Or – “Is It A Coincidence That This Thing Came Out During May Sweeps?”

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Well, this IS interesting. Many Spoilerites may NOT know that this issue marks an imaginary milestone for me… Ultimates 2 #12 was the first-ever review I did for Major Spoilers, waaaaay back in the heady days of October, 2006. Doesn’t seem that long ago, until you look at the hard numbers. That was Major Spoilers post #314. THIS is Major Spoilers post #1452. Captain America was alive. Spider-Man had a secret identity. And Iron Man wasn’t yet the red-and-gold Doctor Doom he is today. Heck, I wasn’t sure exactly what effect I was going for when I wrote that first piece, whether it was criticism, reviewing, whining about Bendis or just telling you all the good bits. Now that my mission statement is clarified, I have sort of smooshed together all of the above, with a healthy dose of snark and a smattering of comic book history, into the recaps we all know and barely tolerate. Now that the issue is here, there are two burning questions: First, IS he or ISN’T he? And second, will Matthew have the wherewithal to Photoshop together an EIGHT PAGE SPREAD?

The answer to both questions is the same, and we’ll get to them in a moment. Previously, (like, in 2004?) on Ultimates 2: The President and Nick Fury began using the Ultimates as their personal police force, and the world didn’t like it. Bruce Banner was tried for the Hulk’s rampage in the previous volume, and sentenced to death. The U21.jpggroup finds that they have a traitor within, and first Thor, then Captain America his own-damn-self are suspected of the dirty deed. Thor is thrown in an insane asylum for his delusions of godhood, Hawkeye’s family is brutally murdered, Hank Pym joined the Defenders, Jarvis is killed, and the entire team is neutralized when the traitor reveals herself to be The Black Widow. A multinational team of terrorists called The Liberators attacks on U.S. soil in repercussion to the Ultimates actions, and the team regroups in Washington, including a not-really-so-very-much dead Hulk. Thor’s half-brother Loki is revealed to have been behind their manipulation, and as the Liberators are dealt with, Thor arrives with a few words for his errant sibling… those words specifically being “DIE! DIE! DIE, MOTHER$%&*ER!” I’m paraphrasing, but only a little bit. This IS a Mark Millar joint, after all. But from the point that last issue left, we find ourselves in a psychiatric hospital, with the man who hallucinates himself to be the Thunder God being hustled into restraints, the ENTIREITY of the previous 12 issues purely hallucination…

…but Thor? Is NOT buying it.

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With one mighty swing, the Son of Odin, CRUSHES his wayward foster brother into the pavement, (Loki: “Oh, $#!+.”) as the Ultimates look on. “He did it,” says the not-dead version of Steve Rogers. “He killed Loki.” Loki rises, his face bearing subtle menace, and replies, “I can change the color of the SKY. Did you really think you could kill me with a HAMMER?” Rising into the air, Loki begins calling upon his mythic allies, invoking Surtur, and Ymir, and the giants of Jotenheim. Dragons and goblins and trolls, oh crap! Ultimate Cap, having faced a world full of Nazis, brownshirts and fifth columnists last week (at least from his perspective) rises, as the rain falls, remarking, “Boys… I think we might need some reinforcements here.” Thor leaps, and attacks Loki, now transformed into a giant serpent, knowing that his brother is full of fear and calling him on his weakness. “I spent three HUNDRED years in the Room Without Doors, plotting and planning our next encounter,” Loki tells his brother, and suddenly five duplicates of him beat Thor down. “How does it feel, brother?” gloats Loki. “How does it feels to die ALONE in the dirt?” Thor snorts, “Idiot. Did you really think I’d come here alone?” Suddenly, Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge arcs across the sky of Washington, lighting in the plaza, and the warriors of Asgard race into battle!

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Reinforced by the warriors of the Raven Banner, the Ultimates leap into action, showing themselves to be the equals of their 616 counterparts in combat, as Marvel gives DC a little “IN YOUR FACE!” to the six-page foldout in All-Star Batman & Robin #4 with an eight-page foldout of the Ultimates in action. If I may repeat myself for emphasis, the foldout fight scene spreads out to eight pages.

Eight. Frickin’. Pages.

Remember how I said the answer to the two burning questions (‘Is Thor really a god?’ and ‘Will Matthew Photoshop eight pages of fight?’) is the same? That answer is “YOU DAAAAAMN RIGHT! Awww, yeah!” You can make fun of my Oldsmobile, you can question my over-usage of the phrase “That’s as may be,” you can mock my love of Blok, you can tell everyone I’m a damn disgrace, drag my name all over the place, I don’t care anymore. But if you ever, for one second, question my dedication to y’all, the loyal Spoileroholics, then click the thumbnail below, and see what kept me up until 1:45 a.m. last night.

