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Home / Reviews / Something Worth Avenging? – The Ultimates Rated And Discussed By Story Arc

Something Worth Avenging? – The Ultimates Rated And Discussed By Story Arc

We have spoken about the Ultimate Marvel Universe (1610) a few times before on the blog.  It’s a different take on the traditional Marvel (616) Universe with more modern characterizations and the stories take different twists and turns than their traditional counterparts.  This can create innovation and life that comic readers thrive on or it can build a terribly intriguing mess.  The Ultimates (Avengers), Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Ultimate Fantastic Four have been stocking the coffers of Marvel Comics since about 2000 and are still going strong, albeit somewhat differently.  This is a series where we break down the epic runs of these juggernauts of comic-dom; some series lasting over ten years.  We will attempt to read and rate each story arc to show bright and dark spots for easy trade paperback consumption.  Today’s entry, The Ultimates.

Big 3

The Ultimates was created to be a fresh look at The Avengers concept.  Giving these time-tested characters more modern situations and adult problems sought to entice readers to high action Bryan Hitch pages.  Two of Britain’s hot creators at the time gave The Avengers a very successful face lift.  Hitch’s series with Warren Ellis, “The Authority,” gave birth to  “widescreen” comics and the 2000s would be ruled by them.  Two page spreads with more action and less words abounded throughout the Ultimate lines and The Ultimates were a hit.  Volumes one and two were critically acclaimed (although less at the end of volume two due to Hitch running late and issues taking months past solicitation dates).  To follow up the prominent series that fizzled, Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira were tabbed to continue the story and the wheels kind of fell off.  Then, after Ultimatum, the Marvel Ultimate universe began to get broken up and told in miniseries.  The Ultimates would suffer the same fate until re-launching with a new number one (in previous continuity) in August of 2011.  Jonathan Hickman has the ability to make anything good and you’ll never guess who is writing it now.  Even though it lost me in time after The Ultimates vol. 2, this was and is one of my most favorite series.  For the sake of simplicity, we will rate them from 1-5 Cap shields.  1 being abysmal and 5 being of “ultimate” quality.  To give you an idea of what was going on in the book before critiquing it, we will provide a brief synopsis (taken from Wikipedia or my own personal thoughts).  Without further adieu…      

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VOLUME 1

 

“Super-Human”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Bryan Hitch

Brief Synopsis: A team of scientists, entrepreneurs  and a national treasure create a superhero team for today.  Giant Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America navigate the realistic rigors of becoming famous and actually succeeding as a team.  They would never guess that the first enemies would come from within themselves.

Review: As I re-read the comic book that I remember reading about a decade ago, I am startled by how good it is.  The pop culture references don’t hold up (Freddie Prinze Jr.), but it is a really successful story arc.  I never even noticed that the story starts and wraps with the Kowalski stuff before.  It is just this great story that doesn’t need page after page of violence to stay entertaining.  It is a well known fact that the “Building The Team” issues of comic books are always the best and “Super-Human” is 6 issues of it.  The moment with Cap and Bucky in the house made me tear up…and I read it before.  You may not like Mark Millar anymore and equate him to a shockjock comic book writer, but he has some skins on the wall to go with the skeletons in his closet.  This comic is a great reminder why he deserves to be famous. 5

 

 

“Homeland Security”

Issues #7-13Ult Vol 2

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Bryan Hitch

Brief Synopsis: Our very fallible heroes show some very ugly character traits at the worst times.  In other news, Nazis with ties to an outside power source threaten the Earth in very dramatic fashion.  Can our heroes conquer their personal demons and hold off the invasion?

Review: It’s not even Captain America shouting “Give up?  Do you think that this A on my head stands for France?!”  It’s more about Nick Fury and Cap joking about it later.  The world of the Ultimates is engrossing and puts you right there.  The action scenes both past and present in Homeland Security are very exciting and pull you right in.  The idea that the military would throw Bruce Banner out of a helicopter and assume that he will land as Hulk was just inspired.  This high octane military skirmish is only eclipsed by the last arc of Ultimates Vol. 2.  It’s great how the series builds on itself.

4

 

 

VOLUME 2

 

“Gods and Monsters”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Bryan Hitch

Brief Synopsis: As the team celebrates and finds new love within their own ranks, an information leak threatens one of their own.  Will they be destroyed by in-fighting or persevere past the death of a comrade.  Is Thor really a liability?  What happens to Hank Pym after he’s exiled?  All this, plus the first look at the Ultimate Defenders (hahaha).

