"Survive" honors the fallen & emphasizes the future
Brian Michael Bendis shaped the Ultimate Marvel Universe into what it is today, there's no denying that. Despite writing two of the most popular canon X-Men titles and "Guardians of the Galaxy," not to mention his solo projects, he somehow still finds a way to still have a hand in it and continue to push the story. But with Bendis' success in the canon-verse of Marvel rising, it is no surprise for me that I pick-up the tone of a warning of farewell from the writer himself as well as a swan song for the heroes who died in "Ultimate Cataclysm."
"Survive" shows us most of the Ultimate Cast, or what's left of them. They have gathered to pay homage to their fallen leader and hero, Captain America. They also briefly mention Thor, who fell into the void known as the Negative Zone with Galactus in the final moments of the finale. A tad irksome that there is no real funeral service being held for Thor, not that I find myself a particularly ravenous Thor fan but I know he had a tight following for the Ultimate readers. It seems a disservice to be mentioned off-handedly, at best, by Tony Stark, but being this issue is meant to be a segue into the new titles - it seems less important to focus on the old guard and more important to zoom the lens in on the new.
The big players of the Ultimate Universe are retiring or dying off and a younger generation is rising to the call. It's a nice changing of the guard and Bendis uses flashbacks to three days prior to the funeral to show us how the times are changing for the Ultimate people.
First is Maria Hill, who is apparently going to be held accountable for the attacks on Earth via Galactus. Foggy Nelson makes his grand appearance, finally, as a consulting attorney for Maria Hill. Bendis chooses not to reveal his hand a few times in this book and has characters get cut-off a couple times. What law firm Nelson works for is still a mystery, especially since Daredevil/lawyer-by-day-Matt Murdock supposedly died during the last original guard wipe-out event, Ultimatum. Foggy does offer us another mystery as well when he notes the rumor that S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to be shut down though for their failure to do even their basic promise, protect Earth.If this is to be true, what will fill the void that the omni-presence known as S.H.I.E.L.D. will surely leave?
The unplayed card is a trick that Bendis practices much better than other writers, such as Dan Slott. When Bendis subplots and creates secrecy and mystery, there's a different sensation than Slott's anxious paranoia that the plot will never come back up, a loose-end will just be left hanging. In Bendis' comics, the loose end always returns, usually after the characters have stopped worrying about it and even long enough after the readers might stop looking for signs of it. While Bendis is patient and bides his time, Slott is often butter fingers with the trigger and has to keep reminding you his finger is on it, sometimes shooting of too soon. By three pages after the revelation Foggy is working for a mysterious law firm, your mind is already knee-deep in the second flashback and a whole new swell of emotions are put on display for you.
In the second flashback we find Sue Storm and Reed Richards amidst an awkward exchange inside the now destroyed Baxter Building. These once true-lovers now find themselves at opposite ends of the morality spectrum. Sue's the eyes we are witnessing the flashback from so it's strange we don't get to really see her emote to the news Reed gives her of meeting their alternate-dimension daughter (Valeria). In fact, most of the flashback feels like it's from Reed and I'm not sure if this is a decision made by editors Emily Shaw and Mark Paniccia or if Bendis and artist Joe Quinones just did not realize it as they were putting it together. There is a lack of emotional relatability missing in her perspective however, with everything that's transpired between the two, it's no wonder she keeps putting up force-fields to keep people away. Especially Reed.
Though Sue has grown cold to Reed, I firmly believe the artwork by Mark Bagley in the last few pages of Cataclysm properly display her feelings of confusion when Reed tells her what he saw on the other side. Quinones does a great enough job with emotions on Kitty, Maria, and even does the squinty-eyes on the Spidey costume that drives some people insane (because how do fabric eyes squint or act surprised - right?), but the scene between Sue and Reed seems more from Reed's perspective than hers, and I can't really figure out who I want to blame for that.
The two of them discuss Reed's ambition to restart the original think tank Dr. Storm himself once invited him to and Sue's obvious distrust of him doesn't lead us into any sort of conclusion with that. We can now presume this necessary but unwanted union for the greater good is at least a sub-premise of the new "Ultimate FF" series.
Kitty's flashback delivers us the most emotional and visceral scene throughout "Survive." Seems after Cataclysm she headed home to sleep off being the savior of humanity against Galactus. The situation these characters found themselves in is like no other. Sure Magneto drowned half of New York City but Galactus landed and basically raised the entire Jersey area to the ground. Kitty's fight with Galactus was probably the most televised thing ever and as such, she is now the perfect spokesperson and representative for the good that mutants can achieve. It seems Bendis is setting her up to be a much more prominent figure than her canon counterpart, at least in the grand scheme. Quinones gives her the just woke-up treatment and as always, be it Bendis' writing or the art at the time, Kitty comes off as the most grounded and real character in the entire book. Her speechlessness at being asked to represent mutantkind beside the President is the most realistic reaction you could get from a character in that situation and Bendis, as always, delivers us ordinary people in extraordinary situations. A young girl is once again giving up the comforts of being a teenager to do something far grander than herself, and this is coming off the heels of going at it fisticuffs with Galactus himself.
It was very disappointing to see Miles get such a watered-down flashback. Bendis has worked so hard to develop his character in Ultimate Spider-Man that it's a curiosity as to why his part in "Survive" seems to be the least personal of the batch. There is so much going on for his character beyond this singular issue or even the event Cataclysm. Instead of developing that, we get a meandering lead into Jessica Drew's epiphany about starting a new team. Bendis didn't necessarily drop the ball for me, because I'm sold on all Miles related titles, hooked line and sinker. The question is, was this enough to get fenced or new readers to delve into the book? My theory is no, he did not give them enough to be curious about and I hope that doesn't bite him in sales.
Regardless, all these flashbacks lead into Jessica Drew's interruption of Stark's eulogy to announce that in honor of what Steve Rogers would have expected, they, Kitty, Spider-Man, Bombshell, Cloak & Dagger, have chosen to take on the mantle of the Young Ultimates. With that, Tony toasts with a teary eye and the die is cast, most of the hand is shown, and the segue into new Ultimate titles has begun.
Overall the issue stands out as a simple one-shot. It's not necessary to read before you delve into the new rebooted titles, but if you are coming in new it's a very quick read that really places the reader in the proper position to be interested enough to keep reading and maybe curious enough to read backwards as well. The local comic scene will really benefit from a one-shot like this because if a new reader says "where do I start?" this really is the best single comic to hand them before everything kicks off next month. With $3.99 a pop now for comics, (it helps to have that bonus Digital Edition there) it's as good for new readers as it is for the stores. Bendis wastes no time setting up his chess pieces and while I personally want to see more "table setting" as I like to call it, with the characters rather than world building around them, it gets the job done. Could the comic have existed in a two or three part-er? Probably, but for now it will do.
Quinones' art is decent enough though unpracticed with the characters. I hope if he sticks around, which would not be a terrible thing, he gets a better grip on some of the body types. The new Wolverine, Logan's son Jimmy Jr., looks more like Victor Creed and Jean looks like Quentin Quire in the one corner panel they appear in. Not super important, but if he continues it's going to mean more recognition of the already established physiques.
And finally, for the record, Jessica Drew is wearing a jacket over her scarlet-red Spider-Woman costume at the funeral. So I want it known now that if she does not choose Scarlet Spider as her new alias, I will be a monkey's uncle.