And, so, at the end, we arrive back at the beginning. “Ultimate Comics Thor” ends where “The Ultimates” began and that actually detracts from this comic. It’s three issues of build-up and politicking and battle and reworked Asgardians winding up as unseen backstory for comics that clearly didn’t have any of this as a subtext. Normally, when a writer goes back and develops a ‘prequel’ like this, it’s meant to deepen the original, to imbue it with meaning, but “Ultimate Comics Thor” doesn’t do that. If anything, it retroactively makes the use of Thor in “The Ultimates” disappointing, because it could have used the backstory Hickman has crafted to enrich the character and, especially, the second volume where Loki appeared.
That failure to enrich the stories that came after it chronologically isn’t necessarily a negative for “Ultimate Comics Thor” if it managed to stand on its own, telling its own story. The final issue, though, undermines the ability for the series to be anything but interesting backstory for “The Ultimates.” It begins with the clever revelation of Donald Blake’s true identity and tries to parlay that into providing a larger purpose to the series, never succeeding. If anything, this issue reads like a coda to the rest of the series, an attempt to infuse meaning to what came before and lead into where we first met Ultimate Thor in the “The Ultimates.”
As far as a prequel issue where most of it is spent filling in the gaps around comics we’ve already read goes, this issue does its job well. A scene with Thor and Nick Fury, where Fury is trying to recruit Thor, has the right tone, while Loki’s escape from the Room with No Doors is rooted in the previous issues in the series and shows that Thor went into his association with the Ultimates knowing Loki was free to make mischief in the world. Having Balder by his side adds to his belief in himself and his identity, showing partly where he got the mental strength to insist that he’s Thor and not some crazy man.
This issue is the least visually impressive of the series so far. With so much effort focused on filling in the gaps, there isn’t much room for Carlos Pacheco to stretch. While he’s a fantastic superhero action artist, in an issue that relies on subtle facial expressions and body language, he looks merely average. His art looks its best when he’s given the chance to recreate the Hulk’s rampage in Manhattan, delivering the highlights through direct, simple action shots. Until that point, there’s a sterile look to his art. It’s clean and direct, but lifeless. One of his nicer touches is the Kirbyesque face he gives Balder when Thor first sees him.
If Hickman is given a chance to follow-up on what he started here, “Ultimate Comics Thor” will not be quite the dead-end prequel it is now. As it stands, this final issue is disappointing in its desire to simply fill in a few gaps around “The Ultimates,” coming down from the frantic pace of the first three issues to a highlight reel of Things We Already Knew. The addition of Balder tries to give it all some higher meaning, some unseen subtext, and it doesn’t work. It’s a mundane note to end this lively series on.