Review: The secret is out and Bruce Banner is doomed.  The seeds of trickery are sown all through these issues and we find that Thor is a bit more complex than we thought.  I thought that the inclusion of the super soldiers from the European Union were a bit over the top, but I’m sure that Captain Britain fans didn’t think so.  Overall, this was another interpersonal conflict and setup kind of issue executed well. 4

 

 

“Grand Theft America”

Issues #7-13

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Bryan Hitch

Brief Synopsis: Everything comes to a head as someone’s mischief causes the Ultimates to doubt, accuse, betray and attack each other.  All the while, America’s greatest threat forms and the final battle is fought.

Review: Loki is rolling and nobody can trust anybody.  Shocking deaths, violent battles, and sheer mayhem abound.  It’s a wonderful end cap to the series and although in the early part of the last decade, I was just as frustrated at the delays that this title endured.  But, in retrospect, it is still great.  “How many legs has spiders got?!” Hulk shouts while killing the Abomination.  It’s Millar and it’s over the top, but executed to near perfection.  That excellence mixed with how many inventive characters we get makes it a 5 shield arc. 5

 

 

VOLUME 3

 

“The Ultimates 3”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Joe Madureira

Brief Synopsis: Hank Pym is under house arrest at Ultimates Mansion. One of Pym’s Ultron robots drugs him and leaks a sex tape of Stark and the Black Widow to the Internet. These distract from the robot’s fatal shooting of the Scarlet Witch. Magneto abducts Wanda’s corpse and retreats to the Savage Land, where he is confronted by the Ultimates. Pym and Wasp discover the truth about the Ultron robot, which has adopted the identity of Yellowjacket and uses the Ultimates’ DNA to create a series of android duplicates. Although the true Ultimates destroy their android counterparts and Yellowjacket,Quicksilver is apparently killed by Hawkeye. The Wasp then invites Pym to return to the Ultimates, and he accepts. The mastermind behind the robot’s plot is revealed to be Doctor Doom.

Review: This comic book is bad.  Not in a hilarious way either.  More in an “I can’t believe that this exists” kind of way.  Jeph Loeb wrote two of my favorite Batman stories (The Long Halloween, Dark Victory) and the only Hulk (Hulk: Grey) solo story that I have read start to finish and enjoyed.  Jeph Loeb is better than this.  There are moments in this comic book where the over the top drama is just too much to bear.  It’s like an MTV-style Ultimates, but with an old school plot.  Just really misses all over the place.  Joe Mad’s art is kicking and looks great, but there is nothing that even comes close to realism and for me that’s what Ultimates is supposed to be about.  This series just feels blasphemous to it’s predecessors.  It feels like some kind of evidence against it’s otherwise talented creators.  Disappointing and at times un-readable. 1

Photographic evidence of why it’s no good.

 

 

VOLUME 4

 

“Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates Thor Reborn”

Issues #1-5

Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artist: Frank Cho

Brief Synopsis: Eight months after the Ultimatum Wave, The Defenders, having recently acquired superpowers, attack Iron Man and Hawkeye at the Triskelion facility. After a brief fight, Captain America, Zarda, and Valkyrie arrive to help. The Defenders then teleport away, stealing the great Mjöllnir from Valkyrie in the process. Meanwhile in Central Park, Shanna, Ka-Zar, and the Black Panther encounter Loki as he returns to Earth with the Enchantress and a swarm of monsters. At the same time, Hela offers Thor a return to Earth from Valhalla in exchange for a son. It is also revealed that Tony and Carol Danvers, director of SHIELD, have become romantically involved.

Review: This series was wacky and a little odd, but ultimately fun and entertaining.  Frank Cho drew “cheesecakey” women as you would expect and a little of the awkward that was in Ultimates 3 carried over, but ultimately, it was a different kind of experience.  The changes to the Ultimates formula were less jarring and reading it felt a bit more akin to reading Ultimates Vol. 2.  With the weird, we get a lot of good and most plot points that are set up, pay off.  I don’t know if it was the extreme difference between New Ultimates and Ultimates 3 or the tiny similarities between New Ultimates and Ultimates Vol. 2 that made it so enjoyable.  Either way, 3 stars. 3

 

 

“Ultimate Comics: Avengers The Next Generation”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Carlos Pacheco

Brief Synopsis: Nick Fury is pulled from hiding by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assemble a team of black ops Ultimates called The Avengers.  The conflict that these super soldiers are needed for is personal in nature as Captain America has a shocking revelation about a sinister enemy.  The Red Skull is back and only the Nick Fury-led and Gregory (Tony’s brother) Stark-backed Avengers can stop him from gaining ultimate power.

