Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ultimates 3 #2

Previously in Ultimates 3: A leaked sex-tape of Tony “Iron Man” Stark and Natasha “The Black Widow” Romanova was leaked to the media and aired un-edited on ABC and CNN, Venom attacked The Ultimates’ mansion headquarters and was ultimately melted by Thor, The Wasp revealed to Captain America that brother and sister Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are indeed fucking, Wasp then discovered that Hank “Giant Man”/“Ant-Man” Pym was either dead or unconscious from having taken a bunch of pills, and someone killed The Scarlet Witch using some sort of special Quicksilver-dodging, Scarlet Witch-seeking mini-missile. (Much more detail here).


The second issue of Ultimates 3 is much better than the first, which probably isn’t saying too much, considering that it wouldn’t have been possible for it to be any worse. Still, as I sat down to write-up my synopsis of and thoughts on this issue, I realized I had hardly scanned any images from it, so there were relatively few “Oh my God you need to see this to believe it!” type of scenes.

Perhaps that’s because this second issue is pretty much all fighting? And while the dialogue is unbelievably bad and the action uninspired, pointless and occasionally incompetently conveyed, it’s at least better than all the attempts to advance a plot that occurred in the previous issue.

As in the previous issue though, Jeph Loeb displays an disturbing lack of understanding of either the way linear and non-linear narratives work or what it’s like to live in the fourth dimension. Perhaps a combination of the two?

The first panel of the first issue opened with a caption informing us that the very first scene of the comic was occurring “last night,” while the rest of it occurred “today.”

The first panel of this second issue opens with a caption reading “Twenty-two minutes ago.”

So, the first scene of this book occurs “twenty-two minutes ago.” Got that? You probably assume that means that it takes place twenty-two minutes before the last panel, the dramatic full-page splash at the end of the first issue, in which Dr. Blake declares Scarlet Witch dead.

But no, that’s not the case. A few panels later, we see a couple of New York police officers getting a call over their scanner about the shooting, so this is happening around the same time as the previous scene, not actually twenty-two minutes before it.

Later scenes in the book also use weird captions to designate the time as being in the recent past. For example, the next one we see is “seven minutes ago,” and finally “two seconds ago.”

The best I can come up with to explain this is that Loeb saw another comic book where it was used right, thought it was cool without really understanding it, and tried to replicate it here. How would it be used right? Well, I imagine if a comic started in medias res, with some crazy situation, like Superman leading an army of Kryptonian centaurs who are about to execute the members of the Justice League. Then the next page might say “22 minutes ago,” and the rest of the book would slowly unfold how we got from the strange “now” situation.

But Ultimates 3 #2 doesn’t do that. Like the first issue, it is a perfectly linear narrative, with one scene leading chronologically to the next, with noting but the little dateline captions saying otherwise.

The lesson? If you’re reading a Jeph Loeb comic, never read any of the captions. Trust me, they’re much better that way. It’s really the only way to read Superman/Batman, in which the two characters narrate the exact same events in every single panel, deviating only to let the reader know in no uncertain terms that they are actually madly in love with one another but are too afraid to just come out and say it, because what would Lois and/or Robin think?

Okay, so we know the when is “twenty-two minutes ago,” whatever on earth that means. The where is Central Park’s southwest entrance. (Just in case you want to take an Ultimates 3 tour of the city at some point).

There we see Spider-Man, that is, Ultimate Spider-Man swinging around on a web line, narrating out loud to himself like Stan Lee was still writing the poor sap: “Bad enough I went out this morning to school without a jacket… …whe knew I was going to need thermal underwear?

Indeed. When he over hears the police scanner saying a woman was shot in the vicinity of Radio City Music Hall, he jumps on top of a police car and shouts “Oh, No! Aunt May said she was going to see the Christmas show at Radio City…”

All of a sudden, a BLAM rings out, and Spidey is down, a tranquilizer dart in his shoulder. What could this mean?

It means we need a double-page splash panel, showing Hawkeye jumping at Spider-Man and firing more darts, saying, “You should’ve stayed down, kid!”

Here’s what the spread looks like, without the dialogue and sound effects added:
(You know, if the whole book was free of dialogue, it might have been a much better read. It certainly wouldn't have made any less sense, and every reader could imagine their own dialogue, which would be better than what Loeb came up with.)

Why has Hawkeye ambushed Spidey? As he told Captain America and Wasp last issue, after their chat about the Maximoffs incestuous relationship, that he was going to track down Spider-Man to see what he knew about Venom attacking the mansion.