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While all that jazz goes on, (and on and on) Thor is determined to settle the score with his wayward brother, repeatedly bludgeoning Loki with his hammer while Loki babbles about how clever he was and how his only motivation was jealousy of Thor. Loki claims to have wanted to make Odin favor him by forcing favorite son Thor to fail… First of all, Loki, your explanation is a little too pat, and second of all, you’re the prince of bloody LIES. Why would Thor ever believe you, even if there may be a grain of truth to these assertions? “Can’t you see the funny side of all this?” he asks desperately, as Thor raises the hammer again. “Game’s over, Loki. FATHER wants a word.”

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Yet another moment where we need a humongous “KRAK-A-DOOOOOM!” like the lightning sound effects they used to use on Gilligan’s Island. You know the one I’m talking about, right? The shockwave ripples outward, echoing across the various battlefields, and as Loki falls, the battle ends. “VICTORY!” bellows Thor, as the weather starts to clear from Loki’s mystical storm. “The deceiver has been slain! Honor has been restored!” He lowers his voice, and finishes, deadly earnest, “this planet is under MY protection now.” In New York, the fighting has also ended, but Reed Richards (not yet old and easily manipulated) asks their field commander, in his mighty Iron Man 6 battlecruiser, if there are additional orders.

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The ‘grey by 30’ remark is clever, but here’s a hallmark of Millar’s Ultimates that always irritates me. Tony Stark is screwup, an irresponsible lout who goes into battle smashed, and he’s a hero. Henry Pym is likewise a screwup, combining lack of self-esteem with quest for glory, who hits his wife, and he’s a schmuck. I’m not saying that Pym’s spousal abuse should be excused, but perhaps an equal display of contempt for the personal excesses of the other characters would make it seem less like a personal vendetta against Hank, hmm? In Washington, the team regroups, and Janet Van Dyne can’t believe she went into battle against real Vikings. Quicksilver, for his part, thinks that the best moment was when Jan went giant and started crushing things, remarking that the President looked like he was “going to vomit” when that happened. Suddenly, we hear that familiar theme music, and hey de ho, kids, you know what time it is! It’s time to play the gameshow that makes Domestic Abuse a running punchline to a joke that only Mark Millar thinks is funny: CRAP! ON! YELLOWJACKET! *Crowd cheers.*

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HA! Wanda always did have herself the Silicon Valley Fever. In any case, I suspect that robots you personally built and programmed are hardly going to be the strongest witnesses for your defense, Hank, and given their skepticism last issue to your claims of “infiltration,” even they want to say the Secret Word and win the million bucks. We see the aftermath of the battle from all sides, as the White House prepares statements, Russia and China swear they had nothing to do with the infiltrators, and Perun (the last surviving member of the Liberators) amusingly wanders into a barricade of soldiers with an uncertain “Um, is there anyone I can surrender to? All my friends appear to be dead.” As SHIELD takes the body of Abdul, the terrorist leader into custody, Nick Fury remarks that Cap must feel a kinship with him. Skinny kid, given powers, becomes a supersoldier and goes off to fight an invading army. Steve doesn’t respond, so Nick cuts to the chase…

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Smart man, that Captain America. It’s nice to see Millar copping to the jingoistic “America, %@#* YEAH!” tone of the first two arcs, and even making it the fulcrum upon which change is facilitated. I have to say I like that, and I’m coming around to liking Ultimate Cap, as there is honest regret on his face at the sight of his counterparts body (Cap stabbed him to death with his own weapon last issue.) It’s not enough to bring me back for Ultimates 3, but it’s a nice fillip on Cap’s character arc. Thor, The Wasp, Quicksilver (who has fetched them all a six-pack) and Scarlet Witch take a moment to recuperate on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and the Wasp wonders how they’re going to finance this whole operation without SHIELD’s help.

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So, wait… Thor is Jesus, now? And by the way, six years late? That Iron Man armor is not just awful… It’s GAWDAWFUL. It looks like something out of early issues of Youngblood, before they lost that infinitesimal spark that some people laughingly refer to as creativity. So, with that scene, we’ve covered everyone, haven’t we? Wait… We haven’t? There’s an Avenger missing? Oh, right, Hawkeye! I forgot about him (because it’s Thursday, and he’s supposed to be dead on alternate Thursdays.) Hawk has a very personal mission to undertake, as the traitor to the Avengers Ultimates may have hurt the others, but they killed his family. The Earth-616 Hawkeye is often blown off as “a guy with a bow and arrow” but he’s actually a skilled tracker and hunter, and his counterpart here obviously shares those skills.