Review: I enjoyed the ways that this story is woven into Universe 1610’s continuity greatly.  We are treated to a “building the team issue” with startling new faces and a few familiar ones.  Nerd Hulk felt gratuitous and relatively pointless, but the other Avengers each have interesting and redeeming back stories and power sets.  I found this to be nearly as successful as Ultimates Vol. 1.  Somewhat less realistic, but a positive experience nonetheless. 4

 

 

“Ultimate Comics: Avengers Crime and Punishment”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

Brief Synopsis: A slightly different take on the Avengers is assembled and this time, someone is getting “punished.”  The Punisher, Black Hulk, Hawkeye, War Machine, and Black Widow are assigned to take on an extreme threat murdering rich people.  It certainly seems like something supernatural has it in for the Ultimate Avengers.

Review: I like Ultimate Punisher.  I like regular Punisher, I like Punisher MAX, heck I even like Space Punisher.  The Punisher is a great character, but “Ultimate” Punisher is written masterfully.  It’s very true to the source material and interesting, but also relevant in the 1610 Universe.  It’s a little kooky to make him an Avenger, but put him up against freaking Ghost Rider and it just works.  This story is wild and outlandish and fits the bill for a “go over the top to find greatness” kind of story.  I like the Ultimate Ghost Rider, and that is saying something. 4

 

 

“Ultimate Comics: Avengers Blade Vs. The Avengers”

Issues #1-6

Nick Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Steve Dillon

Brief Synopsis: When super-humans start disappearing Fury’s black ops team and the vampire hunter Blade discovers it to be the work of a blood-sucking human species; vampires. Their goal is to turn the superhuman population into vampires to take over the world and their main objective is the Triskelion due to a large number of super-humans and detained illegal superhuman experiments. The vampires invade the Triskelion and S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to fight back to no-avail, in which Perun is killed during the conflict. But Captain America uses Perun’s hammer to teleport the Triskelion and its battlefield to Iran where it’s daytime which successfully kills the vampires. The event was captured in live television and created a huge media fuss.

Review: This was a story that flew a little too close to the sun.  All of Blade’s dialogue was a treat, but the plot felt a little flat and all of the New Daredevil stuff was pretty superfluous.  Introducing a character just to use him for big plot moments and then kill him all within six issues seems kind of wasteful.  Like the animation in old Scooby Doo cartoons where you would know which door would open due to discoloration.  Sort of bush-league.  I enjoyed Blade and that was about it. 2

 

 

“Ultimate Avengers Vs. New Ultimates Death Of Spider-Man”

Issues #1-6

Writer: Mark Millar

Artist: Leinil Yu

Brief Synopsis: It’s an Ultimate civil war, with the black ops team facing off against the public team all across the globe.  There are deaths and regime changes that rock the Ultimate universe.

Review: For being a comic book with “Death of Spider-Man” in the title, it really had nothing to do with Spider-Man dying.  Leinil Yu usually brings his A-game and this was no different artistically.  We are treated to tons of inter-team fighting (should have probably guessed that from the title) and with it, the revealing of a little more of each character’s thoughts and motivations.  Gregory Stark gets all evil and calculating while Hawkeye, Blade, and others take “Hulk serum” from the Black Hulk and get all violent.  Helicarriers crash (they do that often), trust is broken, and the entire dynamics of the Ultimates change as all of these side mini-series are wrapped up.  It was a good job tying everything together and setting many elements of the Ultimates back into place so that Jonathan Hickman could pick it up and run with it in Volume 5. 3

 

 

VOLUME 5

 

“The Republic Is Burning”

Issues #1-4

XornWriter: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Esad Ribic, Brandon Peterson

Brief Synopsis: Nations fall, gods die, and Earth’s mightiest heroes face their ultimate challenge! Iron Man, Thor and Hawkeye form the core of the Ultimates – S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest fighting force, all too often the only thing keeping the world from total disaster. But when the walls of the mysterious City open up and the hyper-evolved Children of Tomorrow spill out, the Ultimates suddenly find themselves powerless against an unbeatable enemy. As even as Thor’s Asgardian brethren fall before the Children, the God of Thunder makes a startling discovery about this incredible new threat – which might not be such a new threat after all!

