The Ultimate Universe is going down the pan. Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men have both been turgid non-events for some time, Ultimate Spidey has a great new penciller in Stuart Immonen, but Bendis isn't hitting the high notes that he used too and the book is no longer guaranteed to be fun. Worst of all, The flagship titleThe Ultimates has been ruined by an unwelcome change in direction and a creative team who clearly can't hold a candle to Millar and Hitch.
Sad. But there is some good news to be had with the release of issue #1 of the Warren Ellis/Cary Nord four part mini Ultimate Human. With its a sharp sense of cynicism, great dialogue and beautiful drawings this is a book that feels like the rightful sequel to The Ultimates.
It works where the other Ultimate titles are currently failing because Ellis doesn't try and knock down the foundations that Millar laid in the Ultimates. Instead he builds on Millar's knowing interpretations of both the Hulk and Iron Man by playing up the fallibility and foibles of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. He respects the tone set in the first two volumes of the Ultimates and as a result Ultimate Human doesn't jar in the way that Jeph Loeb's reworking of the Utimates does. It feels like it belongs in the same universe as Millar's work.
The art is also right. I loved Cary Nord's work on the Dark Horse Conan series, so was delighted to see him get this book. His drawing is careful and detailed, a world away from the stylised neon and shrunken heads of Joe Mad's art.
It's a really good superhero book which reminded me just how good the Ultimate Universe is when done well. The characters all nod respectfully towards the past, but are free of the 40+ years of baggage that sometimes weighs down their regular Marvel counterparts.
These stripped down, modernised versions of Marvel's big toys deserve to be handled by writers and artists capable of maintaining a consistent feel for the Ultimate Universe across the various books. Sadly that consistency is lacking in nearly all the Ultimate titles right now. I've gone from reading all of them to the point where I've dropped everything but Ultimate Spider-Man - and my interest in that book is on the wane.
Unless changes are made across the board, I fear that Ultimate Human may be the last hurrah for a line which has lost direction, cohesion and believability.