Comics by committee almost never work well, and that’s the only reason I think Brian Wood’s “Ultimate Comics X-Men” has suddenly gone off the rails with issue #21. A series that Wood has beautifully maneuvered from a bit of a mess into one of the more interesting X-books suddenly has a bizarre misstep, perhaps due to the presence of at least eight creators.
The story continuing Wood’s post-war plot works well enough from a technical standpoint, but lacks the subtlety and strong character work I’ve come to expect from Wood. Some character motivations are not entirely clear or alternately have all the nuance of a hatchet, when a scalpel would be preferable. While the story gets from point A to B well enough, these don’t feel like any characters that I’ve been getting to know and, perhaps worse, I’m not sure I want to get to know them.
One of the great perks of reading characters in an alternate universe like the Ultimate universe is the chance to see characters in a whole new light. When that light doesn’t quite make sense or the character attributes stretch so far from what we already know of a character without enough back up to support the idea, everything can collapse. I had that issue here with Psylocke, who feels like a bad caricature of some other version of herself. Similarly, Jimmy seems to be either screaming or pouting throughout, and Kitty feels like a saint that can do no wrong. It’s all not quite right and reads as an unfortunate departure from where Wood has been going.
Even though the writing is a sudden miss in this book, that’s not the biggest problem. The art in this issue is just terrible. With two artists, two inkers, and two colorists, there are way too many hands on deck and the end result is an unfortunate looking story with truly awkward posing, a whole lot of talking heads, uninspired details and backgrounds and poor storytelling choices. The colors are completely rote, the expressions are poorly pitched, and the artists constantly break the panel borders for no discernable reason. It’s all random floating-heads-characters that refuse to stay in their own panels and it’s the definition of ill-considered and poorly executed visuals for a comic. I expect more from a Marvel comic playing at this level.
It’s disappointing to see Brian Wood’s normally excellent work on “Ultimate Comics X-Men” go astray with a crew of additional creators helping out. What this book needs is a clear artistic vision to match the clear writing Wood has given the book. Certainly what we have here, which is less Brian Wood, is not a good solution.