For my money, The Ultimates 1 and 2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch are probably among the best superhero comics ever produced. They mixed just the right combination of widescreen action, characterization and keep-you-guessing storytelling I just could not put down. Then The Ultimates 3 came along and left a distasteful stain on the legacy of the title. The less said the better.
Now Marvel is giving The Ultimates another shot with a new monthly title; the first six issues of which are collected in this hardcover. So does it live up to the ridiculously high expectations of the first two volumes? Let’s find out.
Ultimate Comics The Ultimates vol. 1
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic with Brandon Peterson
Cover by Kaare Andrews
Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are tasked with keeping the world safe from any type of threat imaginable. The first line of defense is the Ultimates, a group of some of the most powerful heroes in the Ultimate Universe. When the mysterious City appears seemingly out of nowhere, and its inhabitants, The Children of Tomorrow, come spilling out laying waste to anything in their path, it seems nothing can stop them. What are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes supposed to do when they face and enemy they simply cannot beat?
Picking up the writing baton from Mark Millar for this new volume of The Ultimates is Jonathan Hickman, the man who single handedly made the Fantastic Four cool again. While I can appreciate what he did on that book, I was never a big fan of his FF. So I went into his Ultimates with optimism, but low expectations. Imagine my shock when I finished the book and not only liked it, but thought it was more than worthy of the legacy of the title,
Part of the problem writing a book like The Ultimates is something I call “The Superman Paradox;” how do you create a villain that can go toe to toe with the most powerful hero in the universe? To solve this issue, Hickman creates a new enemy in the Children of Tomorrow, a group of hyper-evolved humans who seem one step ahead of the Ultimates at every turn. They’re a fascinating, interesting group who become all the more so when we meet their leader, a plot point I won’t spoil here. Needless to say, it gives the whole situation a new layer that makes dealing with the Children of Tomorrow all the more complicated.
Hickman writes the book in the widescreen style that is the hallmark of The Ultimates. Massive battles and an impending sense of doom permeate every page. More than once I couldn’t tell you where the story was going to go with twists and turns on every page. The characterization is spot on, and several smaller Ultimate characters, such as Captain Britain and The Falcon, get a chance in the spotlight.
Another key to The Ultimate’s larger-than-life feeling is the art. Esad Ribic proves more than capable of meeting this challenge. No space on the page is wasted, and each and every panel just explodes with motion and gravitas. His pencils have a very clean, detailed style that makes following the story easy, and there are a couple double page spreads here that will just take your breath away. In the last two chapters Brandon Peterson handles the bulk of the art, which is a real shame. While his work is good, it has a rushed, unfinished quality and doesn’t really mesh that well with the work of Ribic. While it would have been great to see Ribic draw the whole book, I guess if you need a fill-in, you could do a lot worse than Brandon Peterson.
Now, a word of caution; this first volume of The Ultimates ties in heavily with the Ultimate Hawkeye book that came out at the same time (Look for my review in a couple weeks). Hickman writes both and as a result they seamlessly form one story. You don’t need to read one to enjoy the other, but you will get a more complete picture of what is going on if you read both.
It looks like The Ultimates is in good hands, at least for now. Hickman has already announced he is leaving the title, so we’ll have to wait and see if the new writer (Sam Humphries) can pick up the baton and run with it as well as Hickman has. But for now I’ll begin counting down to the next collection.