This week on the Major Spoilers Podcast (new show debuts Wednesday’s), the panel will take an in depth look at the first run of the Ultimates from Marvel.
A teenager is climbing walls in Manhattan. Mutants are attacking the White House. Nick Fury, head of the elite espionage agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., knows the only way to combat these strange new threats is with a team of his own superhumans. Backed by a billion-dollar budget, Fury recruits Giant Man, the Wasp, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. And while the team is strong enough to engage in a ferocious battle with the Hulk, will they implode under the weight of their internal conflicts? Rising above their own agendas, the Ultimates forge ahead with the introduction of new allies and face a major global threat.
If you would like to become part of the Major Spoilers Podcast, use the comment section below to voice your opinion of the series (trade paperback volume 1 and 2), and perhaps your words will become part of the Major Spoilers mythos.
Being Australian, Captain America always seemed like a bit of a joke. It’s probably our tongue-in-cheek sense of self deprecation, but if some bloke called himself Captain Australia and ran around in a spandex mock-up of our flag, he’d be considered the mascot for Sydney’s next gay pride parade. (Not that any other Australian superheros are any better; we all tend to get lumped with either boomerang or kangaroo powers, and the only slighty-more-than-impotent metas/mutants, are Gateway and Bishop (technically) and they hardly count!) but I digress…
The point I was trying to convey that for my entire life, I actually though Captain America was satire. Some type of witticism I didn’t get but Marvel Comics allowed to prosper in the same way a King allows his Jester to thrive. Anyway, the Ultimates was the first comic I’d ever read that made me actually GET Captain America! It gave him relevance and poignancy as a time-displaced warrior trying to preserve some form of long lost Idealism. (Coincidentally not dissimilar to the X-Men’s Bishop!) This was the first comic to actually give him some kind of brilliance other than frisbee-based circus tricks; not the least of which is an unsurpassed tactical awareness, and the redesigning of his outfit was pretty awesome to boot.
The ultra-realism of the series was another exciting step forward as it helped cement marvel’s ultimate universe as a completely different place than the usual MU. It advanced Marvel’s everpresent ethos of easily-identifiable characterisation, and evolved it to encapsulate interaction and setting also; not the least of which is the angle of the Ultimates as a tool of the American Government. To compliment this realism; Bryan Hitch’s artwork embeds the usually buff physiques and babelicious bodies with wrinkles, sweat and believable proportions. His detail is not only evident in the subjects of the panel, but the more objective elements like mountaintops and cityscapes. I remember staring for about fortyfive minutes at the first spread of the Ultimates’ base, the Triskelion, as this was one of the first times (outside of Manga, Frank Quitely, and a few other western artists) where I was able to digest a complete 3d awareness of a space in a comic.
This realism is expounded upon further by Millar’s writing, that manages to give every character in season 1 a sense of earthly gravitas to offset their almost ridiculous power sets. In turn, these emotional anchors, like Tony Stark’s “Golf-Ball” sized tumour (which is inexplicable, considering his rapid healing and nannite drenched body that we see in Ultimate Iron-Man), actually serve to motivate and power the character, in Iron Man’s case, he is defying his imminent death with alcoholism and reckless endangerment of his own life.
I could go on and on about how Ultimates stands for and still improves upon what Jack and Stan set up almost fifty years ago but neither you nor I have the time to go into that. Best to just say that his is an immensely enjoyable read, that I often dig out every 6 months to go over. The characters and style are so impressionable, I’ve not only confused them with the mainstay MU continuity at times, I’ve preferred them.
-Hercules in NY
ultimates was one of the first book i’ve read when i came back to comics in 2002. it made me stay in the medium for a while (had to stop for a while for various reasons) and i discovered the very talented mark millar. everything is good about this book, the writing, the art, the characters. like hercules said, i loved the realism and how the characters react in everyday life situation, showing us they are only human. biggest example that come to mind is hank pym beating his wife and captain america going after him.
when i want to read a good comic, i read this one. tomorrow i’m going to buy the trades or the hardcovers, because now i only have the floppys and i don’t want to rip them.
I’ve liked the Ulimates version of Captain America. It seems to be the mainstream version of Cap is along the lines of “Captain America represents all that was great about America, therefore what we put in his mouth these days should be what would makes America great” (Shame Cap, not using Myspace), whereas Ultimate Cap is more of “Capatin America represents all that was great with America. Pity those values are old fashioned”
Chris Giarusso did a Little Marvels strip about Cap’s old fashioned sensibilities. I couldn’t find it though.
by the way, that’s the second mark millar book in a row, i think you have a thing for the guy, no?
but, i’m ok with it.
The Ultimates was one of the best comics gracing comic shop shelves in the early 2000s, mostly owing to Millar’s cynical capacity of inserting real life flawed personalities in exceptional bodies. I wouldn’t say exceptional circumstances, however, as the first 6 books mainly play on the lack of threats warranting the use of ‘humans of mass destruction’, whose creation and stockpiling become an unjustifiably costly affair as they sit idly, waiting for a disaster that fails to come. When the shit does hit the fan, it ends up being one of their numbers that becomes the threat, again calling to question the need for excessive military power – the self-fulfilling prophecy of military build-up bringing disaster to the stockpilers is a theme explored again in volume 2 of the Ultimates.
The human quality of the protagonists translates remarkably in the characters’ response to an emerging threat, where Wanda and Pietro consider calling in sick so as to avoid endangering themselves.
The revival of Steve Rogers is very well done, and Millar’s angle on Bucky all the more tragic than in the non-Ultimate universe (before Bucky’s Brubaker resuscitation), as his survival, and marriage to Steve’s fiance, creates an alienation for Steve of what he has missed, and allows him to painfully see a life that will always be out of his reach. Bucky’s wife brings out the tragedy all the more when she sits and stares at the mirror, calling out that she doesn’t want him to see her, as age has ravaged her body, and the sexual delights of young love become asynchronous with what she has become, and what Steve has remained.
It was also a fantastic experience to see a European handle the writing of the bearer of the Star Spangled Banner. Being myself French I particularly enjoyed Millar’s take on Captain America, and really liked the ‘Surrender? Do you think this letter on my forehead stands for France’ quote. No, I wasn’t offended in the least by the statement – I wasn’t around during WWII, and anyway, it is of great importance to appreciate the weight of history and learn from it. Rather, the cheese-eating-surrender-monkey statement was a fine blend of Steve’s personal proximity to the events of the Second World War, and of the ‘ugly American’ personality expected from a patriot – ever the last refuge of the scoundrel.