The conclusion to “Crime and Punishment,” the second “Ultimate Comics Avengers” story arc, manages to wrap things up nicely and retroactively make some of the previous, weaker issues look better. While the payoffs here don’t give the overall story a structure that seems to require six issues when four would have done nicely, Mark Millar touches on a lot of small character moments shown in previous issues that deliver here or set the stage for future issues. Plus, there’s two Ghost Riders fighting and call me a sucker, but that’s always pretty cool to me.
The confrontation of Johnny Blaze and Blackthorne, the Vice-President of the United States turned second Ghost Rider, delivers with the Avengers caught in the middle. Blaze has the upper hand thanks to his experience, while both can’t be harmed too much by the Avengers. In many ways, the so-called heroes of the book are reduced to the sidelines with most of their efforts failing until the Punisher reenters the story and does what he does best. However, the Avengers being sidelined gives some insight into their characters like Blackthorne tearing apart Cash, the original Hulk, for turning his back on his genius in favor of living like a thug.
The Punisher’s actions are what give the storyarc a sense of completeness. Throughout, he’s remained true to himself and takes every chance to attempt escape from the program. The end of the issue features a cruel joke by Millar on the character, one that’s funny and sad at the same time.
Not everything adds up completely, though, with Hawkeye suddenly not seeming himself. It was revealed in an earlier issue that he was also brought into the program like Frank Castle and his old rebellious instincts seem to be kicking in again. Maybe that was always Millar’s backstory for the character since he appeared in “The Ultimates,” but it doesn’t mesh well with what we’ve seen of the character so far. Hopefully, that pays off well down the road.
The plethora of inkers as well as the coloring assist for Dave McCaig is a pretty strong clue that the art in this issue is weaker than previous issues. Leinil Francis Yu’s art looks fantastic in the opening pages as Blaze and Blackthorne fight, but it becomes messier and less polished as the issue progresses. This series has shipped on an accelerated schedule and, until now, that wasn’t reflected in the comic. Yu’s art looks much sketchier and simplistic towards the end of the issue, no doubt thanks to a shift in inkers. Pages don’t flow, moving from sketchy line work to heavy blacks to intricate lines.
The colors also take a hit. McCaig has a style that relies on broad, simple palettes that look like updates of older coloring styles than overusing computer effects. Rarely does his work have the look of photorealistic art since he seems to ground his colors in the idea that these are superhero comics and should have that bright, fun element in the art. However, some of the panels lack that, having ugly layers that attempt to give characters more dimension but simply make them look grotesque. It isn’t the case for most of the issue, thankfully.
It’s a shame that the art doesn’t hold up completely in this final issue, but Millar’s writing is at its best of the entire series, giving a nice balance. The art problems are also limited to a few pages at the end with most of the comic showcasing the stellar Yu/Alanguilan/McCaig art that’s graced the previous five issues. Overall, a solid finish to this story arc that leaves a few subplots hanging for “Ultimate Comics Avengers 3,” which begins next week.