Review by Frank Plowright
This Ultimate Collection reprints the entire year Brian Michael Bendis spent with Ultimate X-Men, and was previously issued in hardcover as Ultimate X-Men Vol. 4 (see alternate cover). The hardback’s cover is in some ways more representative as Bendis has little interest in most of the cast. It’s a third of the way through before any X-Men other than Wolverine are seen, and the dangling plots left by Mark Millar in Vol. 3 are of no greater interest, most dealt with in passing and superficially. However, if that’s not any great concern, these are two enthralling and unpredictable outings.
Wolverine being hunted by deadly persons unknown forms the basis of the first story, which is six chapters of continuous action rush beginning when he’s caught with his guard down. In preference to the X-Men he turns to Spider-Man for help, while Black Widow and Daredevil also have significant roles before the X-Men are seen in the fifth of six chapters. As writer of Ultimate Spider-Man at the time, there’s no questioning the mixture of wonder and uncertainty characterising the convincingly youthful Peter Parker, while Wolverine could be the standard version. Their forced partnership works, and the tension is kept high as Wolverine’s back remains against the wall throughout.
David Finch draws the entire book, the first half more action-led, the second more plot driven, and is spectacular on every page. You’d swear there’s a scratch and sniff element to the scuzzy New York locations of the first story, and when it comes to defining the heroic in the second, he’s equally impressive.
Having ignored most of the existing X-Men for much of the first half of the book, Bendis barely ups their panel space in the second. Professor X and Wolverine fit well into what’s a cloak and dagger mystery about who’s got the X-Men in their sights, and Bendis’ focus is on the new characters introduced to the team, and one leaving. Storm gets some time by default, but anyone who numbers Colossus, Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Nightcrawler or Rogue among their favourite X-Men is going to feel shortchanged. This is a more episodic story that pays off in the end, and does have one magnificent, if depressing, chapter featuring Wolverine locating a mutant with toxic powers.
The fundamental problem with most of this collection is it not feeling like X-Men stories. They are good stories, though, captivating and well drawn. If you’d prefer the cheaper option, used copies of slimmer paperbacks Blockbuster and New Mutants are easily tracked down.