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Oh, Jeph!

Brian Hibbs

Jeph Loeb is an odd writer — he knows his fanboy moments, he’s good at spinning out big wacky ideas, and he writes a lot of commercially successful books. Yet (regardless of positions on WIZARD’s “hot list”) he’s barely the kind of writer that people specifically seek out — it’s far more fair to say that he manages to work with some of the best ARTISTS in the business, and so he has “heat by association” — and, as a general rule, I find that (unlike, say, another “Big Idea” generator like a Grant Morrison) he seldom knows how to end his stories or to find something PAST that “big idea”.

(Your mileage, as they say, may vary)

On the other hand, I think he’s an extremely nice guy, and everytime we’ve ever run into each other at a convention or something, he’s always been extremely gracious and friendly, even if I’ve recently panned something he’s written.

Let us hope that continues after today, for I come not to praise Caesar…

ULTIMATES 3 #1: seems to me to suffer from a somewhat normal “post-Millar” syndrome. Millar is, above all else, a showman who tries to come up with the biggest boldest ideas he can. I’d say we’ve seen this somewhat before, with THE AUTHORITY. What on EARTH can you follow Millar’s run with? Basically, you can’t. The stuff is so big, so apeshit, there’s nowhere else to run with it.

People with really long memories can remember my thoughts on the end of Millar’s first ULTIMATES arc (I said something like “Right, well, that’s it, can’t top that as a superhero extravaganza”, which got me a semi-nasty “are you kidding me?” email from Mark Waid), and I still think that’s pretty true — in making a story so big and “contemporary”, there really isn’t a lot of places that are left to go.

In fact, I tend to think that both THE AUTHORITY (both Ellis’ and Millar’s runs) as well as THE ULTIMATES were very much “of their time”, and trying to continue on, in the same vein, is almost certainly a doomed proposition. That’s not to say it couldn’t possibly be done — anything is possible — but that it probably makes more sense to come up with something else than to try and follow those acts.

But Jeph largely just follows what Millar established in ULTIMATES in ULTIMATES 3, without a whole lot of new ideas thrown in. Yep, these are pretty loathsome, amoral characters, but it’s reasonably easy to overlook that as long as their foes are even worse, and there’s enough ‘splody to distract you.

In U3, there doesn’t really appear to be any especial threat, other than the characters own amorality. Oh sure, someone gets shot, and there’s a not-particularly-conforming-to-ULTIMATE-SPIDER-MAN-Venom attack that goes nowhere, but other than that it looks like a team full of death-seekers, libertines, junkies, and incest participants casting around waiting for a threat to emerge.

Structurally, there’s not much in this first issue to bring me back for another.

Joe Madureira is another mystery to me — I never really got the appeal of his body of work, and his, shall we say, lackadaisical approach to production always grated me the wrong way. I can’t say, based on the work here that I would have necessarily even have guessed this was Joe Mad — it doesn’t look a whole lot like BATTLE CHASERS, really. What I wonder is how much of the art is actually the colorist, Christian Lichtner (who really really likes earth tones)?

It’s been selling well enough, so far (though way below the last Millar/Hitch issue for us), and, of course, we’re hoping and praying that enough of this is actually completed so that all five issues will come out when they should (The Ultimate Universe CAN’T afford another scheduling fiasco like U-2 became. Or even UltPOWER or UltVISION or the dreaded UltWOLVERINE/HULK) But what I really came away from this work feeling was that the Ulti-verse really feels like it is past its expiration date here. It hasn’t gone sour quite yet, but there really isn’t anything unique or compelling about it any longer.

Overall, I’d have to say EH, which is far less than you’d want for your Big Tentpole Comic.


Meanwhile, in things that Aren’t Comics, I really have to comment on the conclusion of the second series of HEROES, and this seems like a good enough place to do it because the final episode said “written by Jeph Loeb” on it.

All of the goodwill I had for this series coming out of the first season (despite its very weak ending) has pretty much evaporated as the show made a series of increasingly poor decisions over these 11 episodes.

