Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Review: Ultimate Comics X-Men #3

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #3 by Spencer / Medina

This is the dawning of a new era for Marvel's Ultimate Universe. After years of questions over its relevance the line has been propelled to the forefront (perhaps temporarily) of Marvel's stable of title. It could be down to a lack of competition (and much has been made of the recent cutbacks at the House of Ideas) or perhaps the injection of youth provided by up and coming writers Nick Spencer and Jonathon Hickman. Maybe it is simply a by product of the media coverage granted to uber-creator Brian Michael Bendis' now Peter Parker-less Spider-Man relaunch. Either way, if there was a time for the Ultimate titles to impress it is now.

As I reported last week Ultimate Spider-Man is continues to be a consistent performer into its fourth issue, with Nick Spencer's Ultimate X-Men relaunch proving to be something of an ugly sibling to it so far. On paper Spencer should be the perfect choice for a hip new X-Men title - he excelled on Morning Glories after all, an independent title with a glaringly similar 'gifted youngsters' style premise. So far however he has flattered to deceive, with Spencer's Ultimate X-Men lacking in the fresh ideas and concepts that the X-Men franchise has thrived on in the past.

It's easy to forget that in its initial run under Mark Millar, Ultimate X-Men more than held its own next to Bendis' acclaimed early Ultimate Spider-Man arcs. The franchises 616 iterations have longed seemed bloated and overly confusing, and could easily be accused of having become a victim of their own success. The comic book that ate itself perhaps? Millar's back to basics, stripped back versions of the characters shone and I had similar hopes for Spencer's run, with many of the more overexposed X-Men characters taken off the table by Marvel's 'Ultimatum' event. The stage was set for a back to basics triumph, from a writer yet to handle Marvel's Mutant heroes.

This third issue sees little in the way of improvement on Spencer's below par start, with many of my fears for the title looking like being confirmed. Brian Michael Bendis made the 'underground X-Men' - Kitty Pryde, the curiously non-mutant Human Torch and Bobby Drake - into compelling characters with an intriguing group dynamic. With Rogue introduced to the mix the quartet should by rights make for an engaging core cast. The problem is that they have been shunted to one side, cowering in the sewers for the entirety of the series' opening three issues. They have barely interacted with the core plot and their sequences feel frustratingly inconsequential as a result. This brings me neatly onto the antagonist of the series - The Sentinel styled Stryker, who strikes me as about one of the most cliche, bland X-Men villains I have encountered in years. His costume evokes the worst excesses of the 90's and his characterisation so far is too over the top for my liking. His masterplan also seems to vague to be interesting - haven't we seen enough bigoted villains whose ultimate aim is to wipe out all of mutantkind? The idea itself is not bad, but has been seen more convincingly elsewhere, even in the archetypal 90's crossover Operation Zero Tolerance.

Hickman has passed up an opportunity to inject some fresh impetus into a defunct series, by making it as hackneyed as the X-Men franchise has ever been. Evil mutants, suspicious government agents, puritanical mutant hating humans, oh and course of the obligatory 'underground X-Men', on the run from a world that naturally, hates and fears them more than ever. All of this on their own could easily be fashioned into an interesting premise in their right. Together they seem forced. Even the interesting idea of mutants originally being government creations has been frustratingly underplayed. We have been here before, and it had better art.

Not 'bad' per se, and potentially a good introduction to the X-Men to a newcomer, but when a comic is this derivative it needs to be highly polished too. This is no rough gem.


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