18.9.09

The Ultimates 3

After yesterday's soul-searching, I've pretty much surrendered to by worst instincts and thoroughly, gleefully, blissfully, enjoyed the violent sexy romp that is Ultimates 3. Like my appreciation of Ultimate Iron Man 2, I have been urged to write home about the artwork. In this case, pencils were provided by Joe Madureira, with some glorious digital painting served up on top by Christian Lightner.

First, the pencils, in which cheesecake and beefcake are prevalent. I was lusting after pretty much every-body from the first page, and was hoping that personal favourite comics sex-god Wolverine would show up in Madureira finery. He did. Happiness ensued.

Next, the colours, which accentuate every muscle bulge and give all the talking meat-sacks solidity. They almost pop-up out of the page. The painting also gives every panel a kind of epic, mythic quality. You don't get such colours in real life. The Ultimate Universe is hyperreal. Every source of light shines more powerfully, every reflection is warmer, brighter. Everything. Is. More.

On the actual writing. Jeph Loeb does his usual murder-mystery thing, as seen in his Batman miniseries The Long Halloween, Dark Victory and Hush. Personally, I've never really found this noiry stuff as interesting as the mind-warping horror of his first Batman collab with Tim Sale, called Haunted Knight. If I had my way, Loeb would stay in this genre. One of my favourite comic-books ever is The Witching Hour, a Sandman-esque story he did with the incomparable Chris Bachalo.

Anyhow, on his year-long Batman projects, Loeb had something like twelve issues to pace his whodunnit. Here, Marvel have only given him five, and have told him that The Ultimates is about in-your-face thrills and killer twists, not subtlety or character. Hence, the plot becomes completely ridiculous very quickly, and our gang of superheroes don't really have any inwardness to speak of. You're not really gonna be relating to any of them. Especially when everyone seems to be grieving for someone they've lost (Iron Man, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Magneto), or out getting their revenge (most of the above plus Ka-Zar and friends, Wolverine, and newbie Valkyrie after some icky attempted rape).

BUT! Who needs inwardness when the surfaces are so shiny and cool? Although lacking depth, characters possess a certain energy and spark that elevate them out of being dull nothings. The dialogue is punchy, and the artwork gives everyone a real boost. If Hawkeye didn't look so ridiculously cool, and if his death-wish wasn't expressed with such a hard-ass debonair attitude, I would have lost interest and thrown the comic away. But he is cool. He swept me off my feet, to the extent that I forgot how silly a character he really is.

And Loeb does bring some skill to the ramshackle narrative. He understands where his artist's strengths are, and so sets up some lovely fight-scene splash pages for us to gorge our eyes on. The story is all over the place, but the pace is always tight and thumping. Plus, there is a rather inventive chaotic split screen page at the very end, which I was rather impressed by. It demonstrates how well Loeb understands and can exploit the form of the comic-book. So props.

Ultimates 3 isn't going to set your soul on fire or make you feel warm inside. It's adolescent testosterone-fueled nonsense. Maybe it's just the weird state I am in, but I ended up rather liking it...

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