Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch (p), Paul Neary (i)
I’ll preface this review by saying that I was a huge fan of the first Ultimates series. The initial 13 issues were exactly what I look for in my superhero comics – large-scale action, beautiful art, heavy nods to real-world events, with – most importantly - some very interesting things being done with the “Ultimized” versions of established characters. What I wasn’t a fan of was the huge wait between issues, which made for a disjointed reading experience at best. A pleasure, then, to learn that Marvel have chosen to delay this series from April until now, supposedly holding back enough issues to enable Bryan Hitch to keep on top of the art chores and prevent volume two of the title slipping into release-date-limbo like volume one. This grants the arrival of volume 2 even more of a ‘sequel’ feeling – and like all good sequels, it looks like Millar and Hitch are building on the best elements of the first installment to make this series even more pleasingly complex and layered than first time round.
Launching straight into the action, Millar gives us a taste of the Ultimates’ role in the world today by showing Captain America being deployed to defuse a difficult hostage situation in Iraq. It’s a neat juxtaposition with the WWII Cap sequence which began the first Ultimates series, showing up the complexities of the current war on terror when compared with the more simplistic good-vs-evil take that is so often applied to the Second World War. It’s no coincidence, then, that this sequence leads into a thread which runs throughout the issue which shows people being used as objects and tools of government: when Larry King and Tony Stark talk about “Persons of Mass Destruction”, we can see the line between superhuman being and weapon becoming ever more blurred. What’s more, Nick Fury seems to be becoming ever more callous and arrogant with regard to the scope of his military remit, and the social conscience of the group – Thor - has resigned from the group over political differences (and seems to be displaying ever more severe symptoms of the schizophrenia which has always been suspected of him). In addition to all this, disgraced and neurotic scientists Bruce Banner and Hank Pym seem to have become close buddies, working on new Super Soldier technologies as they both try to conceal their shameful pasts from the general public: Pym as a wife-beater and Banner as the mass-murdering Hulk. Meanwhile, Captain America and the Wasp have to come to terms with the downside of a life in the public eye, as their adulterous affair begins to make waves in the gossip pages of national magazines.
Already, we can see that the team seems to be on an unsteady footing, and things progress downhill from there, with more character-based twists occurring than any real action as the issue progresses. If the Ultimates’ first volume was a superhero comic in the style of a bombastic Michael Bay movie, this second voyage into their world seems determined to explore what happens when the façade is cracked, and the media-friendly image that the Ultimates have traded on so readily begins to come crashing down about their ears. This change in tone is reflected in the artwork too, with a sombre colour palette adding the requisite mood to Hitch’s perfect pencils and Paul Neary’s delicate and loyal inking. As before, I could probably wait a couple of months per issue for artwork of this quality, but let’s not tempt fate. I’m hoping that Marvel can keep to their promised schedule and finally deliver work of this incredibly high quality and amazingly consistent realism on a monthly basis.
The slightly unwieldy title aside, I pretty much liked everything about this book. It's sufficiently different and evolved from the old run to warrant the sequel tag, but the writing and art easily matches the high standards of the first 13 issues. I'll be following this every month, as it looks destined to remain one of my favourite superhero books in production at the moment. It’s a book which rewards re-reading and close attention, works on more than one level (I love the political angle, but the more action-oriented reader will find something to enjoy here too) and this first issue really sets the scene for an even fuller and more satisfying dissection of the team than was managed in their first volume.
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