Overview

Ultimate Secret #1

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Ultimate Secret #1

Credits

  • Words: Warren Ellis
  • Art: Steve McNiven
  • Inks: Mark Morales
  • Colors: Morry Hollowell
  • Story Title: Ultimate Secret #1
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Mar 30, 2005

Generally, I am known in this space as more or less of a cheerleader for Marvel’s "Ultimate" imprint. I dig the artwork, I dig the restarts and the re-castings, and I really dig the storytelling. So let me tell you that you ought to be reading Ultimate Secret, but let me also tell you that you may not want to run out and buy it just yet.

The "secret" in question has to do with what was revealed at the conclusion of the last Ultimate crossover miniseries, Ultimate Nightmare. If you missed Nightmare, you missed four really slow-paced issues of the Ultimates and the X-Men investigating some kind of psychic distress call followed by one jaw-dropping mind-blowing issue where they dropped the big bomb and revealed exactly WHICH of the classic Marvel stories was getting the Ultimate Makeover next. (Ultimate Makeover, by the way, is sure to be used as the title of some future slow-paced ambiguous Ultimate crossover story. So you guys are my witnesses. It was mine.)

I’m just going to spoil it. Skip to the next paragraph if you want to read Ultimate Nightmare for yourself. Because the story that Nightmare, Secret, and the unnamed third chapter comprise is actually… Galactus.

Secret is the middle part of the trilogy that is sure to involve at least the Fantastic Four and the Ultimates (and if not the X-Men then certainly they’ll find a way to involve Wolverine since, you know, Wolverine can be in everything apparently). And with Warren Ellis doing the writing, the story is told very well indeed. This issue is still merely setting the stage for the good stuff to come, but Ellis has a way with technical details that really draws you into a story. This issue also has a certain Authority/Global Frequency feel to it with its focus on secret organizations, high-tech initiatives, and the vaguely smirking tone with which his characters handle the business of peril befalling the human race.

Like its predecessors, Ultimate Secret excels at translating drama into comic book form. The layouts are smooth, natural, and totally cinematic. Ellis has an incredible feel for pacing and the language of comic books, and this issue is worth reading several times to really appreciate how deliberately he chooses his images as well as his words for maximum dramatic effect. The artwork by Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, and Morry Hollowell likewise continues the Ultimate imprint’s tradition for excellence.

In particular, Morry Hollowell’s colors do more than simply evoke the feeling of watching a movie. They actually pay tribute to it. Throughout the issue are examples of camera tricks translated to comic books. Objects blur when they move under high speeds. Images are distorted by heat waves. Things in the distance go to a soft focus. Maybe it’s a case of comic books trying too hard to be movies instead of just being comic books, but in this context, it plays to the story’s strengths and creates some of the most beautiful panels I’ve seen this year in comics.

But like Nightmare, Ultimate Secret is a little slow to get off the starting block. After such an explosive and unexpected finale to the last miniseries, it’s almost expected that we were going to jump into the meat of the story. Yet for some reason, every single series that bears the "Ultimate" mark in front of it begins with a plodding pace that betrays the ugly truth about the imprint. These are not comics meant to be enjoyed at their utmost in a serialized format. The Ultimate stories, especially the miniseries, are best enjoyed as trade paperbacks, when you have the whole story in front of you and there’s no waiting a month at a time to get the tiniest slice of the next part of the story.

Much has been said about the death of the single issue and definitely the Ultimate books are positioned as the nail in the coffin of monthly series. Secret #1 in fact features only one of the characters depicted on its cover within the actual pages of the book. Apart from a very interesting if not slightly irrelevant lecture on how exactly the theory of zero-point energy systems works, we get introduced to the one new character and then the issue’s over without so much as a mention of what went on in Nightmare or even that the series actually connects somehow to the previous miniseries.

In summation, the latest Marvel miniseries continues all the old Ultimate traditions. Sadly, along with excellence in storytelling, re-imagaination, and superior artwork, the tradition of being a little too long in the tooth and sluggish to begin is part of the equation this time as well. Ultimate Secret looks like it’s going to be a must-read if they follow through on the promise of Nightmare, but that said, it’s probably best enjoyed in trade form unless the story becomes a little more serialized in a big hurry.

-Jesse Vigil

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