Before I left for Comic-Con, a few new comics had arrived on my doorstep. I could let them be lost to the mists of time (otherwise known as my backlog bookshelf) but I figured I’d talk about some Ultimates, Wolverine, and Billy the Kid instead.
Now I remember when “The Ultimates” first launched and it was truly an event. Mark Millar (back before he became truly awful) and Bryan Hitch (who can still knock it out of the park) working on a comic together!? That sounds awesome enough for me to pick it up in single issue form! It was a mistake that I wouldn’t make again as the series was as good as its release schedule was erratic. Nowadays... I liked Jonathan Hickman’s take on the characters much more than I was expecting to, yet his successor Sam Humphries has only done a serviceable job in picking up the reins.
That continues in the latest volume of Ultimate Comics Ultimates, and while it has the “By Sam Humphries vol. 1” on the spine, this is actually his second arc on the title following the “Divided We Fall/United We Stand” event and his swan song as well. Things pick up right after Hydra’s defeat with the terrorist militia organization going underground, complicating President Captain America and the Ultimates’ efforts to deal with them. Making matters worse is that Nick Fury appears to have gone rogue and is aiding a Hydra cell too. Meanwhile Sue Storm and Thor try to unlock the mystery of the gem that the norse god’s son had and it leads them to a familiar-looking gauntlet with more gems of its own.
Humphries keeps the action flowing at a steady clip and throws a few twists and new concepts in to keep things from being too predictable. Still, it all winds up being a stunning display of competence and nothing more. We should be thrilled by the appearance of the Infinity Gauntlet and “West Coast Ultimates,” as well as Cap’s tough-talk presidency, but for all of the fury surrounding them, there’s nothing really new or interesting being done with these concepts. Cap’s decision at the end of the volume also feels like a giant cop-out as well. The art comes from Dale Eaglesham, Scot Eaton and Joe Bennett and it’s solid but not spectacular just like the story itself.
Wolverine & The X-Men vol. 5, however, is a title that wipes its ass with competency in its ceaseless struggle to be the single craziest superhero comic on the stands. That may rub some people the wrong way and this volume represents the closest the series has come to doing that to me. It’s all because of THE MURDER CIRCUS OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER and how they kidnap the staff of the Jean Grey School and turn them into circus performers. Say goodbye to Wolverine and hello to Revolto the Clown! This leaves the kids to save the day along with a reluctant member of the Hellfire Club.
The story is bizarre and over-the-top even by this title’s standards, which means it walks right up to the edge of “crazy” and nearly teeters over into “ridiculous.” I still found it enjoyable overall, but now I can understand why people have issues with the book’s tone. This story is only half the book with the other three issues containing a transitional story from “Avengers vs. X-Men” as new students are introduced and potential teachers are interviewed, Angel trying to recruit a new mutant in Brazil before Mystique and the Silver Samurai get to her, and a relaxed slice-of-school-life story that helps decompress from the circus craziness and sets up future stories. They’re all very good, while Kitty Pryde’s interviews with the teaching hopefuls and Quentin Quire hitting on a time-displaced Jean Grey are priceless and almost worth the price of the book by themselves.
Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness is a different sort of crazy. One where humor is still present, but darker and surrounded by horror as well. This is the third volume of the series co-written by Eric Powell of “The Goon” infamy and co-written/illustrated by his frequent collaborator Kyle Hotz. I’ll say it right now that while the first volume is the best of the bunch all three are ultimately worth your time. Reading the second one first is kind of a requirement here as it picks up on the kidnapping of the lizard-skinned Callahan as Billy and his freakshow companions scour the Scottish highlands for their friend. This story being what it is, they wind up encountering a village who thinks that they’re in league with the devil before escaping to find shelter in a nearby castle. A castle that happens to have Dracula (yes, THAT Dracula) as its lord.
Do things immediately go from bad to worse? Well, they have a great dinner first and then Billy gets a bath from some of Dracula’s women. THEN they start getting bad. Like its predecessors, “The Orm of Loch Ness” is a witty horror/adventure/comedy that feels like the kind of comics people should be making movies out of. Hotz’s art also gives the book a wonderfully bizarre and creepy feel, and even if the flow of events is somewhat predictable it’s put together well enough that you’ll want to go along with everything. Only a subplot about a serial killing freak and an ending which tries to do a bit too much and wrap everything up in a too-clever manner keep the volume from reaching its full potential. It’s too bad that the ending seems to indicate that this will be the last we’ll see of Billy and his crew. I think the concept still has a lot of mileage left in it.