It’s here. After years of speculation and anticipation, the first “haunted” comic book has arrived! Will “Ultra Comics” live up to the hype or will it be less than, uh, Ultra?
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencilled by Doug Mahnke
The penultimate chapter of the greatest adventure in DC’s history is here!
The acclaimed FINAL CRISIS team of Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke reunite for a story so big it could only take place in the real world – that’s right, Earth-33 is back!
With the Multiverse under attack, a team of scientists create one final savior to take on the otherworldly threat…and its name is Ultra Comics! Literally held in your hands, one being will attempt to halt the annihilation of creation – and you, the reader, will have a front-row seat as you become an integral part of the resistance!
It’s another exciting, experimental story told by two of today’s top creators! You won’t want to miss this exciting issue which acts as chapter eight of THE MULTIVERSITY storyline.
Somehow, the most meta part about “The Multiversity” wasn’t that it would get reviewed on a site called Multiversity Comics.
In the massive experiment that is “The Multiversity”, “Ultra Comics” is the issue meant to represent our Earth – Earth-33 or Earth Prime if you’re fancy. There’s been a ton of speculation, or at least curiosity, as to how this issue would work since its very premise breaks at least the fifth wall. And now, having read the issue over and over until I couldn’t feel my brain, I have to say that Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke’s experiment ultimately works. But what separates this comic from many others (or arguably what makes it like all comics) is that it lives or dies depending on your willingness to believe in it.
From the first page, it’s clear that “Ultra Comics” relies on you, the reader. It’s not like your typical Morrison meta moment where a character will look towards the camera, scream, and then go back to what they are doing. Even in “Animal Man,” where Buddy Baker confronted Morrison over his family’s shittily-written deaths, Baker still had to bring Morrison down to his level to confront him. For all the praise Morrison gets for playing with the fourth wall, he never breaks the wall near the readers themselves. It’s the difference between a superhero complaining about how comic life sucks and an otherworldly force attempting to kill you. Compared to his other works, this might be Morrison’s most personally meta book yet. Not just because it openly acknowledges that it’s a comic but because the entirety of “Ultra Comics” hinges on your participation.
Truthfully, that’s something that might throw off a number of readers. If you’ve ever thought Morrison was an overrated crazy hack then you’re going to hate this issue. It’s every post-“Final Crisis” Morrison trope thrown into one book. There’s an ersatz Kamandi apocalypse going on, deconstruction of gritty superheroes, and idealist characters semiironically screaming out ham-fisted dialogue like they know they’re in an awful radio play. And that’s because they do know. “Ultra Comics” isn’t a comic, not really. The story itself is vague and characters drop in and out. If you thought “Final Crisis” was confusing, then you will literally scream at the final few pages of “Ultra”. And that’s fine. Because “Ultra Comics” isn’t trying to entertain you. It’s trying to save you.
The story that is present in “Ultra Comics” is the tale of a superhero named, uh, Ultra Comics. UC has been created by scientists (with the bald one in the background basically screaming “I AM GRANT MORRISON”) to save Earth-33 from The Gentry. The Gentry are the Eldritch abominations that have been wreaking havoc throughout the Multiverse, directly or indirectly, and have now set their sights on Earth-33. So in order to protect themselves, the scientists create a hero who goes through a condensed history of superheroes in four panels (Golden, Silver, Dark, and Post-Modern Ages) and functions as the perfect white blonde male Ubermensch. He gets sent off to some destroyed version of Manhattan that’s populated by corrupted heroes and a bunch of young survivors begging to be compared to the Newsboy Legion. From there, the story flounders around until Ultra’s able to drag out the real villain of the book.Continued below
The “story” itself is fairly cheesy and disjointed, even by Morrison’s “but this is a tribute to the Silver Age!” standards. And that’s because it’s supposed to be. Following the logic of the rest of “The Multiversity”, where comics serve as beacons and signs from other worlds, “Ultra Comics” is the portal through which the Gentry are meant to infect our world, Earth Prime. And with, Mahnke’s art, you can actually believe they’re after you. From the opening page where we see Ultra Comics downright plead with us to not turn the page, we know we’re not reading a normal book. And there’s a polish, an almost too-perfect shine, in Mahnke’s penciling that belies something sinister underneath the surface of certain scenes. He knows how to navigate the pages of a haunted comic too. When you do turn the page and find The Gentry staring right into you, it’s a chilling moment that wouldn’t be complete without a previously established atmosphere of unease.
And, in regards to that atmosphere, everyone who worked on this book deserves heaps of praise, from Gabe Eltaeb and David Baron who dance the entire spectrum of bright and vibrant to dark and grim (with a particularly exceptional use of color in the title page) to the numerous inkers. Also notable is Steve Wands who is downright sinister on the lettering. In addition to the villain’s crunching noises to the hopelessness in Ultra’s voice when he asks us to not turn the page, the unique lettering of The Gentry sets them miles apart from the other inhabitants of this comic. To no one’s surprise, this was a Triple A on the art side of things. Maybe it looked a bit creepy and had characters suffer from MAHNKE FACE at times, but that worked really well with what the objective of “Ultra Comics” is.
“Ultra Comics” is two stories, basically. One about a hero saving a post-apocalyptic world from something or other. It’s a facsimile, a simulation of a superhero story that would makes Miracleman’s Silver Age adventures look like they were also written by Moore. But that’s the bait for The Gentry, the ultimate monster at the end of this book. And when once it shows itself, Ultra Comics does the one thing it can do to save us. It makes the ultimate sacrifice. It ends.
I said at the beginning of this review that “Ultra Comics” lives or dies based on how much you believe in it and that’s absolutely true. Should you place your trust in the comic, then you’ll find yourself vulnerable, under threat from the big bad monster under the bed. If you try to dissociate yourself from it then you’re invincible, free to mock it as a failed attempt at being hip and meta. But I feel like, even if you go with the latter option, there might have been a time when you did believe. It’s a popular sentiment that we look to comics as an inspiration to invigorate us. I’ve seen tons of Tumblr posts about the rooftop scene in “All-Star Superman” and reblogged a couple myself. And I’ve read stories of kids’ faces lighting up when they discover Miles Morales. The marketing for “Ultra Comics” said we’re the superhero but that’s not true. We’re all Lois Lane, looking to comics to save us from some awful component of the real world. Never has that been more literal than in “Ultra Comics”, a title that takes the escapism of comics and carries that fight over to fiction. It’s hard to not see the worst diseases in humanity, like racism or depression, in The Gentry. It’s the worst of humanity, always threatening to crawl into us and destroy us. So what does Ultra Comics do?
Ultra Comics saves us. Why wouldn’t it? Comics always have saved us.
Final Verdict: 9.7 – “Ultra Comics” #1 is going to be divisive, there’s not even a bit of doubt about that. But with some incredibly unnerving art and and the courage to take such a gigantic risk, Morrison, Mahnke and everyone on the creative team have built a book that masterfully highlights the relationship between comics and readers.