Historically, I’ve been down on the Ultimate X-Men titles as compared to the other ongoing series. I know there was a point, several books ago, when I changed that opinion. Magnetic North marks another such shift, as this is simply one of the best Marvel Ultimate titles I’ve read, period. Almost every minor and major event in the past several books is pulled together into one web of intrigue, surrounding the escape of Magneto. It is both too complex and too good a story to get into in more detail than that, and in all honesty, I think the title and the cover revealed as much as I already have anyway. It has a cinematic plot, with almost as many story and character twists as there are pages to turn. I just cannot stop being excited over these books!, and more the further into them I get.
 at least, the cover of my copy, which does not match the one Amazon shows.
The one thing that sticks out to me about my most recent X-Men book, Hard Lessons, is that there really weren’t any. There were several bridge stories placed to catch us up on characters that haven’t been around lately and to remind us about bad guys that will probably pop up again soon, but lessons? Nothing apparent to me! This doesn’t bother me all that much, but it is a little weird.
Instead of lessons, there are these stories. What’s up with Professor Charles Xavier? He’s maybe out of money courtesy of old enemies, and he’s also held hostage at a bank. And he’s a devious son of a bitch, which is one of those things I like about the Ultimate line. Yay, layers and shades of grey! What’s up with Storm and Wolverine? The one is looking for (and, okay, has just found) the other, and their pasts are about to team up to bite them both in the ass. What’s up with Rogue and Gambit? They’re about to face the return of Juggernaut, who, um, I kind of forgot had been in a previous book? Anyhow, all three stories produce incremental plot shifts that indicate to me big things are on the horizon, even if I can’t get the shape of anything but their inevitability. Which in some books might be an annoying delaying tactic; but in the hands of Brian K. Vaughan the stories are every bit as good as the future glimpses are.
 Well, deeper layers and more shades of grey than at least Marvel in the 1960s. I could be underselling later and modern Marvel due to ignorance, and I clearly was underselling the early Marvel catalog, which itself had a lot of depth. Especially for the time.
I’m having a hard time quantifying my most recent Ultimate X-Men book. On the one hand, The Most Dangerous Game is every bit of retreaded ground that its title implies. What, you say? Mutants are being hunted for sport, and that’s all dangerous to the hunters? Inconceivable! But it has things going for it, too, including a nice murder mystery and a chance to get some face time with the many new mutants that have joined Xavier’s school lately. I pretty much feel like I have a handle on all of them again, and that’s pretty cool. On the whole, it was a perfectly serviceable middle-quality storyline that would seem terrible in some of the other Ultimate series and pretty much the best thing written in the rest.
Things I look forward to in the next book: the fates of several X-Men missing from this story, and also maybe for Magneto or the Sentinels or some other cool ongoing enemy to come back. ‘Cause, those dudes are sweet.
 That most of the remaining “series” I have in mind tended to actually only be standalone books instead is perhaps beside the point?
Even though Power Down had been published for more than a year by the time I read and reviewed Smoke, Smoke, it feels as though the creative team saw my pacing and thematic concerns and leapt to address them. Which is not to say that the latest Ex Machina suddenly revealed all kinds of backstory thusfar unbeknownst even to Mayor Mitchell Hundred about how he acquired his power over all things mechanical. The story has only just reached its midpoint, after all. But with new rumors of the (still potentially alien) forces behind Hundred’s powers, not to mention transdimensional Communism, it’s pretty clear that the writers have finally and explicitly acknowledged there’s a lot more going on here than simple politics with a superheroic twist. And all this fails to even address the continued interior sabotage of Hundred’s political career, or the sinister truth behind New York’s 2003 blackout and its effect on The Great Machine. So, don’t give up just yet!
I am really ambivalent about my latest X-Men, Cry Wolf. On the one hand, it was a good story that hung together well and shifted around several of the character elements in new ways, such that I am looking forward to what comes next. Also, unlike the last time he showed up, Gambit got a proper introduction and seemed like a real person. Which is good, because he’s apparently a favorite, but I don’t really know of him from anywhere but these books.
But on the other hand, too many of the events seemed forced for the sake of hitting key plot points from the original run. It’s all good and well for there to be a triangle between Bobby Drake and Kitty Pryde and Rogue, but build it up a little bit, yeah? I’ll care more if it doesn’t seem to be performed by rote. I’m willing to reserve judgment on the Fenris Corporation, as I assume they’ll be relevant later and this wasn’t just a whirlwind but ultimately pointless mention.
(I’m not leaving out the actual plot on purpose, it’s just that it was a hanger for the character interactions and changes, and thus seems less important than the other stuff I talked about.)
I assume I liked the last Ultimate X-Men book, insofar as I’ve been liking them in general. Plus also, tragedy struck, and while I don’t automatically like that (depending on what happened), I definitely always like aftermath. And The Tempest is very much about aftermath, even though it’s in a quiet way, against the backdrop of a brand new villain and a mutant-assassin in his employ.
And, the book being short, that’s pretty much all that happened. I don’t want to elaborate on the aftermath, because, spoilers, and I can’t elaborate on the new villains, because I’m supposed to recognize them old school, and I did not get far enough to, I guess? But they made for a good story, and I can ask for little more than that! Except for being so deep into a series as to be pretty confusing, I could recommendÂ the bookÂ unreservedly as an afternoon’s diversion.