It's well known that the Ultimate line of Marvel Comics just doesn't have the imagination of fans the way that it did nearly a decade ago. At the time, it was one of the rare superhero updates that worked because Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar were able to repackage the classic Spider-Man and Avengers characters for a more modern audience. It wasn't perfect, but it worked.
The problem with starting a new line of continuity free comic books is that if they run long enough they can get just as convoluted as the original comics that inspired them. There's no single reason why the sales of the Ultimate line have fallen so far, but I get a certain desperation from Marvel's recent move to kill off the Peter Parker Spider-Man and replace him with Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man of African American and Latino descent. To a certain extent, that decision was made to generate some excitement about the Ultimate line for the first time in years and drive up sales.
From a creative point of view, I can't dismiss that move out of hand because Ultimate Comics: Fallout has been surprisingly good. And it comes back down to Bendis and his longtime collaborator Mark Bagley. They have such a great handle on the Spider-Man supporting cast that it's riveting to see Aunt May, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane reacting to Peter Parker's very real death.
The book opens with an eight page sequence by Bendis and Bagley that effectively writes Aunt May and Gwen out of the new Spider-Man series for good. It's an ending of sorts for their respective characters that isn't entirely unearned. But it does leave another Peter Parker sized hole in the Spider-Man mythology. It could be argued that May and Gwen are taking advantage of some good fortune to run away from their problems and its understandable why they would want to. However, it does seem to sidestep the journey of watching May and Gwen truly come to terms with their grief for Peter.
Mary Jane doesn't have that luxury in the last segment by Bendis and Bagley, when Nick Fury stops by to confront her about blaming him for Peter's death earlier in the series. And what Fury had to say was a revelation about his character. It doesn't mesh well with the arrogant Fury that we've seen under Millar's Ultimates tenure. But as a man who thinks he's the good guy, it makes perfect sense. Fury's despair over Peter's death is greater than he let on before. And if the consequences of what he says to Mary Jane play out in the months that follow, he could have one of the most legitimately interesting character journeys in the new Ultimate era.
The first three page aside story by Nick Spencer and Eric Nugyen about Kitty Pryde, Bobby Drake and Johnny Storm actually undercuts the rest of the issue simply by disrupting the narrative that Bendis set up by something less compelling. If the issue was just about the reactions of Peter Parker's cast and the last scene with Fury, it would have been a much stronger read.
Jonathan Hickman and Mitch Breitweiser also have a short sequence in which Captain America resigns from the Ultimates largely off panel. We don't even see his face as he leaves his iconic shield behind. Fury gets one of his best lines in here "Don't call unless the world's ending," but it was also less impressive than the Bendis segments.
There's enough here to make the new setup for the Ultimate universe intriguing. And it's going to come down to whether Spencer and Hickman can help make the line relevant again in their respective relaunches of X-Men and the Ultimates. It's way too soon to call that one, but in this issue they were both outshined by Bendis. And if the Ultimate line is ever going to flourish in the future then it needs someone other than Bendis and Millar to step up to the plate and deliver.
Crave Online Rating: 8/10