guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

April 2008

Jeph Loeb & Joe Madureira, The Ultimates 3 (Marvel, 2008). #1-3, $2.99, each.

by Jared Gardner

Consider this review a mea culpa. For a while now I have been vainly defending Marvel titles against charges that they are increasingly aesthetically bankrupt, politically two-faced, exploitative and just plain bad. I have sung (occasionally in a somewhat strained falsetto) the praises of Civil War, of Runaways, and even of Black Panther. And for my pains, I have earned the silent sniggering of friends and colleagues and even an occasionally embarrassed wince from my kids. Well, until further notice, I am turning my back on my corporate paymaster (none of whom ever bother to pay me, only master me through some sick kind of mindrays or somethin’). And when they come to me blubbering, “Why? What have we done?” I’ll be ready with my answer: The Ultimates 3.

Do we really need to talk about this comic? Well, it wouldn’t be a mea culpa if it wasn’t painful. For me, in addition to bringing shame to my lifelong Marvel heart, the comic is also a walking advertisement against ever subscribing to comics. In addition to not supporting your local store, you end up stuck receiving a title that has gone from great, to good, to unbearably bad so fast that it makes your head spin (I tried to get the postman to take it back, but he said it took him a week to deodorize the truck after the last issue).

Now lest you think I am a bigger fool than in fact I am, I must say in my defense that Mark Millar’s
Ultimates was an exciting book: hardboiled, cruel, and blissfully unromantic, it reimagined the superteam as we always suspected they would truly be. And the trial of Bruce Banner for genocide and the persecution of Thor as a madman in Ultimates 2 was a fresh and effective way to reask the age-old superhero question: what would happen if super heroes did exist in our own hardboiled, cruel and tragically unromantic world? What are the real consequences of a green monster detroying the downtown of a major metropolis, in human lives? And who pays? And why should we believe a long-haired freak who claims to be a God, just because he can make lightning dance from his hammer? After all, in this new century, who can’t?

I remind people of this only to point out that what Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira (both mostly Loeb) have done to this interesting series, and in a twinkling of an eye. Three issues in, in place of the kind of speculative science fiction that made the
Ultimates fun to think about, if not always to read, we have endless 90s-style supervillain smashups and Xtreme cameos, a whirlwind of cheesy plot devices that ultimately come down to a dumbed-down “Who Killed JR?” mystery (only replace J.R. With the Scarlet Witch), lots of Wolverine being ultra-super-xtreme, and witty lines like (from Spider-man) “You shot me, you screwball!” or (from Iron Man) “Didn’t you see the sign on the way in, Blob? ‘The management reserves the right to refuse service to anyone.’ That means you, you fat tub of goo” (to which, it pains me to add, Wasp adds, “You go, Tony”).

Seriously, this is the biggest piece of garbage I have seen under Marvel’s label for a long time, but it is not so freakishly bad when compared to many of its recent siblings that we can write it off as a mutant aberration. Part of the problem is clearly Loeb, who has completely lost whatever feel he might once have had for comics writing. But the more systemic problem lies with Marvel, which has suddenly lost faith in its readers after some fairly interesting stories in the early years of the decade. I blame it in part on a lack of editorial vision, turning too much over to celebrity writers, many of whom have only passing or nominal

We remained silent on the last
Hulk “event” because we were inclined to want to shield our favorites from shame. But we can remain silent no longer. Oh, yeah—and we’re canceling our subscription before something tragic happens in my house (like my kids get hold of it and get turned off from comics forever).