This is the very first page of Ultimates 3 #1, and things go very wrong immediately:
The very first part of the book, the dateline box in the upper left corner of the very first panel is pointless and confusing, setting the tone for the next 100 pages or so.
The place is Tony Stark’s mansion on Fifth Avenue, and the time is “last night.” What does that mean, “Last night?” The night before when? Right now? When you’re reading it? This isn’t a flashback, it’s the very first panel. You can’t start with a flashback; you have to be at a point in time ahead of the flashback in order to flash back to something.
I suppose a story could start “last night” if it were to jump around in time, but this one doesn’t. Rather than moving from last night to today and back and forth, it simply starts last night, then progresses to today, and remains in today, without ever going back to last night.
So, despite the caption, this scene is actually taking place now, and the scenes later in the book will also be taking place now, although at a time in the future of when this scene is taking place, because that’s the way time works. The default mode for a comic book (or novel or movie or TV show or play) is to progress through time in a linear fashion, and if that is to be deviated from, then there should be some indication of the deviation.
The presence of this dateline is, frankly, completely insane, and we haven’t even finished the first panel yet.
According to the title page in the hardcover trade, this miniseries had three assistant editors plus an editor. That’s at least four people who could have at least tried to stop this book from existing. They are all complicit.
The Ultimates—Hawkeye, Black Panther, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, The Wasp and Tony “Iron Man” Stark—are having a meeting, which so far consists of watching a sex tape of Stark and his former lover, The Black Widow (a former member of the team that betrayed them in Ultimates 2).
It’s not just all over the Internet, but it’s also on CNN and ABC The Wasp says, “NBC at least had the decency to blur out the more graphic parts.”
That’s right, both CNN and ABC are showing an unedited sex tape. They are actually airing hardcore pornography. This information is included in the second panel of the first page. Already Loeb’s Ultimates has become completely disconnected from reality. (Fun fact: Loeb has worked as a producer for several television shows, so should be in a better position to know that ABC airing an unedited sex tape—with close-ups!—is even less realistic than a room full of super-powered mutants having drinks served to them by robots.
Also of note in this panel is that much of the background from panel two is repeated in panel four, with only image on the screen and the characters in different positions. There’s nothing wrong with an artist taking the occasional shortcut, of course, but this particular shortcut draws attention to itself as a shortcut, since despite the fact that some of the characters have moved, the robot servants remained rooted to the spot. Get to work you lazy robots!
Turn the page and hey, it’s time for a two-page splash panel already.
Thor comes flying through the room, saying "NNNGGNN," apparently thrown or punched through the wall by Venom, who is in the process of climbing through a hole in the wall, seven-foot-long serrated tongue first.
“Where is she?” he shouts in his own special Venom font (white letters on black bubbles, Morpheus-style). “Tell me where she is or I’ll KILL every last one of you!”
“Nice. And now a word from our sponsor…” Hawkeye says, his pistols drawn. This is actually the most clever bit of dialogue any character utters in the course of a fight scene throughout the entire series. You may not believe me, but just you wait.
This page also introduces the characters, with a little red-ish/orange-ish/coral-ish box appearing next to each of the Ultimates bearing their names. Along the bottom of the spread is the name of this story, “Sex, Lies and DVD,” followed by “The Ultimates 3.1: Improbably Cause.”
Hey, wait a minute… No, none of the other issues have a title.
Is “Sex, Lies and DVD” the name of the story arc, not the individual chapter? If that’s the case, I wonder why they changed the name of the trade to the more spoiler-iffic “Who Killed The Scarlet Witch?” Other than the fact that it’s a less dumb name than “Sex, Lies and DVD,” of course, which has very little to do with the story, and is a reference to the title of a 1989 independent movie. (This was the first time while reading the story that I would wonder who the intended audience is. It would not be the last).
Next up is page four, which may just be the worst-designed page in comic book history:
Man, just look at that thing. (Seriously. Look at it. Click on it to make it bigger; same as the rest of the images). Madureira has the characters breaking the frames of the panels because it’s exciting looking, a trick he learned from reading manga. He apparently didn’t digest the manga very well though, as this isn’t exactly how you do it.
Hawkeye running straight out of the first panel? That’s pretty awesome, really. He’s such an action hero that he just ran right out of the comic! But then the next panel, butted right up against it, ruins the effect, and it looks like Hawkeye might be running past a little Venom, or something?
This is just a terrible, terrible page. It took me seconds to figure out what order to read the dialogue and images in which, okay, is just seconds, but that’s an awful lot of time to spend trying to figure out how to read something that should be completely intuitive.
While I was reading this, I was reminded of those little “how to read” features you often see in the beginning of manga collections, which are there to inform kids reading their first non-flipped manga reading a comic right to left instead of left to right might work.