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Ah, yes. The traitorous Black Widow. Natasha’s wounds include slit wrists, self-inflicted to bleed out the nanites that Tony Stark could have used to track her, but she’s still faster than a lightning-struck greased pig… but Hawkeye is just that much faster. He quickly impales both her hands (!) with his arrows, leaving her pinned to the wall like a dead butterfly. She spits angry words at him, but Hawkeye is having none of it. She finally realizes she’s screwed, and takes one last shot to try and hurt him, possibly even to distract him so she can escape. “Got a message for the wife and kids, Hawkeye? Anything you’d like me to pass along?”

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Right in the face… Here’s another example of why I won’t be back: these characters are stone-killers. You can argue that it’s more realistic, and for some values of realistic, you may be right. You can argue that non-lethal force is no longer an option when dealing with bands of terrorists, and you may be right. You may even argue that he’s partially justified, in that this woman took from him the most important thing in his life, and some may say you’re right. But I can’t help but remember the Hawkeye who refused to kill, who nearly ended his marriage because his wife didn’t save a man who had violated her. Note that Bobbi didn’t actually KILL the Phantom Rider, she just didn’t take her opportunity to save him. As dark as Civil War has gotten, as creepy and Sisyphean a task it is to understand the actions of Iron Man, even with Captain America murdered, the 616 reality is not as dark and violent as this. You may tell me I’m being oversensitive, and you have that prerogative, but these characters who wear the names of my childhood heroes kill easily and often, and I’m done with them. A few days later, in Tony Stark’s townhouse, he and secretary Pepper Potts go over the action plans. Relations with SHIELD are at their all-time best, what with no longer having to bankroll the team, and the U.S. is ready to sign the superhuman test ban treaty, now that they don’t, y’know, PAY for a team of their own… but Tony seems a bit down, and Pepper asks why.

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His reverie is interrupted by something, and he quickly asks for binoculars to see… a hot blonde. Tony immediate cheers up, and sets out to woo her, telling Pepper “I’ll be back to work in a month!” Just as long as grief isn’t weighing you down, Tones. A more touching, but no less strange scene takes place in the Ultimates headquarters, as Janet comes to visit estranged husband Hank, being held in the now-ubiquitous little glass cell. “So?” he starts. “So,” she awkwardly replies. Hank gets in a little dark humor, with “Do we all have to spend a little time in these cells?” Heh. He’s like the fourth, isn’t he? The issue ends with a flashback to 1942, as Steve Rogers and his girl leave a movie theatre the night before he ships out. She remarks that it’s nice to go somewhere without Bucky (Heh.) and Steve fills time by talking about the works of John Ford.

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The issue ends with a big cinema kiss and a dedication to Stan and Jack, which both works and doesn’t work for me. It’s a good scene, well-written, but it’s such an odd choice to end the book. The whole of Ultimates 2 has been about sturm-und-drang, high-stakes battles, and cinematic storytelling. Ending on such a personal and insular scene just makes it all feel a little… incomplete.

I made it clear during the previous review that I’m done with the Ultimates, at least as far as collecting the issues. I’ll certainly still read them as they come out (however long THAT takes… Joe Madueriera [however one spells that] is hardly the poster boy for timeliness, after all) much as I do Ultimate Fantastic Four, but this book obviously isn’t for me. Knowing that, I’ve tried hard to present it in a neutral light. The Ultimates has been all about bigger, better, faster, more, birthday party, jellybean, cheesecake, BOOM! It’s like being told a knock-knock joke by a a ten-year-old with A.D.D. or watching a superhero cartoon with the sound turned off and the voicetrack to Pulp Fiction in it’s place. Big, loud, dumb and widescreen aren’t inherently bad, and this issue is well-done, if very predictable. Sadly, though, the unexpected need for a 13th issue to fill out the series left us with an awkward break in the narrative, with the final battle half-over, and this issue feeling a bit padded to make up for it. The Thor/Loki fight has some honest-to-Heimdall markout moments, but the reveal of the truth of his godhood is good and bad. Good in that it finally vindicates him, and bad in that it kinda undermines the “realism” that the Ultimate books supposedly have. Based on it’s own merits, it’s a 2-star book, with little-to-nothing explained to the reader, a rather familiar plotline if you’ve ever seen a Bruce Willis movie, and some strange character bits that even beautiful art can’t cover. It’s like catching the last five minutes of last summer’s blockbuster on cable, there’s an inherent assumption that if you’re here, you’ve seen everything that came before. But as a finale to the series, I enjoyed it. Certainly it’s not a heavy-thinking title, and the loooong delay killed the momentum to the point where I had to go to Wikipedia to remember what came before, but it’s certainly worthy of 2.5 stars. It has it’s flaws, but it’s an okay end to a series that was never quite as revolutionary as it aspired to be.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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13 Comments

  1. Kienan
    May 17, 2007 at 2:55 pm — Reply

    Here is a fun little game to play with the foldout:Count the Quicksilvers!

