Maybe it’s because I gave up on Marvel‘s Ultimate imprint sometime around when Joe Madureira made his, er, comeback depicting Ultimates 3’s opening where everyone watches Ultimate Iron Man and Ultimate Black Widow’s Ultimate Sex Tape before having Ultimate Venom randomly attack them for the sake of an action scene, but thumbing through this first part of the Divided We Fall crossover (the latest attempt to get someone, anyone, to read anything from this imprint other than the multi-racial Spider-Man comic the Brian Bendis coalition is making), I got that feeling you get when you devour an entire pizza by yourself despite all good sense. That feeling of queasiness and self-loathing where you just want to curl up in a ball and beg for death. Only difference is, pizza is delicious and The Ultimates #13–or, to go by its proper title, Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #13–is incapable of flavor on account of being inedible.
Taking a cue from other once-prominent-but-now-failed imprint WildStorm, the Ultimate Marvel Universe has gone for a post-apocalyptic setting: militias rising up in the Southwest, Texas seceding from the Union, D.C. being nuked, chunks of the MidWest and West Coast are apparently “status unknown,”* and, to this critic’s horror, everyone is afflicted with a disease that makes them shift their jaws to the left. Ultimate Ultimates members Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America (sporting ugly armor) battle anti-mutant New Mexican rebels dressed in Road Warrior outfits.
Part one of Divided We Fall doesn’t really establish the plot until its final page (maybe, if the line’s still operating on Jeph Loeb rules it might become irrelevant by part two’s first page), this is really supposed to be the part of the big action blockbuster that establishes the stakes and the tone. Problem is, considering this is an Ultimates comic, we already know what the stakes and tone are, since they’re the same ones from every Jerry Bruckheimer movie: America is under attack by something and the tone is cheap melancholy followed by stirring jingoism. In that way, Ultimates Ultimate manages to succeed purely on those terms as Sam Humphries and Billy Tan cram a micro-Bruckheimer into its twenty pages of story, complete with the heartwarming scene of Thor carrying Ultimate Puck (as played by Verne Troyer) on his shoulder–wait, that’s supposed to be a child!? My apologies.
In any case, what never ceases to amaze me is how much anyone outside of Millar and Hitch fail to grasp what made The Ultimates work. Yeah, it had all the posturing of Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, and their imitators, but Millar (all faults aside) was just smart enough to affect the satirical edge of Paul Verhoeven or Steve Gerber (“You think this letter on my head stands for France?”) while the big scale action was actually allowed to be big scale action under Hitch’s pencil (that fold-out spread depicting the battle against Loki’s army in Ultimates 2 is the cape comic equivalent of a Playboy centerfold). When Humphries (Boom’s Higher Earth and John Carter: Gods of Mars) has the Ultimate President plead for Carol Danvers’ help because “this could be the end of America,” there’s not much hint of a sense of humor, just straightforward gnashing of teeth and really bad attempts at topicality: anyone who has spent time around the kind of people that are in most modern American militias knows they don’t dress like they stepped out of a Misfits concert, and trying to sort of/not really extend the mutant metaphor to the immigration debate by setting the action in the Southwest is really straining credulity. The whole thing reeks of desperation as Marvel staves off the inevitable end of the line, even as it begs to be taken off life support. Unfortunately, Marvel has no concept of dignity and grace.
*As a Michigander, I found it amusing that the Lower Peninsula was considered “status uknown,” while the Upper, which is about as close as you can get to untamed outdoors without going feral, is perfectly fine.