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Ultimate X-Men #44
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Finch

I have a confession to make:

When Bendis took over Ultimate X-Men after Mark Millar's run, I was the one guy in fandom who worried.

Oh, don't make that face… and put the gun away.

I still stand by my initial misgivings, though. After all, didn't he drag Ultimate Spidey into the mix just as fast as his little Bendis hands could type it (well, assuming his hands are really that small)? Yeah! And didn't he spend those first six issues giving us a "Return of Wolvie" arc that both A) happened way too soon considering his recent break with the team and B) was too quick even though it was six issues long?! Well… I think so… but it definitely wasn't what Mark Millar had raised us on, and the fact that Bendis' first four months on the job played out more like an Ultimate Marvel Team-Up run didn't bode well for fans of Millar's run.

But, with the current "New Mutants" arc, the Bendis plan seems to be coming together.

We open with Warren Worthington and Logan in the Danger Room, proving that the "Ultimate" universe's Angel is even wussier than his Marvel universe counterpart before segueing into a huge speech from Nick Fury to Xavier and company. It turns out that ol' Nick is onto the anti-mutant cadre operating inside the government (the same sweethearts who wanted Logan killed in the last arc) and knows they intend to strike against the President and his "new mutants", but there's also absolutely nothing he can do about it. The plotters are so high up and so firmly entrenched in seats of power that even mentioning it could get Nick court-martialed for treason. "Legally," he can't even be telling Xavier any of this, including the fact that he knows the attack is supposed to come during the President's press conference on the steps of the Capitol building where he'll announce his new mutant agenda.

"So, my question to you, Charles, is… What are your plans?"

Putting aside the massive amount of talking heads in this issue, I have to applaud Bendis for giving me something I haven't had nearly enough of, lately: that surprise you get when you turn the page and the first panel hits you like a Mack truck. He does it twice, here, and both instances have me anxious for the next issue -- not something extraordinary for Bendis, but considering the way so much of this run has gone, it's a pretty new feeling, for me.

Visually, there's a lot of the standard art recycling we've come to love or hate in any Bendis book, but David Finch does a nice enough job that it doesn't hurt too much… though I still can't stand the way the man does eyebrows. What the hell's going on with those weird squiggly things? And is it just me, or do Emma Frost and Dazzler have nearly identical faces in their first panel of the press conference?

In a way, I still miss the style Andy Kubert used on the book. It may have been a bit cartoony, in comparison, but it made the title easy to recognize as being outside the regular X-men books without going overboard into hyper-wannabe-manga territory. Finch's work could probably be called more realistic and it may very well work better with the repeating panels than Kubert's would have, yet it achieves the dubious distinction of being both dirty and not always jaw-droppingly detailed. I wouldn't call this a flaw, but when you have Bryan Hitch and Trevor Hairsine doing the other "realistic" attempts in the "Ultimate" universe, the stakes get a bit higher.

As for the story, it's nice to see Bendis tying things together, even if the results have been more like his other "Ultimate" entrees than his lower selling, more award-winning titles. Of course, it might be a nice change if his "Ultimate" books spent less time holding the reader's hand through scenes and more time moving forward with the plot… but then look how people reacted to the "monkey love" issue of Powers. I know, it may not have been a rapid-fire plotline, but shucks-howdy did he alienate a lot of fanboys, that time!

C'mon, Bri… do it again.


Jason Schachat

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