  2. Mark I.
    May 17, 2007 at 3:32 pm — Reply

    I appreciate the effort it took to put up the fold-out. Just making sure that’s clearly stated before I comment on how drab and boring the actual illustration contained really seemed. I mean, there WAS action going on there. It just didn’t look very er…dynamic? Is that the word? It didn’t look like something that required 8 whole pages, that’s for sure–convenient page eater to fill in story gaps, IMHO, unless they were “bonus pages.”

    I mean seriously, a Perez or Kirby makes that leap off the paper! Granted, those are two undisputed penciling legends (and one’s dead) but that’s kind of my point…they should only do these sort of things with the right people.

    Boy, I sound picky, don’t I?

  3. May 17, 2007 at 3:41 pm — Reply

    No, you’re right. Hitch’s art is very slick and expressive, but it’s not dynamic construction. Part of that, I feel is the slavish devotion to photo-realism, and part of it is due to the vagaries of composition necessary to put together a spread four times wider than the focus of most comic art.

  4. Mark I.
    May 17, 2007 at 4:00 pm — Reply

    That’s a good point, and I should stress that I’m not belittling Hitch’s work…it’s very detailed and interesting to look at in the proper context–I just think that his kind of style lends itself better to more personal situations. Hitch is top notch as far as his characters expressing believable emotion, but that style seems kind of inappropriate for a Mighty Marvel Ultimate Super-Slobberknockin’ Splash Page Extravaganza Royale.

    Strangely enough, I began forming an example where the current season of HEROES had all of its characters in tights and masks instead of street clothes as my analogy before realizing I’d gone TOTALLY off track…I need more coffee.

  5. Brother129
    May 17, 2007 at 4:38 pm — Reply

    Like most of you, I am completely mystified by the ending of Ultimates 2. I have one, possibly dumb, question: Didn’t Cap’s girlfriend say “we’ll be waiting”? Does he have a kid or something??

  6. davek
    May 17, 2007 at 5:19 pm — Reply

    Not to be snarky, but the idea that Tony Stark’s fantasy is himself with magnificent breasts is slightly disturbing.

    I actually like the gritty realism of the Ultimate Universe, it has a feel to it that has its own resonance with me. (I’m a big fan of the BMB run on Daredevil, too.) What I find ironic, is that an Ultimate “Superhero Registration Act” seems far more plausible, rational and instep than what Marvel did with Civil War. I actually started off in favor of the concepts behind the SRA, and was rather frustrated how poorly the argument was made for registration (mostly by the lousy depiction of Stark/Richards and anyone else on the pro-side.) So when Hawkeye, a government-trained spook whacks out another spook that nearly destroyed all of America… yeah that’s inline with the world they’re talking.

    Then again, I enjoyed Daniel Craig as Bond, too. Maybe I wasn’t hugged enough.

  7. Maximus Rift
    May 17, 2007 at 11:09 pm — Reply

    I don’t really see a problem with a gritty Ultimates. I mean there’s a Universe for everybody. That’s the whole idea, right?

    Also, I think the double standard with Pym and Stark shows our double standard when it comes to aperances. Pym is considered a bastard while Tony is mearly eccentric. Why? Tony is rich, good-looking and the life of the party, while Henry is geek. That and the fact that the writers hate themselves and take it out on Dr. Pym.

    I re-enstate my desire for Henry Pym to become evil and f#(k up Earth 616. With everything he’s put up with, he’s entitled. At least they haven’t hoosed him in the Marvel Adventures titles.

  8. baal
    May 18, 2007 at 2:01 am — Reply

    Yes, these aren’t heroes. The only two I think fit the description are Thor and Wasp and with the Wasp I think she just wasn’t important enough to be featured eviscerating someone. Maybe if Millar had stayed on for U3 we would have had a scene of her flying down someone’s throat and going giant sized.

    I will give U3 because I loved Joe Mad on X-Men and for all his many many many many many many many many many many many many many many faults, Loeb does seem to understand the need for heroes in super-heroic fiction.

    And despite any rants I’ve ever made about The Ultimates not being heroes myself, Hawkeye’s execution of Black Widow didn’t botehr me in the least. She was the linchpin of the plan to destroy the US and helped massacre Hawkeye’s family. Now if this Hawk had the same backstory as the 616 version I might feel different but he was a government assassin specializing in black ops. How else was he going to handle Natasha, who had even posed as his partner?

