Friday, 29 July 2011

Ultimate Doomsday

I bought this book on Amazonfor £14.99. I didn't consider that a bad price considering it's the oversized hardcover version and the softcover is currently listed at £19.49 (!), plus it features three 4-issue mini-series, meaning it worked out at just over a quid a comic. Sounds like a good On The Ration deal, right? Well, yes... until you realise the story that's told over these 12 issues could easily have been told in ONE 4-issue mini series.

I'm tired of defending Brian Michael Bendis. For a while there, he was my favourite Marvel writer. Back when Ultimate Spider-Man began, and during his lengthy run on Daredevil, he could do no wrong. His critics always carped that he was the king of decompressed storytelling and that his dialogue was rambling and all the characters spoke with the same voice... and I defended him because his scripts often made me laugh and for a while I felt like he was pushing the Marvel (and Ultimate) Universe in interesting directions. But lately, he's just annoying me. And this book is a perfect example of why...

Let's start with the decompression. As I said earlier, this story could easily have been told in 4 issues... or less. The basic plot involves a mysterious villain attacking the big brains of the Ultimate Universe - Reed Richards and Sue Storm, Peter Parker, the brain trust at Roxxon (including Dr. Octopus) and Nick Fury (more for his cunning than his book-smarts). The good guys join together to find out who's responsible... and they're shocked to discover it's Reed Richards himself, gone rogue / mental. There's a big fight, Reed is lost in space, Ben Grimm proposes to Sue... and that's pretty much it. There's a subplot involving Spider-Man's ultimate clone, Spider-Girl, who calls herself Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter for no other reason than that's what the Spiderwomen in the regular Marvel Universe are called. But that subplot doesn't really go anywhere beyond a few dodgy jokes about Peter Parker being cloned as a girl.

So... if that's the story... how does Bendis stretch it to 12 issues? Well, he has two major tools in his arsenal. Firstly, splash pages. I've never read any comic with more one and two page splashes. It's all part of this "comics as widescreen event movie entertainment" idea that's clogging the u-bend at the moment, but it makes for a very quick read - I'd have been mad as hell if I'd bought this book as individual issues: three quid for a 5 minute read!? Yes, Rafa Sandoval's art is quite spectacular in places - this comic does look like a big Hollywood blockbuster. But pound for pound, the entertainment value just doesn't measure up.

And then there's the dialogue. I used to consider Bendis's dialogue hip and funny. I even compared him to screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet... and I still believe that in his early work, that comparison was valid. But he's got too big and too lazy and his scripts are getting extremely repetitive now...

Repetitive how?

Repetitive like lots of characters asking themselves questions that have already been answered in the previous panel...

Already been answered in the previous panel?

Yes, and repeating information that's already been given three times.

Three times?

Yes, three times.

That must get annoying.

It gets very annoying.

How annoying?


As annoying as me asking you "how annoying?" again?

Even more annoying than that.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

The final problem I have with this book is the Ultimate Universe itself. I used to find it quite a fun place: a contemporary, ever-so-slightly more realistic version of the Silver Age Marvel Universe. But lately it's just become one big What If? story, with shock tactic after shock tactic after shock tactic... usually big character deaths (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Magneto, Dr. Doom)... although for some reason I find the idea of turning Reed Richards into the new Dr. Doom the most unsettling shock tactic yet. It goes against everything we know about this character, even the Ultimate version, and it's obviously only been done to make headlines. It's cheap... unlike this book. £14.99 turned out to be a bloody high price.


  1. I picked up the first four issue series (on the ration, of course) and I was livid when I got to the end and it wasn't finished. Why say it's a four issue series when it's a twelve? Are you mental? Also, I think your 'example' of Bendis dialogue isn't repeatative enough.

  2. Yeah, great Bendis parody but probably not repetitive enough. I gave up on the Ultimate universe during Ultimatum, which I stupidly bought the first one or two issues of, even though it was written by Jeph Loeb and was obviously going to be crap. Shame they ballsed up the Ultimate universe, because I used to quite enjoy Ultimate Spider-Man, at least. The stories were never that great and I could have lived my whole life without seeing Ultimate versions of characters I couldn't give a shit about in the first place - Ultimate Venom, Ultimate carnage, etc. - but Bendis always seemed to write a good teenage Peter Parker.

  3. P.S. I picked up a cheap copy of the Complete Ultimate Marvel Team-Up TPB on eBay a few weeks ago. I really liked that series when it was coming out and am looking forward to see how it reads now, years later, and how it compares to Bendis' current work. And I really must re-read Bendis' Daredevil run, which I loved at the time.