I'm sure you've heard by now: Ultimate Red Skull is the son of Ultimate Captain America. And Mark Millar probably has enough familiarity with Sophocles to know how to make that situation rife with drama.
But what we get in "Ultimate Avengers #5" is one of those difficult-to-pull-off intermediate issues. After the set up, and before the climax. This is second act material, and in superhero comics, that usually means a bit of added conflict and a race to the conclusion. A race to the final showdown between good and evil.
That's indeed what we get here, but Millar has no trouble pulling it off at all. He makes it a breathless rush toward the climax, beginning with a horrifying scene of the Red Skull's evil and ending with Steve Rogers busting out the not-ready-for-Prime-Time language. Mark Millar writes this incarnation of the Avengers not as a post-"Ultimates" superteam, though that's what it is, but as a straight-ahead slam, bang, whomp action tale. Perhaps it's the absence of Bryan Hitch, but this comic feels like a completely different take on the Ultimates Universe. Not lighter, perhaps, but swifter. Less interested in angst and betrayal and slow burn moments contrasted with epic action.
No, this one is quick bursts of energy, dark humor, and a traditional story told with an edge. It works well.
So the strange collection of Avengers -- War Machine, Hawkeye, Red Wasp, Black Widow, and the as-his-name-would-suggest Nerd Hulk -- zoom off to Alaska to stop the Red Skull from getting his hands on the Cosmic Cube. Steve Rogers, taken to task in France for his "Captain France" joke back in the "Ultimates" days, gets a bit of verbal abuse before busting out and heading towards his destiny: father vs. son, the fate of the world in the balance.
Carlos Pacheco's art fits the finely-tuned pace of this comic. He's an artist capable of drawing an oversized mecha-War Machine, a baby heart-breakingly flying out of a window, and a bone-crushing fight scene inside S.H.I.E.L.D. France. With Dexter Vines on inks for much of this issue, and with Pacheco giving us graceful action and harrowing confrontations, this is the best his art has looked since "Avengers Forever."
This issue has been a long time coming (issue #4 came out last fall), but it jumps right back into the action as if no time has passed at all. And that's how it should be. That's how this series operates. Full speed ahead. On the page, if not on the publishing schedule.