  9. May 18, 2007 at 8:12 am — Reply

    I re-instate my desire for Henry Pym to become evil and f#(k up Earth 616. With everything he’s put up with, he’s entitled. At least they haven’t hosed him in the Marvel Adventures titles.

    Can you imagine the damage he could do? You combine the Ultron matrix with a dose of Pym particles, and BAM! Not only to you have giant robots to crush the obvious threats like Stark and whomever is the new Thor, you’ve got teeny tiny nanobots powered by antimatter and able to CHANGE THE MOLECULAR STRUCTURE OF ADAMANTIUM. Does that last one sound like it might be at all useful against any particular New Avenger?

  10. May 18, 2007 at 8:16 am — Reply

    And despite any rants I’ve ever made about The Ultimates not being heroes myself, Hawkeye’s execution of Black Widow didn’t bother me in the least. She was the linchpin of the plan to destroy the US and helped massacre Hawkeye’s family. Now if this Hawk had the same backstory as the 616 version, I might feel different but he was a government assassin specializing in black ops. How else was he going to handle Natasha, who had even posed as his partner?

    Well, y’know, I’ve heard of this little thing called due process. :) Granted, being tortured at Gitmo isn’t as visually pleasing as the shots we got, but I think my distaste comes from the fact that he DIDN’T kill her because she was a traitor. The scene was written to make it clear that he killed her in revenge for her part in the murder of his family. I understand that… Hell, I’d DO it given his skills and the need.

    But, in my eyes, Hawkeye shouldn’t be Charles Bronson. But my eyes aren’t the only ones on the page, and so, I’m just voting with my t’ree fitty.

  11. May 20, 2007 at 7:38 am — Reply

    Wait…wait a mintue…you posted in your review for the last issue…

    “…I like the iterations on almost all the Ultimate Avengers. A capable Wasp, a Quicksilver who uses superspeed to it’s fullest (not just the way comic books have always done it), a Hawkeye who is both comical and deadly, even a slightly drunken Iron Man in his most awesome armor yet…”

    And now it’s suddenly ‘Godawful’? Man, what one Year can do to a guy…

  12. May 20, 2007 at 9:32 am — Reply

    And now it’s suddenly ‘Godawful’? Man, what one Year can do to a guy…

    The Iron Man Six giant battlesuit is what I was referring to as awesome, and I was also using awesome in the sense of “conveying a sense of awe” rather than the general usage meaning “way cool, junior.” I have always hated the red, gold and gray color schem and the generically sci-fi Cyberman design of the smaller armor seen in the Washington scenes.

  13. Carzy
    May 22, 2007 at 6:16 pm — Reply

    Hmm, I agree on some points but have to disagree on most. I’ll start with the positive though: I agree with you that Pym should be better respected in the Ultimates storylines, although for different reasons. While it’s fair that you might dislike him because of the flaws of the rest of the characters too (Cap’s attitude towards Hank whenever the two met was atrocious), I personally think he deserved better for one reason; Janet hit back. If Hank was hospitalised because of those nasty full-sized stings of Janet’s, yet claimed she was doing it in self-defence, Pym would still get the blame and it’d be unfair . . . I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense, but it’s logical in my head.

    I kind of think the action can be a bit “Boom, it’s over”, not giving many of the fight scenes any drama or heart. One or two do, such as Cap and Pym in V1, and the very first battle against Hulk was all about them being a team. And Pym got the short end of the stick again. I don’t think this issue had much going for it in the way of fight scenes though, with Thor vs. Loki being a prime example: One minute, they’re going at it punch for punch, matching each other with Loki even winning. The next time we see them, Loki is being pounded into the scenery, pleading his excuses to Thor in the hope that he’d spare him or rescue him. It gave no sense of Loki’s power, despite the Norway not being in the EU line being a nice touch. I live in Europe and didn’t know that . . .

    I disagree with you on the Hawkeye/Black Widow point though, as well as Stark. It is down to, as you say, differences between the Ultimate and the 616 universes. You have to keep in mind that the Ultimate universe started fresh. It could even be said that the characters only share their names with their 616 counterparts (*cough* Victor Van Damme *cough*) and the rest of them are built from the ground up. Some more than others, obviously. But as you said, I’d do the same as Hawkeye did with the capability and experience.

    The chances are though, I’ll only stop reading Ultimates because of the change in creative team. Otherwise, it’s so pretty . . . and it’s like a permanent arc . . .

    Sorry this has been so long. I’m a talker.

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