Brought To You By The Number 3: Andy Burns Explores The Curse of the Threequel Part 1

What is it about the number three that seems to be so jinxed in the world of pop culture geekdom? How is it that after two kicks at the can in a movie or a comic environment, the third time out can sometimes go painfully wrong? I don’t have the answers. Do you?

Why the dismay with three? It came about this past weekend when, after many years of avoidance, I finally bunkered down to read The Ultimates 3, part of Marvel Comics lines of Ultimates books which take place in an alternative timeline from the typical Marvel Universe. These comics, which debut back in 2000, were designed as a jumping on point for new readers who didn’t want to be tied down by decades of backstory. Instead, characters like Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Avengers were written as if they were brand new, 21st Century characters. It was a huge success thanks to creative teams like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man and Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (The Ultimates). It’s the latter that played out extremely well over the course of two twelve issue volumes that seemed more like an epic move script than a comic book story.

After Millar and Hitch completed their run, the creative team of Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira took over the reigns for The Ultimates 3: Who Killed The Scarlett Witch in 2007. Unlike it’s predecessors, however, the series was not beloved by those that read it. In fact, it was reviled by many. To be honest, I was never sure why, since I hadn’t picked it up in it’s initial run. I was waiting for a hardcover collection, and when that finally arrived it was small, only 5 issues, and I thought there would be more. However, there wasn’t. Instead, the Ultimate line of comics went through an overhaul and morphed into Ultimate Comics Presents. So with all that in mind, this weekend I finally took the plunge and read Ultimates 3, complete with an open mind.

It wasn’t very good.

Ultimates 3 just doesn’t feel like the stellar series that came before it. Characters like Iron Man and Captain America, who were fully realized and portrayed perfectly previously seem to have been written as cliches and with little reverence. In all incarnations, Cap is a man out of time trying to find his place in the new world, but under Loeb’s pen in this series, he comes off stiff and almost buffoonish (his concern with peoples bad language never seems real). Loeb also chooses to throw sexuality in our faces, rather than utilize innuendo.

For instance, Marvel fans have always ought the relationship between siblings Quicksilver and The Scarlett Witch was always a little intense and suspect, but in Ultimates 3, Loeb goes straight to the heart of the supposed incestuous relationship. To me, it just seemed lazy more than anything else. Even though the Ultimates line of comics became popular with an older audience who might enjoy how blatant everything is in the series, I found myself missing the fine art of subtlety throughout the five issues.

As for the art, I also missed the boldness and brightness of the great Bryan Hitch. While Joe Madureira is technically a wonderful artist, I found Ultmates 3 to be far to dark a reading experience. There’s not one panel throughout he series that is as memorable as Captain America’s bold “Do you think this letter on my head stands for France” moment or the triple fold spread of the penuiltimate battle from the previous series.

While there were a few entertaining moments throughout Ultimates 3 (watching Valkyrie cut loose on Mastermind and Pyro is pretty excellent), it really did feel like a failure as compared to the previous outings. But as I mentioned at the start of this whole piece, three is not a magic number in our pop culture world. Next time out, I’ll take a look at some of the disappointing threequels that have left most of us shaking our heads.

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