#3 – ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN #13-18
By Brain Wood and Paco Medina & Carlo Barberi
If the Marvel Universe is the more realistic universe in comparison to DC, and the Ultimate universe is the more realistic in comparison to the main Marvel Universe, a universe in which two of that universe’s biggest heroes declared war on each other due to a political disagreement in regards to government involvement in vigilantism, what sort of storylines and concepts should the UU get involved in? The answer is the sort of bleak, challenging ones that we’re faced with every day in daily life, because really, CIVIL WAR can be looked at in a lot of ways, but no one reading or even working at Marvel is going to shy away from the fact that it’s a superhero on superhero slug fest. DIVIDED WE FALL/UNITED WE STAND went beyond this, telling a story about a nation against itself, forced to take a look at its values and its faith in its own politically appointed leaders, a country forced to either embrace the idea of revolution or stamp out an entire species. It’s largely about memes, about creating a message through one ideal, one image, one person. At the same time, it’s a very Brian Wood story about what it takes to be a strong and scared young woman being flung into an adult world of responsibility and taking on more than she can handle. ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN is rebellion, hope and disappointment, an epic teen-superhero adventure that explores the saga of ‘the outcast’ into new and exciting territories, all tied into the personal story of a ‘real’ Kitty Pryde, one who isn’t too busy stressing about pleasing Wolverine and dating Iceman to do anything of interest.
Our story opens with Kitty forever abandoning the identity of Shroud, a red-cloaked alias she’d been spookily sulking around in since the first pre-Miles relaunch of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. She shows up in the middle of New York during a very intense mutant rights protest, in which a group of US soldiers are ready to blow a bunch of mutie supporting humans’ heads off. Kitty shows up to instill some good old fashioned fear in the hearts of these violent young gun-wielders, and Kitty looks into one of their eyes, as their bullets phase through her body, “Next time you think about killing some mutants…we might surprise you.” And that’s really the mission statement of this series; the mutants are officially on their own, and Kitty’s decided they’ve been sitting on their hands for too long. She gathers up her crew, Jimmy Hudson, the beautiful doe-eyed son of Wolverine, Bobby Drake, a more somber, mopey Iceman than the 616 version, and Rogue, currently battling insanity, to travel to the Southwestern states of the US, the very heart of anti-mutant sentiment. In the southern states, mutants are a kill on sight situation, a bunch of aberrations of God who’ve destroyed everything that made the country great. This is all thanks to Reverend William Stryker Jr., a young anti-mutant evangelist who dreams in a world of purity. As Kitty puts it, “A brand new country, ‘safe’ for people like him and the militias. Free of dissent, diversity, and, of course, mutants.” Kitty ended up killing Stryker when she was disguised as Shroud, but his message still spreads at an alarming rate.
From then, the series progresses into what basically can be described as a depressed mutant road-trip movie. Kitty and Jimmy flirt and precariously almost-touch, Bobby longs for Johnny Storm, and all four characters bond through their insecurities and conflicting desire for mutant revolution, and whether this is possible while ensuring human peace. That’s not as easy as it sounds, especially with some of the more aggressive humans our team meats in the south. “Say what you want about Sentinels…but Sentinels simply are not capable of the hate these humans feel toward us.” That’s a really interesting idea, and one that’s at the core of the X-franchise. For as interesting as any battle with Broods or trips to the Savage Land are, none of these can compare to living in the world that hates and fears you. An incredibly terrifying scene which shows what living in a world of this extreme prejudice follows. The gang’s car drives up to a road block, where Kitty, Jimmy, Bobby and Rogue must pretend to be humans to get by unharmed. These lawless, violent young men impose terror over the four through silent, sexually aggressive power. It’s a chilling scene that not only shows Kitty’s resolve, but immediately after shows the effect that attempting to craft yourself into a revolutionary image can have.
Meanwhile, Kitty has left behind a team of mutants in New York, including an impressionable teen named Nomi Blume who longs to be the revolutionary leader Kitty is shaping up to be. The subplot of Nomi is fascinating, as it explores how messages can be dangerously appealing on a surface level. Kitty is loudly proclaiming mutant revolution, and one that is not necessarily always going to be peaceful. She wants to band a defeated minority together and to be the face that does it. Nomi hears Kitty as speaking directly to her, and ends up casting herself as the most important mutant in the forthcoming revolution. As much as Kitty’s message is obviously an important and positive one in this world, there’s still clearly a parallel with Stryker’s power here. Kitty is speaking with a large voice to a small crowd to spread a message, and Nomi represents the danger therein.
The major thrust of the story begins once Kitty and the gang finally make it to the Southwestern states. This is where, on a purely technical level, the story just gets downright fascinating. Brian Wood has this really unique storytelling style where he combines the hyper-compression of the Morrison school with the character focused, soap operatic decompression of the Bendis style to create a really interesting, unique comics reading experience. Climax upon climax is dropped, plot progresses sometimes in a manner of panels, yet there are still very quiet moments of character relationships and introspection. Kitty is introduced to Nick Fury, who attempts to fuse his military know-how and patriotic belief in his country with Kitty’s passionate desire for a free mutant kind. Soon, our X-men are recruiting often reluctant mutants from prison camps, including Ultimate versions of Armor and Husk. Shortly after, this is when the bomb shell is dropped. Stryker was himself a mutant, born with the power of technopathy, and his consciousness is now living in the bodies of an army of Nimrods and Sentinels. This escalates into an all-out war, with Kitty and the mutants waging destruction against a group of fascist robots.
But some of the biggest shocks start to come in the wrap up to all of these events. After Kitty has successfully begun her mutant revolution, finally ending Stryker’s life once and for all, she gets a meeting with newly elected President of the United States Captain America. Cap informs her that SEAR has created a mutant cure, and he’s releasing it to the public and allowing all willing mutants to receive it if they so wish. “There may be some who’ll want a new life, one where this will never happen to them again.” Cap informs Kitty. She can do little more than sit in silence, disgusted that the nation’s greatest heroes current solution to a problem is to wipe an entire minority off the planet. As Kitty responds, before basically sitting in abject horror for the rest of the discussion, “You want to take my mutation from me?” ULTIMATE COMICS X-MEN doesn’t end with any kind of victory – it ends with a country looking to rebuild itself, and ignore a disgusting moment of its history by ‘curing’ the problem. It ends with Kitty Pryde swapping one enemy for another, with mutants on the brick of extinction being given a small piece of land sanctioned away from the rest of the world. Yet it also featured constant moments of optimism – young love blossoming in the middle of war, a defeated group of abused minorities refusing to give up hope against insurmountable odds, and most importantly, a brilliant young woman who refuses to give up on herself and her people. This is X-MEN, at its core, and it’s heartbreaking, revolutionary, melodramatic and hopeful.