He is apparently planning to literally shoot first and ask questions later.

Their fight lasts three more pages, with Hawkeye saying things like, “Maybe I have gone a little crazy. Maybe every time I hear a gunshot it takes me right back to when my family…” and Spidey saying thngs like “How’ bout you go cry your eyes out on Oprah…” and “Eat web, cowboy!

Before long, the dart takes effect, and Spidey is down for the count, with Hawkeye pressing a gun to his head and threatening to kill him if he finds out that Spidey had something to do with Venom attacking. Apparently he’s not going to just shoot first and ask questions later; he’s just going to shoot, and then threaten to shoot.

Suddenl, a shield dramatically KLANKs the gun out of Hawkeye’s hand, and Captain America says the deranged purple enthusiast must return to base with him “A.S.A.P., priority one.”

The pair leave Spidey laying in the snow, still paralyzed from the dart. That is the last we’ll see of or hear from Spider-Man for the rest of the series. The first third of this issue? Completely irrelevant. (Well, it did give Joe Madureira a chance to draw Spider-Man, which I imagine is why it was included at all).

Suddenly, it’s “seven minutes ago.” Seven minutes before the last twenty-two minutes ago? Or 15 minutes later? Damn, I forgot I’m not suppose
d to bother with captions.

Whenever it is, the place is the Ultimates mansion. Hank Pym is alive after all, as he’s lying in a hospital-style bed, a tube in his nostrils, and Wasp at his bedside pleading with him to regain conscious and tell him what pills he took, as “there were dozens.”

That’s when Pietro VOOOOSHes in with Wanda’s body, and starts explaining what happened in super-speed.

I was going to point out how ridiculous it is that Pietro was expecting his radio signals to reach Wasp and for her and/or the Ultimates respond in the space of a few split-seconds, but let’s be generous to Loeb and assume Pietro’s in shock over his sister’s death, and he’s forgetting he’s the only one who has super-speed.
Wait, Wasp is saying she didn’t get any message…? So she’s assuming she should have received it as well…?

Fuck, I can’t make sense of this stuff. Four editors! They could have drawn straws, and who ever had the short one would have to call Loeb and be like, “Hey, this scene on page eight and nine? What the hell’s going on here man?”

Suddenly the power goes out! The door is blown open! And five villains pose in a full-page splash panel, little pink-ish boxes identifying them.

Mystique! Sabretooth! Blob! Madrox! And Lorelei! I remember the first four from various Ultimate X-Men stories (well, I think Mystique was just the name of Professor X’s cat during Mark Millar’s run on the title, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of the later UXM writers introduced her in this form). As for Lorelei, I don’t remember seeing her in an Ultimate Universe story, nor a Marvel Universe story, but her name and power are pretty self-explanatory; she seems to function like The Enchantress, and she fights Thor in a few moments.

Drunken Tony Stark is struggling to put on his armor when Natasha appears in his room, but Wasp “stings” her somewhere inside her head, revealing her to be the shape-changed Mystique.

Thor and Valkyrie had been cuddling in bed, and Thor explained why he started talking like Marvel Universe Thor.

“For the year past I struggled to prove my identity to the people of Midgard,” he says, “Now, I have no such conflict.”

So you see, he was trying to prove he was really Thor by talking like everyone else, and now that everyone knows he’s Thor, he can talk like Thor. Yeah, I don’t understand that explanation either. But who cares, for no sooner does Valkyrie get her Red Sonja-style chain mail bikini top on then Lorelei appears and tells Thor to kill Valkyrie in a special font, his eyes start glowing, and he attacks her.

Blog, meanwhile, attacks the Ultimates’ refrigerator, and when Wasp confronts him, letting us know that she’s struggled with bulimia for years (Hey, a relevant issue! So tastefully addressed!), Blob responds, “Wasp! Gonna eat you up!” Iron Man saves her this time, but Blob apparently gets his wish in Loeb’s series Ultimatum (Click here to see a gross panel of Blob eating Wasp. Or at least part of her).

Elsewhere, Cap is asking Hawkeye to save at least one Multiple Man to interrogate, when Sabretooth attacks Cap from behind, his claws raking against his back and summoning a splash of red blood. In the next panel, we see Capt’s wound-less back…his costume’s not even torn, and he hits Sabretooth with his shield, saying “I want you out of this house, Creed.”

This leads to what may be the most representative panel of the whole series. This, by the way, is a full-page splash:
Oh man. I’m not sure how comics writers get paid these days, but does Jeph Loeb get a page rate? Like, doe she get $30 or $100 bucks or $250 for each page worth of script he writes? Whatever the amount, I kind of hope he does.