Review: This story arc is just a really well crafted “OH BLEEP” moment.  Everything is going wrong as a seemingly insurmountable enemy rises from the past.  It’s just a wonderful bit of doom and hopeless packaged with beautiful words by Jonathan Hickman.  His desire to be conceptually verbose doesn’t over-ride the needs of the story, so we get a rich plot that sticks to the script and doesn’t try to hard.  Like the violinist played during the sinking of the Titanic, Hickman’s phrasing and pacing of dialogue during the end of the world is music to my ears.

5

 

 

“The World”

Issues #5-6

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Brandon Peterson, Esad Ribic

Brief Synopsis: The world is granted a brief respite from the onslaught of The Children of Tomorrow.  We see Nick Fury meeting with the President and various other “in-between” moments.  The Ultimates prepare to assault the City with whatever they can muster and the stage is set.

Review: In two issues, Hickman provides the third dimension for this world.  We are treated to behind the scenes conversations and many “nuts and bolts” moments.  To destroy the City, something epic needs to happen and the Ultimates need to figure out what that is.  A lot of great character moments transpire in this short arc.

4

 

 

“Two Cities. Two Worlds”

Issues #7-12

Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Sam Humphries

Artist: Luke Ross, Butch Guice, Leonard Kirk, Patrick Zircher

Brief Synopsis: Can Nick Fury pick up the pieces of his broken team? Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye and the Ultimates are the world’s premier super-team, assembled to combat global threats. And right now the greatest danger is Reed Richards’ Children of Tomorrow, who stand poised to reshape the Earth in their image. Faced with a new world order, the Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs – of their own government! But with S.H.I.E.L.D. out of play, the government’s contingency plan might prove more dangerous than the threat it’s meant to counter – especially when it involves unleashing the Hulk!

Review: The world is in hot water, but when the City decides to take the offensive, things get very scary for the rest of the planet.  This felt like a big action movie with tons of explosions and gunfights.  The finale made little sense to me the first time that I read it, but on this second reading, I understand it a little better.  There is an intensity and a sense of urgency, that it took the first 6 issues to build up, that is being released and celebrated on the pages.  This feels important and epic on a grand scale.  The comic book is successful and suffers nothing with the transition between writers.  You get the feeling that the giant battle is over, but rebuilding is going to be the defining struggle.

4

 

 

“Divided We Fall / United We Stand”

Issues #13-18cap

Writer: Sam Humphries

Artist: Luke Ross, Timothy Green II, Billy Tan

Brief Synopsis: A crisis in the United States forces the Ultimates into action, as Cap, Iron Man and Thor finally reunite! The Ultimates target the forces working behind the scenes to rip the USA apart, as Hydra battles SHIELD, Thor makes a startling choice, and a secret weapon is revealed that could tip the country into chaos…forever!

Review: I really liked the way that Hydra was utilized here (as opposed to other places).  The idea of the United States becoming un-united and militias running things is not that crazy nowadays.  To me, this is the Ultimates getting back to the roots of being grounded in reality.  At the same time, you have “President Captain Steve Rogers” running around punching lobbyists for a little of that wackiness that makes comics great.  We see the restructuring of the Ultimates and the nation that they protect played out masterfully by Sam Humphries.  I have to admit that I didn’t expect the guy who became famous for writing “sex with dogs” stories to have the goods, but to step onto a Marvel Ultimate book and weave it together with the plot lines in Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Spider-Man is REALLY impressive.  Good on you Sam Humphries!

4

 

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So there is ALL of that (and you wondered why it took me 18 days to post something new!).  It was a herculean task to beg, borrow, read and review all of those mini-series, but I am happy that I did it.  If reading this helps any one of ya’ll pick up an Ultimates book and read it, then it was all worth it.   In this entire series, there were only two collections that I rated below three Cap shields.  If a comic book can endure changes from writers, artists, and events and still end up averaging out above the mean, then that is a series that you should grab the trade paperbacks of and tear through.  They are now on issue 20 and it is still trucking along so I have no doubt that it will continue to be good! If you liked this post, share it with friends or drop us a line in the comments section.  You can also check out our last big “Ultimate” post with Ultimate Fantastic Four.  Keep your eyes peeled as we will be doing this with the entire Ultimate (1610) Marvel Universe.

 

~ Scott Deaux ~   

About Scott Deaux

Favorite Comics: Lazarus, Essex County, Chew, Superior Foes Of Spider-Man, Age of Apocalypse stuff, The Nightly News, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Pax Romana, Avengers, NEXTWAVE: Agents Of Hate, Sweet Tooth, We3, others... Favorite Quote(s): "Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world." - Warren Ellis "People who hold signs go on...to hold many other things" - Eddie Pepitone

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