We’re ten issues into this series, and some huge stuff is going on. This is the first issue that sees Sam Humphries joining Jonathan Hickman in the writing process, and with this issue, the Ultimate Universe diverges wildly from its 616 counterpart. At this point, I’m just going to go ahead and say that you should stop reading this review if you don’t want to see any spoilers. For those of you still with me, Humphries is joining Hickman on this series at a point in the story where the Ultimate Universe is experiencing some of its most profound changes. Washington D.C. has been wiped off of the map by a mad Reed Richards, Asgard has been leveled, the President of the United States, as well as the first fourteen people in the presidential line of succession, have been killed by an antimatter weapon, cats and dogs living together… total chaos reigns supreme in the Ultimate Universe. While it’s taken a while to get to this point with a sort of slow boiling plot, this issue is wildly entertaining just for the frankly shocking amount of devastation that Hickman and Humphries are willing to inflict upon the Ultimate Universe.
The issue begins with the Secretary of Energy overseeing a wind farm in Colorado. War Machine drops in to say “Oh hey, turns out you’re now the president”. Secretary of Energy Howard is the next in line to become the President of the United States because a power-mad Reed Richards just dropped an antimatter weapon on Washington that obliterated the leader of the free world, as well as the next fourteen people in the Presidential line of succession. This idea, that Washington has been destroyed, that the President has been killed, that the United States government has been catastrophically altered by an attack from Reed Richards of all people, it’s a watershed moment for the Ultimate Universe. Barring any sort of retcon or wiping of the slate, things are now irrevocably altered for the Ultimate Universe.
Hickman and Humphries cut to scenes that depict the attack on the US capitol as it is happening, and it’s a chilling set of images. First, we see a Congresswoman running up the stairs of the capitol building and avoiding a particularly pesky reporter, and she’s interrupted by a flash of white light. This flash of white light is so bright that it bathes everything in blinding whiteness, and artist Luke Ross and colorist Mathew Wilson deserve a lot of credit for the strong impact of this panel. They illustrate the Congresswoman and the reporter as just barely visible in this blinding light, and while we can’t even see the stairs they were on in the sea of whiteness, we see their black shadows falling on the stairs. These black shadows reveal the shape of the stairs in what is otherwise a blank page, and it’s really quite an amazing artistic effect. These scenes, featuring people jogging through the capitol or just seeing the monuments as tourists, show everday people as they experience the detonation of an antimatter weapon, and it’s a genuinely frightening set of images that recall the descriptions of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hickman and Humphries then cut to three days after the attack, and apparently Flumm, a man Nick Fury describes as a “snake from black ops”, has taken over as Director of SHIELD. We see that SHIELD is basically scrambling to deal with the global chaos that has resulted from Reed Richards’ attack on Washington, as well as the rise of the mutant society known as “The People”. It’s interesting to see SHIELD essentially panicking to deal with this situation, and the idea of Nick Fury being hunted by the organization he is normally tasked with leading is a fun trope that we’ve seen a few times before. Fury, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and The Falcon escape from the Helicarrier before they can be apprehended. While we can assume that these characters will eventually be welcomed back into the fold of SHIELD, for the moment, Hickman and Humphries have again put elements of the Ultimate Universe in a position that is radically divergent from the mainstream Marvel Universe.
As if all of this chaos wasn’t enough, we also see that Tony Stark appears to be experiencing a nervous breakdown. Upon closer examination from Sue Richards, he learns that his brain tumor, which was in remission, has returned. Ultimate Tony Stark’s brain tumor, which was first seen in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s original run on The Ultimates, is an ailment that replaced the idea of his injured heart, and the idea that his time on Earth was severely limited by this cancer is what prompted him to try to use his remaining years to help the world as Iron Man. It’s really a brave narrative choice to bring Stark’s brain tumor back; it would be easy to just forget about it, since it has been in remission for a while, but instead, Hickman and Humphries bring it back, which once again sets a dwindling time limit on this character.
Overall, I enjoyed this comic just for the sheer craziness that’s currently going on in the Ultimate Universe. While the Ultimate Universe has always diverged from the Marvel Universe in myriad ways, I didn’t expect Washington D.C. to be obliterated along with the highest ranking members of the U.S. government, and it’s a crazy and entertaining direction for Hickman and Humphries to take The Ultimates. I’m genuinely interested to see where these two writers take the situation from here, and how they will manage to get the Ultimates to rally against what seems like insurmountable odds. While it was a bit of a slow boil to get to this point, I’d recommend picking up this comic, and I think it was a strong first outing for Humphries on the series.