Here’s one from The Big Adventures of Majokao Vol. 1, an Udon Entertainment kids manga suggested for ages seven and up:
You really need some kind of chart like that to read this page, but the arrows on it would be pretty erratic, and would have to circle around whole figures here and there.
Man, this page…Madureira got paid money to draw it. And Marvel published it. And then they asked people to give them money to read a comic containing it. My God.
And hey, we’re only four pages in!
As for what exactly’s happening on the page, even after spending all this time on it, the final panel is a little unclear to me. I’m guessing Venom shoots some kind of goo darts out of his body at Hawkeye?
It may be worth noting that this Venom appears to be the Marvel Universe or “616” version of the character, not the Ultimate Venom that had previously appeared in a few story arcs in Ultimate Spider-Man. That discrepancy will eventually be explained though.
Next The Wasp and the silent Black Panther join the fray, but they are no match for Venom. Hawkeye attacks again, and we get some just sterling dialogue.
Hawkeye: “Wasp. Go! I’ll deal with butt-ugly.”
Venom: “Eat. This.”
Time for another two-page splash panel! Ultimate Valkyrie dives off the back of a black Pegasus, a broadsword bearing vaguely Nordic ruins drawn back behind her head, shouting “Nobody hits my thunder god!” (Remember, Venom threw Thor through a wall five pages ago).
I remember this image getting a lot of attention and commentary when this comic was first released, so I’ll post the relevant portion here:
Guess what it was that was so widely commented on? Yeah, you can see the outline of Valkyrie’s nipples through her top.
That’s actually a pretty good thing; in fact, it’s one of the two or three times during this entire story where I sort of admired something the creators had done.
See, when people where super-tight clothes, so tight you can see every single muscle straining against them? You really ought to be able to see their nipples. But you never, ever, ever seen women’s nipples in comics. Why is that? Because DC and Marvel basically suck, is why.
Horrible violence, even horrible sexual violence is A-OK in their books, even (in DC’s case) Comics Code Authority-approved books or those that don’t need a “mature readers” stamp of some sort, but the outline of a nipple through clothing? Saints preserve us!
Like so many writers’ difficult relationship with swearing in super-comics, the hang-up with sexual content, which I’m defining extremely broadly to include the admission that breasts may in fact have nipples—just contributes to the immaturity and juvenility of the comics.
There’s an admission that certain parts of the human body are naughty and are, in fact, so naughty that they must not be included in any story, whereas no act of violence is considered beyond the pale (in the very next panel, Valkyrie’s sword plunges through Venom’s shoulder and halfway down his torso, a bright read gusher of blood emanating from the top of the wound).
Are comics really for grown-ups? Is this really an adult comic? Then go ahead and show some naked people you big babies; otherwise just admit this is stuff for teenage boys and quit trying to convince us all how mature you are.
This panel is, unfortunately, the last time the existence of nipples will be hinted at in the rest of Ultimates 3 (Perhaps Marvel got gun shy after the first issue?) There will be several other sex scenes, many of them gross, but no actually nudity.
Anyway, back to the violence: Despite a gaping chest wound that spurts blood all over Valkyrie’s face, Venom grabs her sword and raises it to strike her—“You’re a very silly girl-- --who’ll look much sillier without a head!”—when all of a sudden “KARAKKAKATHOOM” Thor re-enters the fray.
Yes, KARAKKAKATHOOM, with the THOOM being about four times larger than the k’s, a’s and r’s. This is another one of the admirable points in the series.
Thor’s lighting is enough to melt Venom into a very large sticky black puddle, and he and Valkyrie embrace. Thor is talking in the faux Shakespearean sort of dialogue that Stan Lee used to write for him, which Millar’s Thor never did. Will this be significant? No, not really. It’s just an example of something about the series that’s changed to make it more like the Marvel Universe.
Also of note, the dialogue is always in all-caps now. In the first two volumes, all of the dialogue was written with upper and lower-case letters, just like non-comic book writing. That was something that was rather unusual and noteworthy about the original Ultimate comics.
Why the change? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it could be accidental. In the Superman/Batman story arc Loeb wrote that I mentioned yesterday, the one where the heroes encountered analogues of the Ultimates, Loeb had the Ultimate analogues’ dialogue appear in both capitals and lower-case letters, while Superman, Batman and everyone from their dimension spoke in standard all-caps).
Hawkeye, who happens to be pretty insane, starts shooting at the puddle of Venom, to make sure it’s dead. Wasp tells him to holster his weapon, calling him Clint, and she puts his gun in her face and says, “You call me that name in public one more time and I’ll drop you right here in the street.”
Yes, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton would rather publicly murder his teammate than have his real name spoken aloud in public. Hawkeye wouldn’t last one second on Brad Meltzer’s Justice League.
