Situations that seem hopeless are staples of superhero comics. If the bad guys don't appear stronger than the good guys, the conflict isn't engaging and falls flat. "The Ultimates" has had its share of 'hopeless situations' in the past and, somehow, it looks like Jonathan Hickman has found one that tops them all in the Children of Tomorrow and their ever-expanding City. Presented as only one of these crises for S.H.I.E.L.D. to handle in the first issue, the Children of Tomorrow have taken over as the primary antagonists, "destroying Asgard, killing the gods -- and cutting Thor off from the very source of his power" last issue. In this issue, Hickman manages to one-up that shocking finish by having S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Ultimates completely useless in the face of the Children of Tomorrow.
The City is expanding across Europe, has absorbed Munich and Berlin, and shows no sign of stopping, so Nick Fury takes a fleet to stop the City. The ensuing fight is an exercise in demonstrating how out of the Children's league S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Ultimates are. The Children are a thousand years ahead of their opponents, rapidly aged and evolved in the City, and the fight is incredibly one-sided. Much of the conflict comes from Nick Fury's suicidal determination and Thor's suicidal thirst for vengeance butting heads with the pragmatic views of the other characters. Both men seem determined to go down fighting despite death being assured if they fight.
Thor's motivation is easier to understand immediately than Fury's determination. Thor lost his people and his godly powers, while Fury is desperate to prove that he deserves his old job now that he's gotten it back. Without stating it explicitly, Hickman builds intelligently on the first issue and Fury's panic at not being in control. Here, he's up against an advanced force that he has to stop and he can't. It's almost like dying while fighting the Children would be easier; The other Ultimates need to rein him in before he leads what's left of Earth's defenses to their deaths.
Esad Ribic and Dean White make sure Fury's motivation comes through in the art. In the middle of the fight, there are a few times where he looks panicked, eye wide, and struggling to maintain control before he snaps back into 'shouty, angry man' mode. He's compelling whenever he's shown, his final realization that there's no way to win completely nailed in the visuals. Ribic and White form an art team that's in complete sync. White's lush colors complement Ribic's detailed, dynamic line work.
The first time we see the City, it's a two-page panel that's absolutely gorgeous. This is an expansive futuristic city that's growing outwards, glowing with lightning faintly in the background. This is juxtaposed with the panel below that shot: Fury's fleet with its helicopters and helicarriers that look antiquated next to what we just saw. What follows is nothing but speed and violence. Looking at these pages, it's hard to believe that Marvel has only been giving Ribic work as a cover artist all of these years. His pages are frenetic and packed with action, always clear while conveying the chaos of the fight.
Normally, you read a comic where the heroes are up against a force so dominant and you're sure that the good guys will pull out a win somehow. In "The Ultimates," there is no guarantee of that happening since the status quo is able to change so freely. Hickman is taking advantage of the freedom given on a book like this. Best jump aboard "The Ultimates" now, because, the way this story is going, the team may not be around much longer.