There’s No Ultimatum In Ultimatum
It’s tough to create and maintain a superhero universe. That’s why there are only two successful long running examples, and even then counting DC as a success is being generous. Marvel’s Ultimate imprint had its heyday and did a lot of good. It revitalized moribund characters for the 21st century, influenced feature films and launched the careers of countless creators. But it was not built to last. Inevitably the fresh start would be saddled with its own continuity, these marquee talents would be replaced by lesser ones and eventually you ended up in a situation where the line was shepherded by none other than Jeph Loeb. Now, I know what you’re going to say. “The guy who wrote for Heroes? But he’s great!” I disagree. His most acclaimed works are boosted by great art that almost conceals the lousy writing. The Long Halloween is the result of a writer watching The Godfather one afternoon and speculating “what if Batman was in it”. Loeb’s first foray into the Ultimate Universe was Ultimates 3, a strange and incoherent murder mystery that established an incestuous couple, excused an incestuous couple, had Wolverine fuck Magneto’s wife for some reason and featured the glorious return of Joe Mad to comics. His followup, Ultimatum, was even worse and I’ll spare it no vitriol despite the delicate real world circumstances of its existence. More on that later.
I think he needs medical attention because you flew through a window, leading with his body.
I’m first going to give you all the relevant information from Ultimates 3 that you need to understand Ultimatum. Ultron, a sentient robot created by Giant-Man, shot Scarlet Witch because he was in love with her but she only had eyes for her brother. Yes, her brother. The death enrages Magneto, who blames the Ultimates for his daughter’s demise. But, you know, it’s Ultron, who redesigns himself into Yellowjacket for some reason (most things happen in Ultimates 3 “for some reason”) and plans on replacing all of the Ultimates with robots. Giant-Man rips off Yellowjacket’s head while yelling “then that must make me the motherfucker!” (Ultron had said something about Wasp being his mother) and Quicksilver dies shielding his father from an arrow. Now Magneto is really angry. Oh yeah, it turns out Dr. Doom provided Ultron with sentience and is responsible for the entire chain of events. He wants a human/mutant Helter Skelter for some reason. Things you missed out on in this summary: Hawkeye asking for people to kill him on the regular; Captain America pretending to be Black Panther; Ultron programming a Venom robot to attack the Ultimates because Joe Mad wanted to draw Venom; there’s a splash page of Sabretooth yelling “SUCK IT!” to Captain America. Yep, it’s a real abortion all right. Actually, I take that back. Calling Ultimates 3 an abortion is insulting to abortions, many of which immeasurably improve the lives of the women undergoing the procedure. That comic improves no one’s life.
Yeah I’m okay with all of them dying.
Ultimatum brings together the Ultimates, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the X-Men (among others) in scenes that play heavily on “something bad is about to happen”. For example, Reed is about to propose to Sue. Wifebeater Pym and Wifebeatee Pym have ironed things out. Spider-Man is with his fellow youths, debating on seeing The Dark Knight again. to deal with a catastrophic flood that immediately wipes out a number of characters with no fanfare. Some of the deaths don’t even make sense. Why would Nightcrawler, who can teleport out of danger, die? How does Angel fly his way out of a tidal wave? Several other characters survive but end the issue in uncertain status: will Captain America and the Invisible Woman live or die? The first issue especially plays like the cross between a Roland Emmerich movie and snuff. By the end of the first issue, the confirmed body count is: Dazzler, Beast, Nightcrawler. That list just gets bigger and bigger.
Never has a “next” been so accurate.
Professor X knows Magneto is responsible, whereas World’s Smartest Man Reed Richards sees a flood and thinks Namor. Like, even when Xavier sends out a telepathic message saying it’s Magneto Reed disregards it. It’s like he’s a cop and Namor is a black man fitting the description (that description being “a black man”). The second issue is a lot of people at hospital beds spouting nonsense, and when it’s not that it’s people in the aftermath of the flood yelling people’s names. No one fares well in the tumult, but Yellowjacket gets it worst, witnessing the Blob eating his ex-wife the Wasp. Blob, drawn like one of the Scoleri brothers from Ghostbusters 2 for some reason, even has a line. “Tastes like chicken.” Can we retire that line of inquiry? I highly doubt human meat and chicken are intrinsically linked in terms of taste, and what’s more the joke has never been funny. Loeb may as well have the guy yell “Your Mom!” or “Suck It!”. (Oh wait, he did that last one in Ultimates 3.)
