To give full credit to Jeph Loeb, “Ultimate X” has been his best work for a long, long time. How much of that is down to the presence of Art Adams, who could probably illustrate a shopping list and make it look better than 95% of comics, is debatable.
What’s not debatable, however, is that the curse of Loeb’s recent poor form can still rear its head even through amazing visuals. As this issue concludes, it turns out that "Ultimate X" wasn’t so much a story as it was the introduction to a story. It’s taken the best part of two years to do five issues, and the arc ends with the team forming. If you’ve got Art Adams for five issues, I’d like to imagine most writers would do their best to come up with a story that’s going to echo down the ages, not an extended version of those team-assembling issues that introduce new super-teams before they go and do the interesting bit.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that, just as with “Ultimates 3” and “Ultimatum,” Loeb doesn’t resolve his story; He tacks on a twist ending and paints that as the natural conclusion. Yes, he heavily hinted at this development (in another series), but I remember it playing no part here (although my memory isn’t as sharp and reliable as it was when this series started, when I was but a young lad of 27.)
The final issue introduces the Hulk onto the team (although he’s been on the cover art since the start...) and it’s wholly unconvincing, giving little to no explanation of why The Hulk should be part of the X-Men book, or indeed, why we’re supposed to believe anyone involved would want him to be. He’s just here because he’s supposed to be in the cast. Also here is Ultimate Nick Fury, recently seen dying in someone else’s comic. We can assume, from the lateness of “Ultimate X” #5, that he’s still supposed to be dead. If ever we needed a note saying “This comic takes place before...”, well, this was it.
Even if it’s not very good, at least “Ultimate X” isn’t the puerile, incoherent nonsense that “Ultimates 3” was. And five issues of all-new Art Adams artwork is worth looking at even if the story is flat, uninventive, and utterly unengaging. If the threads are picked up in the forthcoming “Ultimate X-Men” relaunch, it might even prove itself a worthy introduction, because it does at least establish a status quo, and in its own way it brings Loeb’s involvement in the Ultimate universe full circle. These are all things to be glad of.
Still, if anyone’s ever wondered what “damned with faint praise” means, that previous paragraph tells you. A series most notable not for being any good, but largely failing to be as bad as everyone was predicting. That’s not exactly a quote worth slapping on the hardcover.