren't jonesing for the return of some Silver Age has been, they just want something that pops. But what they got was old characters with a new paint job. Huh. Untapped potential, I would say.

So now that I'm fully off topic, let me bring it back and say that Ultimate X does a very smart thing by giving us young Jimmy Hudson, son of Wolverine, raised by James and Heather Hudson. He's new. He's got ties to the old, including his father's claws. But this is not "Ultimate Daken", this is a different kid who can actually ooze the adamantium onto his own bone claws:

There's a good solid energy behind this story. Mutants are just NOT popular, and Jimmy appears to be just that. He's in legitimate Anne Frank type danger, and that's compelling.

Art Adams pencils the ever loving shit out of this comic, and that's compelling. There's actually a lot to like about Ultimate X. As a matter of fact, if I knew a kid that didn't currently read comics, and I wanted to get him hooked - this is the book I'd hand him. Or her. If a person is susceptible to mainstream comic storytelling, they will be drawn to this story and want to know what happens next. It just has that "modern classic" feel to it.

And listen, here's the thing about Jeph Loeb. The problem with Jeph Loeb is not that he's a bad, writer, it's that he's a very, very good writer who thinks it's clever to always keep "aces" up his sleeves instead of putting them out on the table.

I don't hate Jeph Loeb with the passion of a thousand fiery suns because he bores me. I hate him because he continuously gets you invested with well developed promises that never materialize into a visceral payoff. (see: who the FUCK is the red Hulk after 96 issues for more details)

So I'm not surprised that Loeb here produces something that really seems like it might be special. And this does, quite frankly. But I'm more than a little worried about it actually paying off down the road.

He's already started with unanswered questions, by the way. Wolverine left a holographic message for Jimmy that Kitty Pryde delivers in this debut. Anticipating that Jimmy (and anybody reading the comic) would want to know about the identity of the mother, Wolvie quickly squashes the fun by saying "Don't bother asking about your mother. That's in the past and you need to start thinking about your future."

This is a gross cop out. It's an unsatisfying thing to say, and not a terribly realistic thing for a father to say to his son in a final message, if you want my opinion. Maybe when the truth comes out, IF it ever comes out, we'll understand why. But really, it smacks of Loeb simply not wanting to deal an ace when it could simply keep his sleeve company. It's not a natural storytelling technique, it's Loeb being Loeb.

Here's a nice little touch: messianic figures in the bible typically have to face an incredible ordeal and go into the "belly of the whale" for three days before coming out touched by God. As Jimmy's origins are becoming clear, his journey into the "jaws" of the beast are represented above him in the form of shark's teeth. Well done!

So, to recap: Ultimate X # 1 should be the greatest steaming pile of excrement ever squatted from the bowels of Quesada & Co. Instead, it represents a well crafted "modern classic" that fully expresses the potential of the Ultimate line's capabilities. Looking at Art Adams art is a special treat as well. Still unsure about payouts down the line, because Loeb is stingy that way.

And to be clear, there is nothing going on here that should cost the consumer $3.99, that's just pure price gouging, and Marvel ought to be ashamed of themselves. If they actually had a visionary at the helm instead of an accountant touched by Satan, they would sell this book for $1.99 and get it into as many new readers hands as possible, because this is the kind of material that could actually create new fans.

- Ryan

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