Saturday, February 13, 2016

Ultimate Avengers 2 (2010) # 5

Cover Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Published: Sept. 2010
Original Price: $3.99

Title: "Crime & Punishment", Part 5
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Assistant Editor: Sana Amanat
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Editor-In-Chief: Joe Quesada

While the Avengers set up a defensive perimeter around the White House to protect the Ghost Rider's last victim, Vice-President Robert Blackthorne, the VP is having a secret meeting inside with his master, Mephisto.  Blackthorne makes another deal with Mephisto, selling his soul for the power to defeat the Ghost Rider.  Atop the White House, Hawkeye and the Punisher have a conversation about whether the Ghost Rider is a mutant or a demon, as they've been told.  When Hawkeye asks Castle about the "message" passed along to him by the Rider, Frank merely replies that it was "something that warmed my heart".  Hawkeye tells Punisher that he used to have a tracking implant inside him until he was trained to submit to SHIELD.  

While Mephisto transforms Blackthorne, Johnny Blaze approaches the White House fence and starts his own transformation.  Outside the White House, Tyrone Cash arrives to join Black Widow and War Machine.  Suddenly, a second Ghost Rider with flaming horns, a transformed Blackthorne, comes crashing out of the building behind them, with Black Widow hitching a ride on the back of his motorcycle as he rides away.  Blackthorne easily defeats Widow, Cash, and War Machine, but is stopped from killing them by the newly-arrived Johnny Blaze.  Punisher and the rest of the SHIELD force arrive to find two Ghost Riders fighting it out.  Blaze gets the upper hand and tells Blackthorne that he's been waiting 20 years for revenge, and he hasn't got a prayer.

Though the cover says "Ultimate Avengers 2 # 5", the indicia labels it as "Ultimate Avengers # 11".

Though never given a code-name, it can be assumed that Robert Blackthorne is transformed into the Ultimate Universe version of Vengeance.

"Crime and Punishment" stomps into its third act by offering up a twist in the plot and even more horrid, unlikable characters.

I think I would like this series a lot more if the Avengers weren't in it.  Millar's characters in the original Ultimates were egotistical and a trifle unbalanced, but they had other facets of their characters that made them interesting to read about.  Captain America wasn't just a jarhead with a 1940s bias, he had a sadness that made his jingoism seem understandable, if unwanted.  These Avengers, however, are just total assholes.  Even Hawkeye, the least offensive member of the team, comes across as every bad anti-hero cliche shoved into one purple-clad guy.  The Punisher is a neutered whiner, Black Widow and War Machine are sadistic ciphers that spout one-liners in place of characterization, and don't get me started on Tyrone Cash.

The Ultimate Universe was a bleak place full of the worst aspects of humanity, a worldview created mainly through Mark Millar's writing (though Bendis has his roll in it, too).  So it makes sense that in this warped mirror version of not just the Marvel Universe but our real world as well the Vice-President of the United States is a Satanist and murderer.  It's not enough that the politicians are corrupt, they have to be in conspiracy with the actual Devil to be considered evil.  That actually makes me think of another facet to my point above about the Avengers in this series, they're nothing but stooges of a Satanic politician, and they're the titular heroes.  Going back to the character of Robert Blackthorne, this is a world where the second most powerful man in America gets turned into an "evil" version of Ghost Rider, complete with spinal cord whip and flaming devil horns.  If that doesn't give you an idea of how Millar might view the United States, nothing will.

The two characters that actually work in this series are Johnny Blaze and Mephisto/Satan (he's never named in the story, but the recap page calls him Mephisto).  Blaze is sympathetic, justified in his actions, and god damn if we don't want to see him win.  He may be a tool of the Devil as much as the other characters, but he's a far more understandable and even likable protagonist than the Avengers, who are as ineffectual in battle as they are unappealing to read about.  Mephisto, on the other hand, is so cartoonishly evil that he swings back around to being awesome.  He's a villain who orchestrated multiple murders over a twenty year span of time just so at the end he could make two Ghost Riders punch each other to death.  That's amazing; it doesn't make much sense, granted, but it's amazing nonetheless. 

What's also amazing is the artwork by Leinil Yu, assisted by inker Gary Alanguilan and colorist Dave McCaig, which just leaps off the page.  Yu has always been one that struggles with coherent fight sequences, with character choreography coming off as stiff and awkward, and that continues with this series.  He takes shortcuts with his art, particularly in long shots of characters, where details are left in on a minimal level (such as Ghost Rider's chains just being dash marks).  Still, though, his Ghost Rider looks incredible, and the book is elevated in quality every time that character is one panel.  I'm not as much a fan of his design for Vengeance (Blackthorne, never named as such, but c'mon...), with the red jumpsuit covered in spikes and the giant horns made of fire.  I get that it's supposed to be an over-the-top evil version of Ghost Rider, but it looks kinda ridiculous.

This series has one issue left to convince me that the Avengers are actually worth reading about, but I'm still eagerly anticipating the end of Johnny Blaze's story.  Weird how the comic can induce polar opposite opinions.

Grade: B-