You can’t tell me Jeph Loeb had some burning desire to tell the story of Ultimatum. I’m not fooling myself into thinking every monthly comics writer is an auteur, laboring over his work like a Renaissance painter, so overcome with passion to tell me all about the origin of Darkhawk. It’s a pretense in comics that the creators are just overflowing with love of the characters and this kind of bullshit usually comes out in interviews when somebody like DiDio is still trying to sell us on Countdown #12 and you just sort of know everybody working on that book probably wants to kill themselves, but it’s a pretense we live with because we love the characters and every once in a while somebody does come at a book with passion and creativity, giving us something like Brubaker’s Captain America, Morrison’s Batman, Aaron’s Ghost Rider, etc. (sorry for the run on sentence, ghosts of Strunk and White, please don’t murder me in a grizzly death-trap mansion)
Ultimatum carries within it no enjoyment. I do not like reading it. I do not like what it says about the people who buy it or the people who made it. I do like talking about it because I’m one of those sour people that loves to tear something to shreds with my friends over a drink. So, in that sense, it was money well spent because I can’t think of something in the last couple of years that has bonded me with people over our mutual revulsion. Not even Countdown, which was more funny-bad than anger inducing-bad. Seriously, DiDio thought it was going to be better than 52? If you start a series off with the premise of 52 being bad and you’re going to do 52 ‘right’, you’re already putting yourself behind the 8-ball. And it’s not even a regular 8-ball, you’re putting yourself behind a fucking Batcave prop 8-Ball, something the Joker used to roll down the streets or maybe Two-Face fucked up an order when he meant to buy a giant sized Deuce ball. Sorry, tangent.
Ultimatum is a base and insulting comic book. It seems less a story and more a montage of moments, most of which are worse than any terrible What If? comic from the 90′s. I would prefer those over Ultimatum because there’s some kitschy enjoyment to be had in stuff like Dr. Strange becoming Venom or the Punisher becoming Captain Universe. Aunt May becoming Galactus’ herald.
The first issue was bad enough with a tidal wave killing millions, a disaster that should carry with it some amount of consequence, but merely seems to set the stage for a big playground fight in the ruins of New York, which is kinda cool if you don’t think about it too much but you start to look at some of those splash pages of buildings crumbling like sand castles and you can’t help but think “Whoops, thousands more lives gone” but, hey, thank god there’s a joke about the Hulk getting a boner on the next page, lol. It was around when the Blob is revealed to be eating the Wasp’s organs in a gruesome panel that has her viscera prominently on display that I realized just how awful it all was.
There’s a fine line in writing mainstream established comics, with the best writers making you forget that it’s all sort of fan fiction. You don’t feel like you’re reading what is essentially a corporate logo and you don’t feel silly for still buying monthly singles, most of which seem to be still advertising towards an early teenage boy (which I think says less about the actual demographic reading comics and more about the mindset of the demographic reading comics.) In nooks like the aforementioned Ghost Rider, Cap, and Batman, the writers have held on to enough of what makes them timeless and done enough different to still make their books exciting. Which is why Loeb’s attempt at doing something different doesn’t seem to come from any interesting character or story direction, but more of a sensational, “Bet you never expected THAT!” tack, insinuating, to me at least, that all Marvel and Loeb seem to think we want is for them to defy our expectations in the most gruesome and shocking way possible. They think it will titillate us to see a Multiple Man suicide bomb squad. Dr. Strange getting squeezed to death will stun our expectations. Expectations they created and nurture, by the way. And it ends up shocking me, sure, but not because I can’t believe they’re doing, but more because they must really think this is the kind of shit we want. And, I guess somebody does want it, since it always seems to chart really high.
The squandering of Jeph Loeb’s good will has been a few years in development. I still sort of remember a vague, happy time where I was excited to get a new Loeb book, and he was in that category of writers where I would just buy whatever he put out. Something happened, and I want to say it was right after Hush came out, that I realized maybe Tim Sale had more of a hand in my enjoyment of so much of Loeb’s work than I had originally thought. Captain America:Fallen Son was bad, but didn’t seem particularly bad in a ‘What the fuck?’ way. Utimates 3 was just bad, and, in retrospect, was just setting the stage for Ultimatum in the way that he wrote the books.
I feel like I’ve been rambling a bit all over the place and nobody really gives a shit, and I don’t make a habit of reviewing comics, because, frankly, who cares, but there’s just something about Ultimatum that really puts me off.
Writing this much about something that makes me mad, I guess this makes me an old man now? I long for the days when I could read something like Batman/Spawn and enjoy it. Miller/McFarlane. What could go wrong?
And looking at this now, on the page, it becomes clear: I need an editor.