ULTIMATUM – Suspended Animation Review

Ultimatum #’s 1-4, published by Marvel Publishing, Inc., 32 pages, $3.99

Ultimatum by Marvel PublishingSometimes, loyalty hurts.  Case in point: Because I ordered all five issues of Marvel’s Ultimatum miniseries, I still owe my comic book retailer $3.99 for the last issue.  “Why does that hurt?” you might ask.  Read on, and beware of spoilers.

Billed as a miniseries in which big things happen, Marvel is hyping the final installment as a “series finale that will shock fans for years to come!”  True enough of the first four issues.  But, is shock, minus any significant characterization, worth the hefty price tag?

The afore-mentioned shock is partially due to an evil mutant (The Blob) cannibalizing a member of the Avengers (The Wasp), with her death being “avenged” by her husband (Yellow Jacket) when he bites the Blob’s head off.  Literally.  And, though fans may justifiably expect to see Sabretooth (another evil mutant) rip a wing off of The Angel (an X-Man) with his teeth, or Magneto snap the neck of X-Men founder Charles Xavier, what was the point of Dr. Strange being squeezed until his head exploded?  This is not just shock, but schlock.

Far from being meaningful, the deaths of characters with such history behind them seem much smaller than they should be, the fact that it took place in Marvel’s much younger Ultimate universe, notwithstanding.

There are more deaths, caused by world-wide disasters engineered by Magneto, but it all feels forced.

The only good thing about the series is the incredibly detailed art of David Finch.  His work crackling with energy and emotion, Finch could one day become a master of comic book art…., IF he can learn to be a bit faster, and tone down the super-model quotient among his female characters.

So, am I stuck buying issue five of Ultimatum?  Yes.  Am I done ranting about it?  You bet.  Should YOU buy it at cover price, or wait eagerly for the trade paperback?  Ummmmmm….

Ultimatum is only recommended for the most hardcore Marvel-head, and only if you may suffer heart, kidney or nerve damage if you DON”T get it.  It’s the cheapest form of prevention.

Review by Mark Allen

The Punisher: A Man Named Frank

Suspended Animation Review
Published by Marvel Comics in 1994, 48 pages, cover price $6.95.

The Punisher: A Man Named FrankClassic westerns are one of my favorite indulgences. Well-defined heroes and villains, as well as clear lines of right and wrong, black and white. That’s “classic”, in my book. That’s also an apt description of The Punisher: A Man Named Frank, from Marvel Comics.

The story isn’t much different from the modern-day origin of this hard-edged scourge of crime. A man loses his wife and children to outlaws and seeks revenge afterward. And, even though the reader is left with the assumption that his war on crime continues at tale’s end, perhaps the fact that we only see the guilty parties reap the whirlwind is why this Frank Castle seems a more sympathetic figure than his 21st Century counterpart. And, despite the lengths he goes to avenge his family, there is never any question that Frank is the hero of the story. That sympathy, as well as the dastardly and despicable nature of those vile villains, is why praise for entertaining characterization has to be laid on the shoulders of writer Chuck Dixon, a long-time comics mainstay.

In comics, however, a good story isn’t worth much without pretty pictures with which to tell it. That’s where John Buscema comes in. What can one say about Buscema’s art work? Plenty! John is a legend in the biz, and for good reason. His penchant for strong heroes, thoroughly unpleasant villains and grand action are evident by his expert ability to illustrate them in awe-inspiring fashion. His work grabs the reader and doesn’t let go without a fight. Of particular interest is the unbounded suffering and determination etched in Castle’s face early on, as he struggles to survive a harrowing fate. Very nearly epic.

The Punisher: A Man Named Frank is recommended for those who enjoy westerns, or just an uncomplicated, straightforward action tale. Find it at comics shops, conventions or online retailers and auctions.

Review by Mark Allen