Monday, 23 December 2013

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Vol 1


Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Volume 1

RUN! Run away from the giant Captain
America!
Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic

Read as trade paperback

Background Information:

By the time the 21st century rolled around, Marvel was in trouble. The 90s had not been kind the publishing house and the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. It sounds ridiculous now to think that the comic company that produced The Avengers would ever have been in such dire straits, but that was the reality of things. Marvel needed something big to bring in new readers.

That something big turned out to be Marvel’s Ultimate universe; a reboot of select Marvel titles specifically geared at reaching a new audience. It was a successful venture; Ultimate Spiderman was by far the star of the new universe and Ultimate X-Men started strong (even if it did tail out after the death of Magneto). When it came time to give readers an Ultimate Avengers, Marvel decided to shorten the title and call the entire team The Ultimates.

Fast forward into 2012, and it came time to retcon the Ultimate universe. It became Ultimate comics and featured, among other things, a black Hispanic Spiderman. Hence why I’m now reviewing a comic with the confusing title of Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates.

Review:

The first volume of The Ultimates opens with a group known as the Children of Tomorrow collectively deciding to venture out of the mechanical dome in which they have lived for generations. Here, this means taking over large sections of Europe. In doing so, the group discover Thor, who has joined the likes of Captain Britain on an attack on their city, and there things start to get complicated.

Those looking for the full Avengers cast as seen in the 2012 film are going to be disappointed. It’s really only Iron Man and Thor make a real appearance in this volume. Captain America makes a brief enough appearance to say he’s not joining the party, Black widow says some words, and Hawkeye lets some arrows loose once in a while. As such, The Ultimates really feels like it should have been titled Thor and Iron Man are the Best of Friends.

But Hickman does a really good job of that. Early on in the book, Yggdrasil, the life tree from which Thor draws his powers is destroyed, leaving him without his godly powers. Tony, being the good friend that he is, provides Thor with a suit that gives him a sort of synthetic version of his powers, which allows him to continue the fight. This is a nice moment; Thor shouldn’t try to take on the Children of Tomorrow  in his state, and Tony seems to know it, but he gives Thor the suit anyway. Considering how the Hollywood Avengers made Iron Man little more than a one-liner spitting mongrel, it was nice to see Tony Stark be the kind of guy who could actually be a friend.

But really, the star of this volume is Thor. Thor witnesses a lot that tears his world apart. Asgard is ransacked. The other gods are killed. Thor’s own son is destroyed inside the Yggdrasil tree. This pushes Thor over the edge. The god wants revenge and he doesn’t care if he dies in the process.

My biggest issue with the story is the way that Hickman writes the villains. I’m not really convinced that the Children of Tomorrow are the bad guys. They are the ones who are initially “attacked” by Captain Britain. Everything else they do seems more reactionary. They don’t seem to be seeking to destroy anyone, excluding the gods who they seem more to be counter-attacking than actually plotting to destroy. Their expansion into Europe doesn’t seem to cost the lives of anyone who isn’t already trying to fight them. Hickman writes them as sinister, yet I don’t really see it in the group’s actions. It’s a problem that’s only compounded by the non-existence of an ending to this volume. I personally buy collected editions to avoid cliffhanger non-endings that I would otherwise get in single issues, and that made this all the more disappointing.

Esad Ribic’s artwork is phenomenal. I’m picking up vibes of Alex Ross in much of the paints on each page. Though Ribic’s art is significantly more simple, he still manages to instil that visual awe that Ross was able in titles such as DC’s Justice. Tony Stark looks a little too slim for my liking and Hawkeye looks like a reject from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy but otherwise Ribic draws each character fairly well.  

By far the best thing about this book, at least is visual terms, is the cover art by Kaare Andrews. Andrew’s does these beautiful pieces that highlight characters more than events in the book. They are packed full of detail and a joy to look at.

Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Vol 1 is great to look at, but the story is (hopefully) not Hickman’s best work. I’m interested to see what he does with The Avengers in Marvel Now, but I hope his storytelling is a step up from what I saw here. The Ultimates gets a three out of five best friends.

***

+ Beautiful Art

+ Iron Man and Thor play off well together.

- The Villains don’t strike you as particularly evil.

- That awful cliffhanger non-ending.