If I were Mark Millar, after six successful issues of Ultimate X-Men, I probably would have sat back and wrote another arc with the young mutants facing off against Magneto again. Remember in the previous arc, Mags was blown up with a boatload of Sentinels? In my story, Magneto would return and duke it out with Professor Xavier and his X-Men.
This is why I don’t write comic books. Instead of another “Magneto as the antagonist” story, we get to read a storyline directly connected to one of the more popular X-Men, Wolverine. Face it, put this character on the cover, and it sells like hot cakes (see New Avengers). Aptly titled “Return to Weapon X” because in it the reader is shown what really goes on in that government-funded project, and it’s not always pretty.
With the Weapon X story, I thought I’d be reading a Wolverine-heavy arc. But actually, Wolverine only appears sporadically, until the third-to-last issue, when he plays the Trojan horse. Personally, Wolverine’s best moment comes at the beginning of the second issue in this arc. Writing it here will ruin the joke, I must have read and reread his lines a dozen times, cracking up over it. Let’s just say if the X-Men didn’t work out for him, he’d be an effective Mormon.
“Return to Weapon X” introduces us to the Ultimate versions of Rogue, Nightcrawler, and the poor man’s Wolverine, Sabretooth. I’ve grown up watching the X-Men animated show where Rogue was depicted as a twenty-something Southern belle. In the movies they cast Anna Paquin, an actress whose acting gets pushed away by the special effects and the other X-Men. She’s like Natalie Portman, whose true acting chops were not put to full use in the Star Wars prequels.
Then there’s Nightcrawler. He comes across as pretty shy in this arc. All he does is teleport and use his tail. He does play a big role in the beginning where he leads his captors on a sweet snowmobile chase. After that, he settles into the background.
Sabretooth is a sadistic fellow who gets off on torturing Wolverine. Never elevated to Wolverine’s elite status, he’s always lived in his shadow. Which is a better shadow to live in than say the Blob’s. The fight scenes between these two are great. I especially enjoy when Mark Millar flips between the Sabretooth versus Wolverine scenes and the X-Men (plus surprise guests) versus Colonel Wraith and his team.
In issue nine, Nick Fury is introduced. At first glance I didn’t know this was Fury. I immediately recognize him in Ultimates because he looks like Samuel L. Jackson. Here, Adam and Andy Kubert, who aren’t the artists on Ultimates, draw him to look like Kramer’s lawyer, Jackie Chiles from Seinfeld. I have a complaint about Nick Fury that stems from the leaps in logic one must take when reading anything involving Fury, or S.H.I.E.L.D for that matter.
First, go back and watch the James Bond film Die Another Day. In it, Bond, an obvious inspiration for Nick Fury, drives a car that can physically disappear. That is ridiculous. Cool, yes, but I had to shake my head at that stretch of the imagination. Back to Ultimate X-Men, Fury shows up in Delhi, India. He doesn’t arrive by plane or train; he drops in, from the sky. No parachute either, he freefalls straight down and lands with a gentle thud. Then he vaporizes a group of armed thugs with his sunglasses. Finally to escape detection, he passes through a wall, turns invisible, and then dispatches seven more soldiers when he reappears.
A lot of people who saw Die Another Day felt like the Bond franchise had jumped the shark with that whole sequence. This early on in the Ultimate X-Men series, I would hate to see the writers do the same thing. I wish they would write Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. in a more realistic fashion, regular Marvel Universe, and Ultimate.
With that minor criticism, this arc seriously rocked. I had a hard time putting it down. Reading it in a trade paperback format is nice because I can read two issues, take a break, and read another few issues. I also don’t have to wait a month or two for the next one to come out. Plus it helps when I have to flip back and reread something I didn’t catch the first time around. Otherwise, I have to open up the long box, thumb through all my issues, and peel off the tape from the plastic…well you get the picture.
Without giving much away, the premise of the arc is “What if the X-Men were turned into weapons that the government could put to use when needed?” It doesn’t bode well for the human / mutant relationship when all is revealed behind the walls of Weapon X. Even I sympathize with the X-Men and wouldn’t mind seeing them go all out with their powers against their captors. The surprise guests made me think they just might do that after all, but Professor X instilled in these teenagers his master plan for mutant kind to be accepted by the rest of the world. Jean Grey makes decisions that hint at a close relationship with the Professor. It’s interesting to note that at the conclusion of the first arc, it ends with Xavier and Cyclops sharing a drink. In this one, it’s Jean and Xavier. Perhaps in the next arc, Bobby and Xavier will split a soda…
Professor X: “Do you like movies about gladiators, Bobby?”
Bobby: “I should really be getting to bed, Professor.”
I don’t want to give anything away, but don’t be surprised if a few of Xavier’s students jumped ship and went over to the other side. Maybe that’s a story saved for an arc down the road. I only say maybe because the school roster has changed so much since these first two arcs. In the current arc of UXM, there is a room named after one of their classmates, and you only get that special honor if you a) paid for it, or b) you are dead.
I know I sound like I eat every bite of Ultimate Marvel with gusto in these columns. Remember these are the first arcs of Marvel’s flagship titles in the Ultimate Universe. There are so many stories to retell and so many different ways to interpret them. Do you want to read an arc that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth? Try “Phoenix?” in UXM. Do you want to read an arc that takes a hated era in Spider-Man history and give it a totally new spin? I highly recommend “Clone Saga” in USM. There will always be good and bad arcs, no matter what comic books you read. My approach to it is “Well if ‘Phoenix?’ tanked, I’m sure the ‘Cable’ arc will be better…it just HAS to.”
My expectations for this arc were high following the first one. The first one teetered on the brink of Armageddon. This one is almost a copy of the plot of X-Men 2, but with different characters. Unfortunately, no matter what, the X-Men still aren’t ready to be accepted by the rest of the world. Hopefully those feelings will change in future arcs; maybe a “world tour” is in order….
As luck would have it, that IS the title of the next arc!