“How I learned to love the Hulk”
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch (p) Paul Neary (i)
The Ultimates' battle with the Chitauri takes a turn for the better as Bruce Banner is provoked into releasing the Hulk into the fray. Meanwhile, the Wasp and the Black Widow struggle to defuse the bomb that threatens to destroy the planet - and Thor's claims to godhood are put to the test...
As soon as you hit the first panel of this issue, all complaints about late shipping and unprofessional scheduling disappear into thin air. Bruce Banner's vertigo-inducing ejection from the military helicopter sets the tone for a non-stop thrillride of an issue which concludes the first volume of the Ultimates in style. The Hulk's introduction (beautifully rendered in one of the many superb splash pages by Bryan Hitch) serves to turn the tide in the Ultimates' battle against the Chitauri, allowing the creative team to get away with cinematic action and widespread destruction on a scale which outstrips anything in the title to date. Even if Captain America's manipulation of the Hulk verges occasionally on the comical - playing to his ultra-aggressive desire to assert his masculinity as well as his jealousy regarding Betty Ross - the rampage is a highlight of this second arc, putting any pacing qualms which have been exacerbated by the title's erratic shipping schedule to rest.
Millar shows that a solid understanding of character and motivation doesn't have to come at the expense of excitement and dynamism, utilising the different personalities present in the super-hero team to their fullest whilst never skimping on out and out action. Whilst his writing contemporaries may be lauded for their witty dialogue and strong characterisation (mentioning no Bendises), it is unlikely that any of their issues will match this one for pure entertainment and a perfect comprehension of how to exploit the strengths of the comic book medium. The kind of book that can mix super-soldiers and nazis with a schizophrenic nurse with delusions of godhood and an alien invasion with a storyline about domestic violence - without any of it seeming forced - is surely something special indeed.
Now, to the art: Hitch's work on this title is never less than impressive, but here he has outdone himself. If a test of good storytelling is how smoothly the story seems to move from panel to panel than the artwork on offer here must surely rank as some of the mot successful seen in a recent comic. Hitch creates such fluid movement that you won't believe that you're engaging with a medium that is essentially static. The level of sophistication is never compromised, with a real sense of dimensionality and texture reinforced by the trademark level of detail to be found in all of his panels. Nor is a sense of humanity sacrificed, as the characters of the Ultimates taking centre stage both during and after the epic conflict, their beautifully expressive and consistent depictions conveying the sentiments of the script with precision. Full marks must also go to Paul Neary's inks and the colouring of Paul Mounts, without which the title's artwork would not look nearly as effective.
I could rave about this issue for pages, but if you haven't read it yet I don't want to spoil everything for you. Its only slight flaw - a slightly cheesy final page which belies the shades of grey to be found in the rest of the book - is far outweighed by the wealth of entertainment to be found within. This tantalisingly good final issue of Volume One makes the wait of a few months for Volume Two even more frustrating, but in stockpiling Hitch's artwork so that issues can be released on a monthly schedule it seems that Marvel have made the right decision.
This super-sized issue - 40 pages plus the recap - is a fitting testament to the great work done on The Ultimates to date. Whilst Volume One will doubtless read even better in collected form (without those 3-month waits for an issue), anyone who has any desire for comics which thrill and entertain will want to pick this issue up as soon as they can. Proof that super-hero comics don't have to be shallow and worthless, the Ultimates stands as a shining example of quality craftsmanship in the medium which will re-invigorate the enthusiasm of anyone who currently finds Marvel, and comics in general, lacking.
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