Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Ultimates

The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch are what I call a "perfect comic." By this, I mean something highly specific:

Millar's script is very good;
Hitch's art is very good;
the script and art are a perfect match.

I have reread the four volumes - confusingly, The Ultimates, Volumes 1 and 2, and The Ultimates 2, Volumes 1 and 2 - several times. While following the story, we appreciate the full colour detailed art. We are in no hurry to turn the page to see what happens next. In The Ultimates, Volume 1, Chapter Two, the opening conversation between Nick Fury and Bruce Banner takes six pages but none of that space is wasted.

A lot of pages are devoted to quiet conversations and characterisation but, when the fight scenes come, they are spectacular. The Ultimates take twenty three pages, the whole of Chapter Five, to fight the Hulk. But then things quieten down as the consequences are discussed. The Chapter on "The Defenders" addresses the same question as Millar's Kick Ass: what happens if someone without powers, training or equipment dons a costume and goes on the street? It is clear that, for this group, the costumes are the only point of the exercise:

"I'm kind of a female Thor. That's why I've got all the Norse symbolism and stuff going on in the costume." (1)

"Uh, sure. Obviously saving lives is a huge motivating factor in why I wear the costume but..." (1)

It makes sense that the only way that superheroes with superpowers could be funded would be as part of national defence. The government denies it will use persons of mass destruction abroad, then does. The powerful being who claims to be Thor is a former mental patient - and also is literally Thor, although an updated version who is here to oppose war, not to wage it.

The Ultimates version of Captain Britain is, like the American heroes, a government experiment and is one of several such European "Captains." The Ultimates introduces the black Nick Fury, played by Samuel L Jackson, in my opinion preferable to the original.

The four volumes are an extended origin story with the Ultimates realizing at the end that they must go independent. Their invasion of another country had caused more super-terrorism than it had prevented. Since they will be funded by Stark Industries, we could argue that they will still be part of the same military-industrial complex. Nevertheless, serious issues about government actions have been addressed in a spectacular superhero comic.

(1) Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, The Ultimates 2, Volume 1, New York, 2005, "The Defenders."

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