On the next page we see an exterior shot of the team’s building, with robots repairing the hole that Venom and Thor made. There is a box there that says “Today.”
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who sat out the whole fight with Venom, are leaving to go Christmas shopping, when Captain America, who also missed out on the Venom fight (or did he?), stops them to ask the Witch to maybe not go out in public wearing just a loin cloth and spandex bustier.
When Cap touches her arm and says “Be reasonable, Wanda…” Quicksilver pulls Cap’s hand away and says, “You come near my sister again and I’ll kill you.”
This team is so extreme that they don’t just argue and threaten one another with physical violence, they literally threaten one another with death over disagreements.
Then comes another notorious page:
In the Marvel Universe, it’s always been my understanding that Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff was always a little over-protective and kinda weird around his sister, Wanda/The Scarlet Witch. In Ultiamtes, Mark Millar played up that weirdness to the point where one’s meant to think that they’re maybe too affectionate to one another, like maybe there’s some kinda creepy, unspoken sibling lust between them. Loeb tries to one-up Millar with disastrous results in this Look, they are actually, no bones about it, totally fucking each other scene.
While the admission that the Maximoffs were indeed doing it is fucked up enough, Loeb’s handling of it makes it seem even weirder, as The Wasp seems to indicating that there’s nothing that weird or wrong about it, and it’s only Captain America’s “1944 brain” that can’t process anything in the 21st century, like incestuous relationships.
I do like Hawkeye’s last line there, where he seems to be indicating that for the sake of PR, they must put down one of the Maximoffs. I can’t tell if Loeb’s Hawkeye is supposed to be a hilarious parody of a shitty bad-ass superhero or not, but most of the scenes involving Hawkeye strike me as funny. The fact that all of the characters are written as shitty superheroes makes me think that the humor I find in how ridiculous Hawkeye is can’t be anything other than accidental.
With that, Hawkeye takes his leave, announcing that he’s going to look for Black Panther, who hasn’t been seen since the Venom fight, as he’ll need his help tracking down Spider-Man, who might know something about the Venom attack, since that’s his villain.
There’s a tight close-up of Captain America looking intense and not saying anything, at which point I figured out the “secret” about the Black Panther and his relationship with Cap. Have you figured it out yet? No? You will.
Wasp, who used to be Captain America’s lover, is feeling kind of sad that he’s shutting her out, so she goes to a dark room where her abusive ex-husband Hank Pym is hunched over a microscope, and complains about things to him. He doesn’t seem to be listening because—what this?—he’s dead or unconscious or something, drool hardened over his mouth, his eyes open but vacant, and a bottle of pills spilled next to him.
Outside, it’s snowing, and those crazy incest-having heroes the Maximoffs are enjoying the it, despite poor Wanda being dressed in a loin cloth and bustier, with only a long, open fur coat to keep her warm.
Then, suddenly, there’s a full-panel BANG sound effect, and Pietro pushes Wanda down at super-speed and starts chasing the bullet, all the while trying to reach the Wasp via some kind of communication device, and getting angry that she’s not answering him, despite the fact that his few dialogue bubble’s worth of dialogue would have to be spoken so fast that Wasp couldn’t possibly get the message, let alone respond.
The bullet, Pietro discovers while trying to catch it, is apparently a Wanda-seeking bullet, as it dodges him and flies back towards Wanda.
And here, for at least the third time in these first 19 pages, I saw something completely unrealistic, even by superhero comic standards:
Now, I’m no physicist, and I never even made it through the copy of James Kakalios’ The Physics of Super Heroes someone gave me as a Christmas present one year, but if Pietro was moving faster, or even just as fast as the bullet, wouldn’t he have been able to catch it without it piercing his hand?
I’m not basing this on any scientific understanding of velocity or kinetic energy, but on the simple fact that other superhero speedsters in other comics I’ve read are always harmlessly snatching speeding bullets out of the air, by virtue of their speed relative of the bullet making it as if the bullet were simply lying on the ground.
Perhaps Pietro is really, really slow for a speedster, though, and was able to catch-up to the bullet, but then dropped his speed as soon as he wrapped his fist around it, and it therefore tore through his now normal velocity-having hand?
I don’t know exactly, but this seemed all wrong to me.
As Wanda lay dying on the street, a blonde, bespectacled doctor with an oddly carved wooden cane appears. He seems to be Donald Blake, 616 Thor’s one-time human alter-ego, but here he’s just some doctor who looks like Blake; it’s just an Easter egg I guess. He tries CPR, but it’s no use.
“She’s dead,” he says.
And that is Ultimates 3 #1, definitely the worst issue of what is probably the worst comic book ever created.
Tomorrow night: It gets worse! (Not really. How could it? But it don’t get a whole hell of a lot better, either).