Because I really like the idea of him giggling to himself and simply typing the words “Suck it” on a page worth of script and thinking, “There, that’s $50 (or however much) Quesada owes me.”

Or did Loeb and Madureira use the old Marvel method when creating this, wherein Loeb gave Madureira a basic plot outline to break down and drawn, and then he returned to dialogue based on the final art? Like, did Loeb give Madureira a synopsis for this scene saying “Sabretooth and Captain America fight,” and Madureira just decided to draw a huge, one-page image to cut down on the work? And Loeb had no choice but to insert a single line of stupid dialogue.

I want to know how this page came to be. I am honestly fascinated that this was published in a Marvel comic book, that Marvel paid professionals to write, draw, color, letter and edit this page, and then they charged people money to buy a comic book containing it.

That is 1/22nd of this issue. If you bought this comic book, you paid 13 cents for this image.

The fight continues for three more panels, while in the infirmary Quicksilver is ignoring the battle, and staring intently at his sister’s dead body. Is he waiting for his father to show up, as he knows he will, or is he imagining what sexual act could be even more edgy than incest, now that his sister is dead?

No sickos, he was waiting for his father, who he knew was there the minute the lights went out, he says.

Magneto and Quicksilver exchange a few words, and when Magneto asks who his estranged son thinks will have a better chance of solving his sister’s murder, Quicksilver grabs all the Brotherhood villains and disappears—with Magneto and his sister’s body.

As Wasp explains what just happened to Hawkeye and Cap, a dialogue bubble spoken from someone off-panel gets their attention: “I know you think you’ve got a murder to solve, but, believe me—“

And then it’s time for another full-page splash! This one features Wolverine, wearing a belt full of pouches around his right thigh, and dramatically popping his claws, while saying finishing his dramatic entrance line: “--You’ve got a much bigger problem on your hands!

This image, by the way, is the one that takes place “two seconds ago.”

And thus concludes Ultimates 3 #2.


Tomorrow: Hey, it’s Wednesday tomorrow, and there will be new comics to read. Will Ultimates 3 week pre-empt the usual Wednesday night Weekly Haul feature? No, no it will not. I should have two posts tomorrow. First, we’ll examine Ultimates 3 #3, the issue containing two gross sex scenes, and then I’ll have the usual reviews of the week’s new books that I’ll read. See you then! Well, I won’t actually see you, I guess…unless you have live webcams and stream yourself reading my blog…but you know what I mean.


Hdefined said...

So let me get this straight: the captions in Ultimates 3 #2 are telling us specifically at what intervals the scenes in Ultimates 3 #2 occur before the start of Ultimates 3 #3.

In other words, they let us know that the scenes in Ultimates 3 #2 occur before the beginning of Ultimates 3 #3.

Thanks, Jeph Loeb. For a minute there, I was afraid I had lost the ability to count.

chiasaur11 said...

The main MU Lorelei is apparently a savage land mutant minion of Magneto. Apparently she hypnotizes people.

It's also the name of a Simonson Thor supporting character. The Thor one is the Enchantress's sister, and her main goal is getting into Thor's deific pants while Sif is cruising the galaxy with Beta Ray Bill.

So, yeah.

The Philosophy Teacher said...

Enough, you've sold me. Looking for it on ebay.

Unknown said...

This has nothing to do with Loeb and Ultimates 3, because I agree that they're both frighteningly shitty...

...but I don't think the captions' timeline is a disaster, and I actually begrudgingly think Loeb is using one form of it correctly.

You point out that you can't start a story with a flashback, because then it's just a linear progression of time; you also say that to correctly do the "22 minutes ago" set-up the story should begin with a segment in the present. I disagree with both of these.

Beginning the story in a narrated flashback, without revealing yet what the "present" of the story is, is a useful tool for emphasizing the importance of the present, or for setting up a mystery about what the present could be.

In your Superman example, we wouldn't necessarily have to see the teaser of the Kryponite centaurs at the beginning...we could start with a shot of Clark Kent about to enjoy a bagel or whatever, with the narration saying something like "Until 20 minutes ago, I never realized how quickly things could change." Whatever, that's a terrible example, my point is that even without starting in media res this still sets up the next 20 minutes of story time as essentially a flashback. Then, when the "timer" runs out and we're in the narrator's present, we see Superman surrounded by Kryptonian centaurs and maybe a caption like "Twenty minutes ago I was toasting a bagel. Crazy, huh?"