Big Guns ‘N’ Breasts: That’s SHIELD Leadership!
Reed’s ship is tractor beamed, something he also blames Namor for initially. It’s Dr. Doom! He has with him Princess Zarda from the Supreme Power universe and they want Reed to come with them to fetch Nick Fury, who was banished to the Supreme Power universe after allying with Dr. Doom and sending killer probes to that universe…for some reason. Look, I understand if you mentally checked out by the time you read “Princess Zarda”. Jeph Loeb is not known for his plotting elegance. His manner of plotting is akin to that Simpsons joke of Stan Lee jamming the Thing action figure into the Batmobile. Thor goes off to Valhalla to retrieve his dead girlfriend Valkyrie and comes up against Hela, who rules Hel, not Valhalla. Whatever. Fuck it! Who cares! It’s evident the mandate was to kill off a number of characters and Marvel didn’t care how Loeb and Finch accomplished that. So you have Magneto appearing in the X-Mansion, bypassing any and all security, and snapping Professor X’s neck when he compares Magneto to Pol Pot, Bin Laden and Hitler. I think Loeb thinks this Magneto is a Holocaust survivor. He’s not, but fuck it, whatever. “Fuck it, whatever” sums up Loeb’s approach to researching a universe that was only like 10 years old at time of publication. Confirmed body count for issue 2: Wasp, Professor X.
Dammit, when you step on a sidewalk crack it’s supposed to break your mother‘s back.
That’s a pretty paltry kill count. Well, the third issue ups the ante and kills the following people, most of them offscreen: Emma Frost, Sunspot, Cannonball, Polaris, Longshot, Forge, Detonator, Hardrive, The Blob, Yellowjacket, Thor. Try listening to Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” while reading this issue if you want an even dumber time. It says a lot that a comic that opens with Mystique trying to seduce Magneto as his daughter gets worse from there. That’s what occurs when a comic goes on to have Yellowjacket bite the Blob’s head off like it’s a candy apple and then decides to commit suicide by letting a number of Multiple Man suicide bombers climb all over him in some sorta homage to Gulliver’s Travels. I still don’t know why he does it. The action doesn’t stop the suicide attacks. It’s not the first and not the last dumbass death the miniseries serves up. It’s hard to summarize Ultimatum not because it’s a complex web of plot machinations but because after the inciting incident of the flood not a whole lot happens. It’s mostly people reacting to the flood, dying in the flood, what have you. Part of this is to serve tie-in comics I’m not going to read and the rest stems from Jeph Loeb being a shitty writer.
It’s a good idea to seduce your boss who just killed 1/3rd of the planet as the deceased daughter that prompted him to start the genocide in the first place. I really don’t know why this scene exists. Did Loeb realize Ultimatum didn’t have any incest so he hurriedly threw this in?
Evidence of this being set-up for other comics comes in a baffling scene in the fourth issue that begins with the Hulk blowing up Dr. Strange’s house and freeing Dormammu. Spider-Man apparently dies at this point. Why are they there? Who’s Dormammu? Why is the Human Torch trapped in his amulet? BUY MORE PRODUCT TO FIND OUT. In any event, Dr. Strange receives perhaps the funniest death in all of Ultimatum, as his head turns purple and pops off, leaving his headless corpse to ingloriously hit the pavement. Fuck it, why not have him slip on a banana peel and fall into a garbage can that’s then crushed by an anvil. A figure approaches the corpse, sighs, says “Stephen…” and the panel turns white. Never followed up on. Not in this miniseries, not in any series. The penultimate issue concerns itself almost entirely with gathering the troops for a last stand at Magneto’s Citadel above the Arctic Circle. It entails Jean Grey using her feminine wiles/fuckability to enamor Hulk into helping and for Reed, Doom and Zarda to pop over to the Supreme Power universe to pick up Nick Fury. “I was wondering when you bungholes were going to show up,” Fury says. If that doesn’t sound out of character enough, check his previous dialogue: “It’d help if there were a Roscoe’s on this godforsaken planet…” A black man (the only black man?) introduced in the comic hankering for chicken and waffles…suspicious.
