Brian Wood starts "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #14 off with a bang by showing us a map of the current status of the United States. It's a great trick to help readers instantly understand what our heroes are dealing with, and get a clear picture of Wood's world building. It's also a compelling way to set the stage (and clear it at the same time) and shows the breadth of Wood's intentions for this book.
As always, Wood excels when he mixes the epic and the incredibly personal, as he does here. Though this part of the story trends very heavily on the expositional narration, Wood writes it very well. It's also a necessary evil since Wood is trying to reorient the book before he moves forward. Still, he manages to focus the story in an emotional way by centering on Kitty Pryde -- on what she has gambled on their journey to make a difference, on her fears about what she has left behind and in something traumatic and painfully intimate that happens to her in this very issue. It's wonderful character work set against a country at war with itself, ripe for powerful parallels as these stories roll out.
Paco Medina and Reilly Brown's art is serviceable in this issue, but not as strong as the last. While they handle the epic quite well -- burning cities and fight scenes look great -- some of the more nuanced character work is lost. Wood knows how to go for the brutal emotional beats, and this issue is dense with it, but Wood's writing does all the heavy lifting, to the degree that sometimes the art is actively getting in his way.
All that said, Medina (and Brown) draw a fantastic Rogue, which wins them a lot of personal points with me, and Medina at least has improved greatly from some of his previous issues, which gives me hope that the art is only going to improve moving forward. It's still a very pretty and clean looking book, but it's hard to lose some of that character work when you have a Brian Wood script that does it so well.
As I've said before, it's exciting to see Brian Wood with his decidedly non-mainstream roots, taking on these iconic characters in a world in which he has freer reign than he would in a non-Ultimate universe. It's already smart and cool and I can't wait to see what's next.