Ultimate End #4 is an ultimate mess.
There, I said it so you don’t have to.
We’re eighty percent of the way through Ultimate End’s five-issue miniseries (leaving off in Ultimate End #3 with 616!Stark’s rescue of 616!Banner from 1610!Fury’s clutches after the two Hulks clashed at the Raft, allowing dangerous prisoners like the 1610!Punisher to escape from prison), and yet it feels like every issue is a rehashing of the same exact idea without ever reaching the payoff it continues to promise its readers.
“Look! Here’s two universes you know and love! Here’s two of the same person! Oh no, now they’re fighting! However can they coexist?”
At this point, I’m bored out of my skull.
Before it began, Ultimate End seemed as if it would be the final culmination of the Ultimates universe, a summation of what came before and a launching point for what is yet to come. Reuniting one of the quintessential Ultimates creative teams, it would be a combination of excellent visuals and storytelling to finally deliver the long-awaited crossover between Earth-616 and Earth-1610 that had been teased to readers for years.
How would these two similar-yet-so-different universes mesh? What happens when you put two of the same person in a room and ask them to work together? Would the worlds be shocked at each other’s histories? Would they live separately or together? Would they pool their resources for the greater good? Is there a limit of what they could achieve when combined?
Apparently, according to Ultimate End, they just get mad at each other and have a great big battle, but only after arguing back and forth pointlessly for a long time.
After four whole issues, after watching the heroes clash and come together and clash again, the Great Big Battle that everything leads up to is caused by the two Tony Starks disagreeing on what to do with the information they’ve discovered about tearing holes between dimensions.
Every single remaining hero (including ones that had previously been dead; I’m looking at you, Ults!Captain America) decides to arm up and fight against their counterpart universe because the Starks disagree on what to do with research? It’s true; Ults!Stark wants to present their research to Doom’s Foundation for inexplicably stupid reasons and 616!Stark obviously disagrees. But that’s what causes the heroes to break into all-out war instead of, you know, actually doing something about the fact that their universes have merged and are not supposed to be like that?
That makes no sense.
Plot threads are picked up and dropped from issue to issue and page to page (why was it so important to rescue Dr. Banner if he does virtually nothing afterwards? Why all the fuss about everyone knowing Spider-Man’s secret identity? Why is Miles Morales the only person who can foil Doom’s plans, and how did he get to Manhattan after being sent who knows where by the late Dr. Strange? Nobody knows). The big mystery of the 1610!Punisher’s crazed vendetta against all heroes is exactly that– a big mystery. We are given no rationale behind his actions, no reason for why he hates the heroes so much, and no explanation for why this plot line is awkwardly shoehorned in with the rest of the disjointed plotlines.
Let’s be clear about this: I am not a newcomer to the Marvel universe. I am not a newcomer to the Ultimate universe, either: I’ve been reading (but not necessarily enjoying) Ultimate Comics for quite some time. I am the theoretical reader that this sort of series should be aimed towards: a long-time reader of both universes, invested in the characters and backstories of both, and interested in how they can be combined.
Despite all of this, there are pieces of the story in Ultimate End that do not make sense to me. Even with my much-larger-than-it-should-be pool of comics knowledge, I cannot understand why characters are acting in the ways that they are. To me, that suggests not a lack of knowledge on my part, but rather a poorly-formed plot that doesn’t even contain the necessary information to allow its audience to fully understand its story.
Ultimate End is not an enjoyable read, but rather a downright frustrating one. Its pacing is incredibly slow and retraces its own steps time and time again (suggesting that issue #5 will be highly rushed). There is an inordinate amount of talking and arguing about issues instead of actually doing things about them. Its belated inclusion of the larger event of Secret Wars is too little, too late, and ultimately meaningless. (Oh, no, Doom wants the two universes to destroy each other so he won’t have to do it himself. Behold, the Great Laziness of God-Emperor Doom.) The storyline of Ultimate End picks up and drops plot threads like hot potatoes, and doesn’t establish the information necessary to comprehend some of said plots. It’s a chore to slog through and a relief to put it down.
Granted, this fourth issue does contain some of the best art we’ve seen in the entire series. Bagley, Hanna, and Ponsor deliver some truly eye-catching visuals in the large battle scenes, and there’s a greater use of more detailed backgrounds than in previous issues. It can still be a challenge to distinguish a character’s universe of origin without the 616/1610 lettering quirk (which I still heavily appreciate), but they’re all drawn well in this issue.
There are some minor issues, but overall the art of Ultimate End #4 holds together much more successfully than the content of the issue itself. The cover art is strangely truncated, with black sidebars on either side of the image instead of the full-width cover that was seen in previews. Despite some spine-breaking and gravity-defying poses in the middle of battles, the fight scenes are action-packed and interesting to look at, and one such battle delivers what’s probably my absolute favorite panel from this entire series.
This panel is heaven for an Iron Man fan (look at all the armors! The shoulderpads armor! The undersea armor! The bumblebee armor! The original armor! The Extremis armor! The hypervelocity armor! The Silver Age armor! The faceplate with a nose! So many armors), and I love everything about it.
Sadly, my love for a single panel is nowhere near enough to redeem the wide variety of problems found in Ultimate End. This is one comic that I will indeed be glad to see ultimately end.
Ultimate End #4 was written by Brian Michael Bendis, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Justin Ponsor, and lettering by VC’s Cory Petit.
Images courtesy of Marvel
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