(there’s definitely SPOILERS here if you haven’t watched these yet [Jeff Lester])

First off, in a world-building environment, one of the key things which kicks out the legs of dramatic tension are things that are “too powerful” — good examples are the powersets of Peter or Sylar, who can basically “do anything” to the point where it seems to me the only possible things that can stop either is each other (and even that seems sorta iffy). I thought it was a really good move to have them both depowered at the start of the season, but since then they’re back more powerful than ever. I don’t judge that this is going to yield any kind of compelling story for all of the REST of the characters — what good is being able to talk to computers, or shoot lightning or mimic Jackie Chan if the guy in front of you has all of those powers, plus 9 more?

The other bad storytelling idea they added was cheap and easy resurrection. Yow, talk about sucking the air out of the room. This is a terrible terrible idea, and one they need to jettison first chance next season (if there is one) — have the resurrectees gain something horrifically debilitating, as the “super blood” takes over their natural blood or something. Because otherwise, there aren’t any cliffhangers any longer — Nathan can be up and around in about 90 seconds, since Peter has BOTH the Claire- and Adam-strains of immortality now.

But above and beyond the “outside” elements which will render this world as something you can’t care about, the biggest sin this season has laid out is False Jeopardy, both of the physical and emotional kind. “Such-and-such is dead!” followed 10 minutes later by “Ha! They’re not!” sucks as storytelling. Spending so so much time on Claire’s emotional traumas when they too are resolved away (through one of the death’s), or appear to act contrary to the arc already established (ie Flying Boy’s apparently complete reversal of his motivations — “Robot or Alien?”) is completely sloppy and lazy.

I mean, when a quarter of your penultimate episode is “oh no, I’ve lost my backpack!”, followed up by a fake-death cliffhanger than a 4-year old could write their way out of (Duh, Jessica is back), you’ve gone seriously off the rails.

I also completely resent the plothammering going on here — which works even less in a movie image than it does on a comics page. Like, for example, why in God’s name is Peter completely ignoring Hiro when Hiro has proven himself to Peter already? Even if he feels like he HAS to, why is he trying to use TK to rip open the safe wall, when he has BOTH DL’s intangibility power (remember they established him using it to break Adam out of “jail” in the first place) and Hiro’s teleporting power? Other than the fact that the writers needed to get Adam into the room too?

Or, why would shooting Nathan change a thing when both Peter and Parkman have the SAME information? In fact, wouldn’t the live-on-TV shooting give even MORE weight to there being a Shadowy Conspiracy? It isn’t like Peter can’t prove pretty definitively he has flashy powers (Parkman’s are “less visible”, fair enough) — in fact, wouldn’t his first action to be to scoop his brother up and FLY to the nearest hospital? I can’t possibly see how the shooting could solve a single solitary thing for The Company.

Or Sylar in the alley. While they get “cute points” for the Popeye callout, if the first 30 seconds of the next episode isn’t him soaring back to Mohinder’s office and slaughtering the cripple, the little girl, the chick that everyone hates, and Dr. Emo, I’m going to be screaming in frustration.

But I have to say that the dumbest bit of plothammering of all probably had to be Hiro’s “revenge” on Adam. Oh sure, clever little image, except for the fact that he’s DESECRATING HIS OWN FATHER’S GRAVE DOING SO. If it was some trailer park American trash, then maybe I could let that slide, but with the importance they established, and the Japanese cultural imperatives, that makes NO sense, none, zero, zilch. ‘sides Hiro, of all people, should know that you have to actually kill the badguy for it to work — clearly Adam will eventually get out of there, even if it takes 100 years. He’s apparently got nothing but time. If Uma Thurman can dig herself out of her own grave (and you KNOW Hiro was at KILL BILL on opening day…), then surely Vandal Savage can do so as well…

This has been an AWFUL season, with a completely CRAP final episode. To the point where I very much doubt if I’d bother to watch a third season at this particular moment in time.

And I’m the goddamn Target Audience!

What did YOU think?


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