Though technically quite proficient, there’s a mechanical quality to this issue of “Ultimate X-Men” that results in something decidedly uninspired and conservative. Given some of the bold ideas put forth in this series (namely that the government created mutants) I expected (and hoped) for much more at this point in the series.
In this issue, Quicksilver continues his attempt to sell modified Cerebra to the United States Government, while Reverend Stryker prepares for his own demonstration in New York City. Believing Stryker intends to sacrifice truckloads of a mutants in Times Square, the remaining X-Men argue about whether to ride to the rescue or not. With Peter’s death hanging heavily over the group, they can’t come to a consensus and the argument escalates to a physical level. Meanwhile, Rogue may have gone over to the other side.
Nick Spencer has all the pieces in place from a plotting and character standpoint for this to be a powerful and moving comic book. The stakes are high both physically and emotionally, with Peter’s death looming large in these character’s minds, but it all falls rather flat. There’s nobody to hold on to or route for, and even the debate that splits the team (or rather sets Kitty against everyone else) feels unexplored and shallow. It all technically works, but it doesn’t inspire. In addition, we spend a lot of time in this issue learning about William Stryker, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a million times before: a dead family, serious daddy issues, a devoted sheep-like following, delusions of grandeur, the “preacher/reverend” stereotype, etc. Spencer tries to put his own spin on it, but there’s just not much to hold onto there either.
The reveal at the end of this issue is the sole bright spot that will bring readers back for another issue. It’s a good reveal (or suggestion) and it’s well executed on the whole. The idea of Rogue changing sides and possibly having been “healed” of her powers as the story implies, are all intriguing avenues that could make for some good reading. However, at this point it’s hard to expect that reveal to pay off powerfully, as the other interesting reveals we’ve encountered thus far are making for a pretty mundane story and we’re only four issues in.
Paco Medina and Juan Vlasco’s art continues to be very pretty and a reasonable fit for a superhero story of this nature, but like the writing it lacks depth. The work is very slick, the storytelling surprisingly precise, and the characters are beautiful and consistent, but it’s hard to connect to any of it. It feels rote and disconnected somehow when it should feel epic and moving.
It’s hard to know where the problem lies, when both the art and writing exhibit the same technical proficiency, but absent soul (for lack of a better word) the book feels empty. It’s frustrating, because the pieces are all in place between the writing, art, characters, and “fresh start” to see something truly engaging and bold, but instead we’re getting something that feels afraid to take much risk.