Reading "Ultimate X" #2, it's hard to ignore how so much of this issue works perfectly, only to have other parts completely fail. The frustrating thing? It would be easy to fix the latter without losing any of the former.
In the good column, Jeph Loeb and Arthur Adams are assembling their cast for "Ultimate X," as they introduce Karen Grant, a dark haired super-powered woman who is desperately trying to hide her past from the world. As the issue progresses, it's not too hard to figure out her true identity even before it's finally revealed, but that's not the point of the issue. Loeb and Adams are telling a story about a woman trying to escape the past, and the nasty sequence of events that unfolds when the past catches up.
And on that level? I think it works quite well. All of Karen's oddities and quirks make sense as we get to know who she really is and why she's hiding, and by having Karen's mundane life built up piece by piece, the inevitable destruction of that normalcy becomes that much more sad when the breaking point comes.
If that's not enough, we've got absolutely gorgeous pencils from Adams. Adams is doing a great job here, drawing everyone in the issue beautifully. It's easy to look at the big moments the first time you read the comic, like the huge hulking villain towering over children in the food court, or the creepy expression on the other villain's face when she reveals herself. They're moments with a great visual punch that will instantly stick with you. But with Adams, there's more than just that. It's the little moments that stand out on a second reading, like Karen's slightly off-balance posture when she walks into the store and is surprised, or the perplexed look on Dave's face when Karen finds out where the photograph is from. I love that he not only puts a lot of care into drawing all of his characters, for that matter, but the backgrounds too. From spiral brick patterns on the ground to the entire interior of a mall, everything's thought through to its conclusion.
My one big complaint, though, is Loeb's overuse of narration boxes throughout the issue. They're everywhere, showing us Dave's thoughts as he explains everything that's going on. The problem is, they're usually unnecessary. Strip most of them away and you end up with a well-told story that lets the reader fill in any remaining gaps (most of which are already bridged with dialogue or art, anyway). But instead? It's a hideously overwritten script, one that feels like Loeb was paid by the word rather than by the issue. I hate to say it, but the narration in this comic is so obtrusive that it drags the overall book down quite a few notches.
At the end of the day, the overused narration transforms it from a great book to just a good one, it's so annoying. Hopefully once Loeb finishes introducing his cast (since this same technique was used in the first issue) he'll ditch this storytelling technique, because it's getting in the way of what is otherwise a strong collaboration between Loeb and Adams. Until then, though, I guess I'll just try and ignore as many of them as possible. If you do that, well, you'll probably end up a lot happier.