After two series of Marvel's Ultimate universe Avengers team by Mark Millar and Brian Hitch, Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira inherit the book. The story begins shortly after the events of the last run, with Hawkeye reeling from the betrayal of the Black Widow and loss of his family, Tony Stark reeling from the betrayal of the Black Widow and loss of a shag, Captain America reeling from Wanda's skimpy costume and the revelation that she and brother Pietro are lovers - forget Quicksilver, this is Icksilver.
Thor is snogging the mysterious Valkyrie, who will likely turn out to be Amora the Enchantress as in her original Marvel 616 Universe debut. Jan is trying to deal with leading her team of belligerent idiots and looking to abusive former husband Hank for support, but he's busy popping pills. Iron Man is drinking heavily, Black Panther is missing a personality. The good news is that Black/Blank Panther is strong enough here to make a good showing against Venom, who turns up, peeved, in search of some unnamed female. He can't just outright say who he want else the comic loses the closest thing it has to suspense.
Oh dear, is my mood showing? What can I say, this is a hideous comic book, with two of the biggest creators of the Nineties taking me back ten years. The most obvious problem is the art. 'Joe Mad' provides some truly ugly figurework - people with fat heads, Michelin Man musculature and pointy eyebrows and hair. He draws more attractive women then men - perhaps he's spent more time looking at women? - but only just. I think his storytelling is OK, but it's hard to tell as there's a colourist I'm unfamiliar with here and boy, does Christian Lichtner like to murk it up. Never mind the cliche about entering a world of pain, this is a world of brown. When a story is as gloomy and cynical as this, I think we could stand some light to go with the shade. Credit, though, to Lichtner for some very impressive shadow modelling on the faces.
Now, did I say 'cynical'? That would cover Loeb's script nicely. His characterisation so far concentrates on all the nastiest parts of the Ultimates' personalities as established by Millar, and amps it up. So Hawkeye is a hothead, but now he's a hothead with a death wish and not averse to holding a gun to a colleague's noggin. Captain America is more a reactionary old fart than ever. Giant Man is just a big old junkie loser. Iron Man is a drunk loser. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch practise incest (and are apparently good at it) . . . I'm all for heroes with realistic tics but please, can we have something to admire? It's not good enough to have the title characters triumph at the end of the series and sigh, see, they're heroes after all. If they're not at base decent people, or at least trying to be, then I can't give a toss for them and won't be around for the conclusion. At the moment it seems no one in the team likes anyone else bar - and again, I say thee ICK! -Wanda and Pietro. I might as well cheer on Venom, at least he's acting his part by being villainous.
Spider-Man and Wolverine are set to hook up with the Ultimates in future issues. Me, I'm off to find a nice car smash to rubberneck. It leaves a better taste in the mouth.