Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Decompression Project - The Ultimate Five, sorry, Six

What to say about the Ultimate Six? There were really on five of them? Sure, I know what they were going for with the Spider-man connection but really, there should be six villains if you’re trying to make the Ultimate Marvel version of the Sinister Six. I guess they didn’t create Ultimate Chameleon or establish Black Cat as more of a villain or something. And I guess Mysterio and Vulture just didn’t want to be involved, although I can’t recall seeing Ultimate Mysterio – doesn’t mean I haven’t read a very obvious story in one of the first trades, but I honestly don’t recall him appearing in the Ultimate Spider-man stories at the moment.

Again, this is a story with a lot of good bones and decent structure but lacks any sense of urgency when being told, or simply lacks any urgency to be told at all. I guess I’m hitting the point where I’m no longer seeing a re-imagining of Spider-man so much as rehashing the Spider-man shared mythology with minor changes. The Sinister Six was a fairly neat idea that allowed itself to have a rotating cast of Spidey villains, so why they couldn’t come up with a sixth member here seems slightly wonky to me.

I do applaud the attempt at connecting the creation of the genetic anomalies from the villains to Peter Parker. I get that they are two sides to the same coin and how minor differences can create major diversions in outcome. This aspect felt slightly glossed over to me and could have been a much stronger element of the story. The story is set up as a villain showpiece and a decent caper revenge heist type of plot, with a much better handling of Civil War type activities thrown in for flavour, only to kind of lead to a confrontation that felt more like a bunch of adult villains lecturing Peter Parker about how he’s from the same formula that created them, and some vaguely motivated attack on the White House. Once again, great set up, great potential and not so great ending. It didn’t leave me wanting more, it just sort of left me.

The story is set apart from the rest of the Ultimate Spider-man trades by the art as much as the focus. It was a bit odd to suddenly not be seeing Bagley’s art, and to have the youthful vibrancy of his art not present meant the tone of the presentation changed with it. This is stiffer, darker stuff that seems to help root this story into the bigger Ultimate universe. There is more SHIELD and the Ultimates here than normally found in Spidey’s solo Ultimate adventures. I think the art change helps reflect that change in focus but I’m not sure if it’s a benefit to the Ultimate Spider-man stories on the whole. I think that the tenuous connections work best and I believe this was originally a miniseries outside the main book so that would work for me, but in trade format it feels like a bit of a departure. It feels like the flow gets interrupted in order to follow up with a few villains and remind Spider-man fans that there is more to the Ultimate Marvel Universe – which I suppose the X-women showing up would have managed previously. Whereas their appearance felt like guest star showing up, this story seems to focus more on the interconnected Ultimate setting more than on Spidey himself, and that’s sort of missing the reason people will buy Spider-man books.

But did I enjoy it? Yeah, I actually did. I don’t think it’s groundbreaking or does anything to profoundly update any of the ideas found in the characters and the reasons for bonding into a villainous group, but it’s a decent caper and goes a long way to reminding me why I first found Dr. Octopus so threatening or Electro so uniquely terrifying. Kraven is the character I am least familiar with and I think making him some rage induced werewolf was kind of nifty. So the villain showcase aspect worked well, and the story worked best when focused on them. When the story strayed away from them, it started to fall apart at the seams.


plok said...

Oh, that's right, this one! This one started out quite promisingly, as I recall. Doc Ock, Norman's machinations and craziness, even the attack on the White House, even the Ultimates stepping in...

But by this time I really wanted to know what the "Ultimate Conspiracy" was all about, or get a clue to it or something, and I really thought I would get something like that from this...but then no. They just all go back to jail, don't they?

I would've chosen this miniseries to drop some hints in, myself. I can still imagine all kinds of hints that might've filled the bill. Little teasing backstory on Norman and the Parker/Brock team, maybe? Hmm. Well, I'm not going to dig it out and re-read it...but as I recall the conclusion felt rather rushed-through.

joncormier said...

Yeah, the motivations for Norman Osborn were vaguely Darth Vaderish. "You are my son because we're both superbeings from my Oz formula." Then Peter says, no you're crazy and they threaten his aunt and everyone gets punched.

It felt a bit like they were trying out the Animated Batman focus on the villain but lost the major elements that made that show work so well. Nobody was sympathetic or caught up in something they helped to create and aggrivate. It's just a bunch of psychos on a rampage, which is fun in a video game type of manner. They're attacking and you must stop them, don't worry too much about the rest of the plot there's some good dialogue and they have cool powers. Voila!