Mark Millar’s near-decade tenure writing “The Ultimates” and its successor “Ultimate Avengers” for Marvel comes to a close with “Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates” #6, a comic that also brings to an end the 24-issue story began in “Ultimate Avengers” #1. While his work on “The Authority” is what brought Millar to the attention of many, it was “The Ultimates” that made him into a top-tier writer and stands, to many, as the best work of his career. The series of “Ultimate Avengers” mini-series haven’t proved as popular; the same energy and fun looseness that propelled “The Ultimates” was missing throughout, no more apparent than in this finale. Instead of being a triumphant conclusion to a decade of working on the characters and the large 24-issue arc that Millar has been telling, it limps to the end with retreads less effective than the originals, and a return to the status quo that’s far less satisfying than it should be.
Gregory Stark, Tony’s brother, has engineered a plot to take over S.H.I.E.L.D., frame both Nick Fury and Carol Danvers for treason, and stage a superhuman-led democratic coup in North Korea. This results in a final battle between Gregory and his superhumans, and the allied Avengers and Ultimates, a battle that is sorely disappointing for its truncated nature and its resolution. Part of the problem is that Gregory is set up as that ‘unstoppable villain’ that Millar has used before in the form of the evil Doctor in “The Authority” and the Red Skull in the first “Ultimate Avengers” series. With each use, the character becomes less threatening and the resolution less satisfying. Gregory is built up as so smart and so dangerous that any takedown doesn’t come off as plausible. Given his skill at thinking ahead, what could bring him down? The eventual trick is so basic, so obvious; instead of seeming genius, it seems convenient and cheap.
The fight itself is staged in a dynamic manner and has some cool moments. Gregory grabbing Thor’s hammer out of midair and smashing Captain America’s shield is the closest it gets to that “Oh, s**t!” moment that Millar and artists Leinil Francis Yu and Stephen Segovia get. The look of utter confusion and bewilderment on Thor’s face is absolutely perfect. The same goes for Captain America’s expression, looking at his shattered shield, the pieces falling off his arm. Yu and Segovia also make sure that Gregory is often at the center of their layouts and panel compositions, making sure everything revolves around him.
In the end, “Ultimate Avengers vs. New Ultimates” #6 shows some of Mark Millar’s usual tricks: The unstoppable villain brought down by a cheap, stupid stunt, the final letter/narration that sums it all up, and the general sense that things are somehow worse than they began. Except, this time, the luster has worn away and the same tricks the fifth time around don’t wow so much. It isn’t even good spectacle anymore and, without that, what’s left?