Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch
Publisher: Marvel Comics
There was once a time when The Ultimates was the hottest thing to hit comic books shelves. I loved everything about it: the re-imagining of Captain America, the Sam Jackson Nick Fury, Tony Stark in his true form, I even thought Thor was pretty cool. The first volume of The Ultimates was amazing, one of the best alien invasion stories ever published. While the only qualm I had with it was the Nazis being aliens, it was still one of the best series I had ever read. In my book, Mark Millar’s stock was high as he was writing The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and Marvel Knights Spider-Man; he launched Ultimate X-Men and had written possibly the greatest “Elseworlds” Superman story ever, Red Son. Not to mention a small mini-series put out by Dark Horse featuring the anti-Christ titled Chosen. Mark Millar was unstoppable back then, but then the delays started to hit The Ultimates, and they only got longer between issues. Then, of course, came Civil War, another great title and concept almost completely destroyed by Mark Millar’s delays. When you are putting out some of the most popular books on the market, constant delays will only hurt one’s credibility. While it is completely understandable to take time off to recover from illness and I can only wish him good health, Millar had the reigns of Marvel at his fingertips and could have come back with a bang; instead he has only divided comic fans.
So now finally, the conclusion of The Ultimates 2 has arrived, two and a half years later. Many will argue that the death of the Ultimate Universe is on the horizon, and unless Jeph Loeb can really revitalize the franchise with Ultimate Avengers, it is entirely possible. It’s hard to go into an issue like this one and really be excited about it. After all, one of the most humorous elements of this issue is the fact that Robert Gates is Secretary of Defense and Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House. When the last issue of this title came out, Donald Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense and the Republicans still held majority in Congress. While I always loved the way Millar used modern political figures, it doesn’t help the credibility of this title knowing that there were entirely different political figures in office when the issue came out.
But delays, incompetence and changing of political figures aside, this is a decent issue yet anti-climatic ending to The Ultimates 2. Throughout the series, Millar did a great job breaking down Thor and really making him look psychotic. There are moments where even I wondered if Loki was real or was indeed a figment of Thor’s imagination. Finally, Thor stops messing around and takes Mjolnir straight to Loki’s head. Everything that happened throughout this second volume comes to a head in this issue as Loki finally admits to his grand scheme. While it was a clever ploy and Loki reveals his motivations, everything feels a bit dumbed down for a classic Mark Millar superhero beat down. Granted, it was cool to see the warriors of Asgard show up (as arguably the first physical proof that Ultimate Asgard exists), the issue still becomes another slugfest. While I enjoyed the dialogue back and forth between Thor and Loki before Thor finally lays the hammer down on his brother for good, this issue just didn’t have the excitement and momentum that the first volume’s conclusion possessed. Maybe it was because of the delays, or maybe it was because the Hulk didn’t eat any aliens before getting beat-down by Cap, but there was a level of satisfaction missing from the end of the fight.
When it was all said and done, it’s what comes after the Millar-fight-fest that really brings this issue to a more satisfying conclusion to the series as a whole. Seeing the Avengers form as well as seeing the first avenging by an Avenger was definitely cool and will hopefully raise the bar for Jeph Loeb. But what I really liked was seeing Tony Stark as Tony Stark was meant to be. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, Tony Stark has become a villain to me, and I’m not that impressed by his character these days, but Millar manages to capture the true Tony Stark in these pages. Heart-broken over the Black Widow’s betrayal, Tony Stark copes in the only way he knows how, some booze and a blond. That is the Tony Stark that I hope Robert Downey Jr. represents.
Then, of course, there is the homage to Captain America at the very end of this issue. Captain America is my favorite Marvel character, but I found this sequence completely out of place and quite frankly in the wrong universe. Was it Millar’s way to cash in on the “death” of Captain America? Who knows, but aside from the picture of Gail that he carried with him into battle during World War II in The Ultimates Volume One, this ending serves no greater purpose to The Ultimates. The dedication to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is a nice touch, but the whole thing is just really out of place and adds to the overall anti-climatic feel of this issue.
Bryan Hitch’s artwork is fantastic. His work has been consistent throughout both volumes of this title, and he has remained consistent in action, drama and character throughout. The eight page pull-out spread is also a nice touch and is really one of the stand out moments of his tenure on The Ultimates. His artwork has definitely been one of the main elements that will make this series memorable.
My hope is that Jeph Loeb can save the Ultimate universe. I really have enjoyed everything “Ultimate” that Marvel has put out, and right now Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be the only consistent series of the imprint. The Ultimate Avengers should be the flagship title of the Ultimate universe and should change the status quo of Marvel’s ultimate experiment. They should look at the Ultimate universe and the Ultimate Avengers not as a way to streamline continuity, but as a way to provide a newer, edgier and more modern take on these classic heroes. Delays or not, Mark Millar has laid the groundwork for the Ultimate universe to maintain its edge and its originality. I hope Loeb and Bendis take advantage of what Millar has created.
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