Ultimate Power #1‒9 by Brian Michael Bendis, J Michael Straczynski, Jeph Loeb and Greg Land
I enjoyed Supreme Power, the revamp of the Squadron Supreme by JMS and Gary Frank for the Max imprint back in 2003, and I like Bendis’ work; I don’t like the work of Jeph Loeb or Greg Land, so this collection was always going to be a mixed bag. However, my love of story overcame me.
The overwhelming aspect of this crossover between Marvel’s Ultimate and Supreme Power universes is the art of Greg Land ‒ I was familiar with it through the remix by MGK ‒ and the ‘Porn Face’ phenomenon. You want to read the story but you are distracted by the strange facial expressions of both the women and the men; even the photo reference for each character can change from panel to panel. He’s more obsessed with the female mouth and form in general ‒ any excuse to draw buttocks and breasts and really shallow hips, and Land uses it. He may make things superficially pretty but his storytelling is weak and his characters are static.
As for the story itself, the first third (by Bendis) is the meeting of the Ultimate and Supreme characters; this is handled well by Bendis because it is nearly all dialogue between the heroes. The Squadron Supreme turn up, talk, fight, then there is exposition as they explain why everything is going on ‒ Reed sent data retrievers into different dimensions, which caused organic things to attack the Supreme universe, so they want to take him back to answer for his crimes.
The middle third is written by JMS, and involves the Ultimates going to the Supreme universe, have an issue-long fight, then some more fighting before the reveal: Dr Doom is the man behind things. The superhero action is obviously the main lure in a big crossover series like this but it is very flat, just sitting there on the page. This is a similar problem with the other notorious photorealist, Alex Ross: they are good for covers and posters but their interiors are a little dull. For example, a full page of the Torch putting some nova in an Invisible Girl sphere with Hyperion in the middle of it is bland; a double-page spread of Thor vortexing the Ultimates ship is decidely ho-hum. During these issues, the only let-up from these pages is JMS dialogue, which can be a little obtuse at times.
The final three issues are the product of the workman yet inexplicably ‘big name’ Loeb, playing to his strengths of over-the-top largesse with little substance. We discover that Fury got Doom to reprogam the data probes but Doom did his own thing and made a deal with a member of the Squadron Supreme, Emil Burbank, the super genius, who created the infection that was killing the Supreme universe as a way to kill Hyperion under order of the US military of their world. Then, the fan-pleasing return of old-school superheroes with Wanda’s magic causing the split of the Squadron Supreme into the new versions and the old versions. This is very indulgent but it’s par for the course for a big event these days. The story ends with Fury unleashing the Hulk, with more fighting and everything working out. The trappings may be more sophisticated in the modern crossover, but it’s not necessarily more impressive than the old-fashioned counterpart. A bit of a disappointment.