As the Ultimates gear up for what could be their final fight, it's all hands on deck for the end of Earth-1610. Bendis assembles the majority of the team in this issue, with promises of X-Men to come, so things are starting to move forward. Despite some promising macro-level decisions about the plot and the focus, mediocre dialogue and pacing keep "Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand" from offering more than a simply solid, enjoyable read.
Even with the larger cast assembled and at hand, it looks like this will continue as a Miles-centric arc, and he should provide a rewarding lens through which to follow this story. Aside from his obvious connections to the other universe, pitting Miles' strong sense of personal responsibility against a cosmic, universe-wide threat that he can't hope to conquer as an individual worked well in this issue. That aspect can grow as the threat does. Pairing Miles with Reed Richards, a self-aggrandizing lunatic who only ever operates on a grand scale, is also a revealing contrast. I'm intrigued to see how these two interact as they travel to the mainstream Marvel Universe.
That said, this issue still felt slow, even though Bendis tries to move quickly by layering the exposition directly over the battle scenes. As they fight Galactus, the Ultimates catch one another up on the backstory through some question-answer dialogue. Admittedly, obvious exposition-bearing devices like this (see: press conferences, ancient tomes) can almost be excusable in an event book. Especially with an event that's been building as long as this one, there usually is almost too much information for one storyline to handle slowly. However, the dialogue here drags despite the speed. Every other line is a question -- and not a specific, interesting question. I could only read so many versions of "What is this?", "Around where?" and "We did?" before I just wanted them to get to the point.
As all these questions fly, Cory Petit somehow manages to keep everyone straight with well-placed and well-planned lettering. There is a lot of dialogue coming from a lot of characters in close proximity to one another, and he finds a variety of ways to establish the speaker of each and every quote. This was a challenging issue to letter, but it reads clearly and easily.
The art reads a little less clearly. While Bagley and Hennessy draw lively movement, I still don't get a sense of scope from their art. Galactus appears about as threatening as the average Godzilla marching through a burning city – powerful, yes, but there isn't any real sense that he's apocalyptic. New Jersey is reportedly "gone," but none of the panels drive home the impact of an entire state just disappearing into Galactus' machine. Instead, what is most clear is the characters' panic. I can appreciate the idea behind presenting everything from the characters' perspective: many of the panels are drawn as if the audience were looking upwards, creating a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness which mirrors the experience of being trapped in a burning city. However, there's a missed opportunity here to drop in one or two scope-establishing panels; in a series that's called the "Last Stand," it should be clearer just how world-endingly awful this threat has become.
All in all, "Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand" is chugging along enjoyably toward its conclusion. It's a solid read.