Whenever you think it’s a good idea to let your girlfriend or child read comic books, just remember this page.
Near the end of the fourth issue we finally hit the climax of the series: the assault on Magneto Mountain. Floating Egg. Whatever. It’s Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Angel, the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Valkyrie vs. Magneto, Sabretooth and Mystique. Immediately Angel gets his wing bitten off and a boot to his neck that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of a recent murder by cop. Valkyrie cuts off Magneto’s arm in an effort to retrieve Thor’s hammer. Still, it looks like the heroes are outmatched as the cliffhanger sees Magneto quoting scripture about destroying the Earth. (Casualties: Dr. Strange, Angel. If you’re keeping track.) He’s pretty much unstoppable here, but I question the brilliance in having Iron Man and Wolverine in the fight. Last I checked Magneto’s powers were “can do whatever bullshit with anything vaguely related to metal”, and Iron Man is Iron Man and Wolverine’s skeleton is coated in metal. Either interpretation, that the writer is dumb or the heroes are dumb, works in my mind. It comes, then, as no surprise that Magneto uses bullshit magnetism to control Cyclops’ visor and Iron Man’s armor to reduce Wolverine to a crispy skeleton. Improbably, Logan survives long enough to stab Magneto, because I guess “gnarly skeleton stabs Magneto” was on the artist’s wish list.
Say what you will, the miniseries did lead to this. Imagine it was Benedict Cumberbatch…
What defeats Magneto? Is it the Hulk? No, he’s in the engine room with Colossus wrecking shit up and fighting Mystique. Nick Fury has Jean Grey broadcast into Mags’ mind that mutants, like 9/11, are an inside job. While jet fuel can’t melt steel beams, Cyclops’ concussive optic beams can. A previous Ultimate miniseries established Weapon X created mutants through genetic experimentation and that Magneto’s parents worked there until he killed them in the process of freeing Wolverine. For that reason I don’t know why mutants being manmade is a debilitating surprise to him. His parents fucking worked at the mutant factory!!! In any event, it changes everything for the guy, who has been prattling on about God choosing mutantkind this entire miniseries. Knowing that General Electric and Dow Chemical own the rights to most of the Brotherhood has him apologetic for everything, even though mutants are still oppressed in a society that fears and hates them. Like, if we found out gay people were the result of trying to make an airborne version of Oscar Wilde’s wit I think gay people would still prefer to have rights. Something I don’t get: Reed and Doom both know they need Fury back to stop the Ultimatum, but only Fury knew the villain crippling information. So what the fuck did they expect a spy who’s been out of the universe for months to do? Maybe they read Howard Chaykin’s Squadron Supreme and realized Fury needed out of that shitstorm by any means necessary.
Magneto agrees to fix the magnetic poles or the Earth’s axis–the comic is inconsistent on what he actually did because Loeb don’t know no science, even fake science–and is rewarded by having his head blown off by Cyclops. Eight days later, Cyclops gives one of those “please don’t kill us all” speeches mutants have to present every six months and is shot in the head. If that’s not enough, the Thing enters Doom’s castle and smooshes his head while Namor in a sealed water sex tube looks on. (There’s a funny writer-artist miscommunication here; Doom asks Thing how he got in here and the art clearly shows Thing entering through a door.) Yakety Sax should accompany the comic for the swiftness with which people die. Casualties: Wolverine, Magneto, Cyclops, Dr. Doom (later revealed to be Invisible Girl and Human Torch’s mom because why the fuck not). Oh yeah, there’s an epilogue that makes no sense, even by this series’ standards. Quicksilver, who DIED in Ultimates 3, shows up at a cabin, telling a mystery woman (heavily implied to be Scarlet Witch) that he pushed a bullet through Cyclops’ brain and the plan to reform the Brotherhood is right on track, as evidenced by the presence of Sabretooth and Mystique. What the FUCK? All this and Magneto’s shitty kids aren’t even DEAD?