The other option is what Loeb is doing here: by repeatedly referencing the exact amount of time that's separating what we're seeing from some mysterious event that's happening in the story's present, anticipation and mystery is built around the present event.

Loeb's narrator, from the vantage point of the beginning of issue 3, tells us that issue 1 is what happened last night, and then issue 2 walks us right up to two seconds before whatever momentous encounter happens at the beginning of issue 3.

It's not WRONG. It can be overused and appear overheated, but it can also give a plot tension and forward momentum. It's like a ticking time bomb leading up to the story's explosion. It doesn't necessarily need the framing device of a quick shot of the present, and sometimes it could even be stronger without it.

Again, I'm not defending Loeb or this terrible book AT ALL, I'm just (good-naturedly) taking exception to the idea that a story can't start in a flashback.

Hell, I'm not even saying I like this plot device--if the big reveal of the present event is lame, then the big build-up looks forced and pointless--I just don't agree that it's wrong or can't, in the right hands, be used to great effect.

Aussiesmurf said...

The time technique is a favourite tool of Aaron Sorkin's which he used in a number of West Wing episodes. Essentially the 'cold open' would lead with some form of shocking event (in the final episode of season 1, it featured the lead-up to a Secret Service agent seeing something shocking while protecting the President) and then flashing to '1 week ago'.

I agree with the last commenter that Loeb is being lazy and sloppy where its just phrased as '24 hours ago' without a frame of reference. It is a handy way for placing the timing of scenes : we know that the '18 hours ago' takes place six hours later, for example.

However, to work AT ALL Loeb needed to say '24 hours before the crisis' or '24 hours before the Ultimate War' or something.

As someone that bought all five issues of this comic, vainly hoping it would get better, it was extremely disappointing.

I would say that the worst comic-book arc i can remember reading was 'Sins Remembered' in Spectacular Spider-Man a few years ago. Don't ask....

Hdefined said...

"we could start with a shot of Clark Kent about to enjoy a bagel or whatever, with the narration saying something like 'Until 20 minutes ago, I never realized how quickly things could change.'"

But then we would have an important reference to the present (the narration in the caption), which would help give the "flashback" a point of reference from which it's flashing back. It's all about reference.

There is no point of reference in Ultimates 3. It's all linear. There is no jumping around in time at all. There is no urgency that the captions are conveying because there is no "ticking clock" device in the story, and no deadline under which the heroes have to act.

The captions and time references are completely misused because they aren't referring to anything that isn't already implicitly understood.

Phillip said...

D'ya think Clark likes a bit of lox with his schmeer, or what? Personally, I get lox, onions, capers and cream cheese but that's just me.

LurkerWithout said...

Caleb, you should totally dig thru 4thLetter's archives. Gavok over there has been doing redubs on the dialogue for all of Loeb's Ultimates books. Sadly the latest, Ultimatum, is sooo bad I can't even read it for purposes of mockery anymore...

But some of the jokes he and partner Maniac Clown have done are great. Especially stuff like Thor as Santa and various recap title pages...

LurkerWithout said...

Oh and yeah, Lorelei in regular Marvel is the name of a Savage Land mutate and the Enchantress' little sister. Or an answer to "Name any of the 3 women Thor has had sex with because of "mind-control"" trivia question...

James said...

Nerd details: Ultimate Thor started speaking like MU Thor in JMS' issues of Ultimate Power, Loeb has said he inherited Thor's way of speaking from him. (Loeb is, however, totally unapologetic towards the rest of the book.)

Bella's owner said...

Chiasaur, Lurker,

Thanks for the Lorelei info. Now I wonder if I might have seen her in one of those '90s X-Men cartoons set in the Savage Land and just plain forgot her...


Thanks. I should see if I can find a trade of that at the library, as there's a chance it's even worse than this. Mad and Land seem equally awful at storytelling, but at least Mad seems to be drawing every sucky thing himself.

Kitty said...

Oh man, that "twenty minutes ago" framing sounds exactly like what Abhay complained about in his Countdown to Infinite Crisis #1 review!. Still one of my favorite reviews of all time.

Hdefined said...

Countdown to Infinite Crisis didn't misuse the time reference captions, but it didn't use them to particularly great effect.

They're valid because, as is expressed in the title, this is a countdown. Granted, the countdown is to Infinite Crisis, not to the events at the end of the issue or directly after, but the title still makes using a "ticking clock" time reference device completely valid.

Joumana said...

I'm enjoying these reviews entirely too much.