Sam Humphries and Luke Ross may be delivering the latest part of "Divided We Stand" in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #16, but they're also delivering the first chapter of what may be the greatest Captain America story not yet told: President Cap.
All things considered, it's a pretty successful first day in office for Cap, as he sets about repairing the Divided States of America the only way he knows how: with his fists. There was never any doubt that this would be the character's approach. Although past portrayals of Ultimate Cap have shown him to be an old-fashioned conservative (with a small c) gent, Humphries tones down his (potentially controversial) politics in favor of some straight-talking, no-nonsense fisticuffs.
It's fair enough -- a President whose politics were pulled from the 1940s wouldn't work in the context of the story, which needs the public to believe in Cap wholeheartedly. Cap is instead positioned as a wartime leader; a great strategist and brilliantly inspirational figure whose personal beliefs aren't anywhere near as important as his ability to swiftly deal with difficult situations. Humphries does his best to sell this as a very good thing, with Cap taking charge of various insurrections and managing to wrong-foot his political opponents without any come-uppance.
Of course, that doesn't mean we aren't due one. There's a fairly big twist on the final page that suggests things are about to get significantly less rosy for President Cap, and more than one character points out that punching both sides of any conflict into submission isn't really a long-term solution. For now it's working, but one of Humphries' strengths is that he isn't trying to pretend it's a smart solution. It's an approach that succeeds in feeling political without becoming politicised.
Luke Ross' artwork has its strengths, but it's always difficult to read any incarnation of "Ultimates" and not wonder what it would be like with Bryan Hitch drawing it -- and let's face it, even Bryan Hitch can't compare to the Bryan Hitch that drew the first two volumes of "Ultimates." Still, Ross' work is clean and clear, and shows that he's one of the few artists working today who understands how widescreen panels work.
That said, there are also things that make it a bit clunky, in particular an over-reliance on distracting Dutch angles and an odd tendency to draw people with their mouths closed even when they're talking, which is visually incongruous. Where we should see characters emoting, we're instead shown their grim scowls.
Even so, this is a story that seems to know where it's going with well-executed visuals and a tightly-wound plot. Far from being a stunt, the President Cap plot makes sense in context and is being treated with sufficient respect by the writer. If you pick it up hoping to find out what Captain America does once he's elected, you definitely won't be disappointed.