“NY Post headline: Van Damme mostly raspberry jam”
Suffice it to say, this comic is dogshit, and it has some regrettable subtext to it. See, Jeph Loeb’s son passed away a year or two prior to this. It puts the story of a grieving father trying to end the world into some perspective, doesn’t it? Viewed through the lens of Loeb’s grief doesn’t make the comic any better or even especially more interesting. The sense one gets from this comic is he used to be so much better, even if you don’t (like me) think he was ever really good. The dialogue consists mostly of people threatening to kill each other, regardless of the context. Hawkeye in particular is a total shit. “I only creased your boyfriend to shut him down. I could’ve done much worse.” He’s bragging about how he could totally kill Cyclops in the middle of fighting Magneto! For fuck’s sake. The comic makes more sense if one assumes at some undetermined point everyone took in a lot of lead paint fumes.
Another problem that carries over from his previous work in the Ultimate Universe is Jeph Loeb either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that many of these characters have personalities distinct from their main universe counterparts. I know this is all superhero nonsense and it doesn’t really matter how characters are portrayed as long as there’s big explosions and bright colors and thinly veiled homoeroticism, but it does speak to a lack of effort on Loeb’s part and on the part of whoever’s editing him. Yet Loeb knows some of the differences, so the result is a strange amalgamation that satisfies no one. Everyone ends up with one-note characterization; for example, almost all of Iron Man’s dialogue concerns his desire or need for a drink. Who does he think he is, me ages 20-28?! Thor throws around ye’s and thee’s and the Human Torch complains the pro-don’t kill mutants speech isn’t “fun”. Get it, because he’s a hothead idiot, he doesn’t know tact even though half the world drowned a week ago. Then you’ve got Wolverine with the worst line ever: “If you’re God, then God is dead!”
Wes Craven’s estate better be getting a bite out of this apple!
David Finch, in addition to having alopecia and looking like a mutant, is of the Marc Silvestri ripoff school of artists and thus has limited appeal to people like myself. He’s okay, sometimes, I guess, but Ultimatum’s content makes apparent Jeph Loeb’s working relationship with Finch largely consisted of the former asking the latter what ‘cool’ shit he wants to draw. Thus explains the unnecessary sexualization of characters, the pin ups, the scenes that serve no purpose beyond being something the penciler could sell for a pretty penny to some collector freak someday. Like, I’m almost certain the Valhalla subplot exists because Finch wanted to draw Thor going to town on some zombie warriors. It’s fine! It’s good! But do it in your own time, man. Some of us are trying to read a crossover here. Finch’s work suffers from the problems all Silvestri clones have, which is that women are weirdly proportioned, badly posed and look identical, emotion is not conveyed too well and destruction looks like sludgy garbage. Ultimatum is a deeply ugly book, befitting the subject matter. The examples offered throughout this article ought to show you that there’s no reason to read it for the art.
“I showed appreciation by shitting all over the universe you created.”
If the goal was a mere deck clearing exercise, getting rid of as many characters as quickly as possible, then Ultimatum is an unqualified success. Superhero universes before and since have tried to shake things up with a catastrophic event and it’s never, ever, worked. The universe always eventually folds; usually it exacerbates things. The Ultimate Universe limped on for a few more years, had one triumph (Miles Morales’ creation) but was otherwise semi-readable dogshit. At least Loeb’s reign of terror ended (he has one more forgettable miniseries after this; literally forgettable, I can’t remember anything about it beyond the title). Here’s how returning writer Mark Millar summed everything up on the second page of Ultimate Avengers:
He’s not wrong!