SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad:, Chris Kiser, Nick Boisson, Travis Walecka

"Reboot? Relaunch? Do you think this 'A' on my head stands for DC?"

Nick Boisson: 4.5 stars
Chris Kiser: 4.5 stars
Travis Walecka: 3.5 stars


Nick Boisson:

With The Ultimates #1, Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic kick off the new Ultimate Comics line and mark the dawn of a new era in the Ultimate Universe. After the events that transpired prior to and in Ultimate Fallout, Earth-1610 is in a state of disarray. We lost Spider-Man, Captain America gave up, all of the mutants are in hiding to avoid being put in government-run concentration camps, the EUSS has re-initiated its super-soldiers program and many parts of the world were left on the brink of war. With all of this happening -- and with a recent drastically reduced budget -- how can both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Ultimates continue saving the world?

Jonathan Hickman has been crafting a world about to explode for a while now. In this issue, Hickman uses his penchant for dialogue to throw a lot at the reader in a very short amount of space and does so without the reader feeling overwhelmed with information. He uses Nick Fury being briefed by one of his operatives at S.H.I.E.L.D. as a way of informing the reader of what is currently happening in the Ultimate Universe and where they all stand in accordance to these events.

We get some interesting characterizations of these characters in the issue, as well. When we get to Tony Stark, he is at a party in Tokyo -- flirting with a woman while trying to ignore his new assistant -- rather than with Fury's advance team in Montevideo, ready to stop a war from breaking out. After his assistant makes a comment regarding the woman Tony was flirting with as having "rather inconveniently misplaced her ankles," Tony makes a rather boyish remark about "dating women who actually eat" this year. When they get to the car, Tony calls up Nick Fury and asks how he slept. It seems that the Robert Downey Jr. Tony Stark has seeped into Marvel's Ultimate Universe just a bit. And Nick Fury is constantly juggling his emotions between cool & calculated and Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane.

One thing that I must remark on is the amazing job that Esad Ribic has done with this book. He uses many big, wide panels, making the story appear and feel very cinematic. My favorite scene in the book has the new Captain Britain and his super-soldier team go to Asgard to confront the Gods for their recent attacks on Earth. In the panels prior, S.H.I.E.L.D. has loses audio for the feed, so the entire scene is told in silence: no text boxes, no word balloons and no onomatopoeia splashed across the panels. So get an entire scene where Captain Britain flies into Asgard, confronts the Gods -- drinking in celebration, no less -- and insults Thor by rejecting an offering, and we're on the edge of our seats the entire time, despite not fully knowing what's being said. Frankly, any scene like that is difficult to do in comics. Well, difficult to do successfully, at least. It takes one hell of an artist to make a scene like that work and Hickman has exactly that: one hell of an artist in Esad Ribic.

By the end of the issue, the world all but crumbles to the many conflicts spanning the globe. Hawkeye is lost while in Asia, a pretty big plot device (some might call it a bomb) goes off in the Uruguay situation and one of Captain Britain's super-soldiers is taken by the dome in Germany -- which the reader knows to be a construct of Reed Richards and his new team from Ultimate Comics #4. All of this happens at once and Nick Fury & S.H.I.E.L.D. are watching the whole thing. The Ultimates are crumbling right before the world's eyes. When the President asks Fury what he is going to do about everything, the story ends with a very loaded "I don't know" from Fury. To say the story ends with a bang is an understatement.

Hickman and Ribic have started something here that will -- without a doubt -- keep me reading this ongoing for months to come. Next week, marking the beginning of Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye should be a good way of Hickman to remove one small aspect of the story and not leave us too overwhelmed. It is hard to sum up this issue in one neat, little package. The best I could do is draw you to the final page of the comic, which ends with black text on a white page: "THE REPUBLIC IS BURNING" emblazoned under a black star, shaped like the one on Captain America's shield. All I can say is that I look forward to watching the flames.

Nick Boisson grew up on television, Woody Allen, video games, Hardy Boys mysteries and DC comic books, with the occasional Spider-Man issue thrown in for good measure. He currently roams the rainy streets of Miami, Florida, looking for a nice tie, a woman that gets him, and the windbreaker he lost when he was eight. He sometimes writes things down on Twitter as @nitroslick.

Chris Kiser:

Considering that it’s Sunday, and the Wednesday release we’re reviewing here has already made plenty of waves across the comics Internet, there’s little chance that the sentence I’m about to write will be news to you. But before you dismiss me as a mere latecomer to the party, I ask you to consider my words as confirmation that everything good you’ve heard so far about the book in question is true. With a new #1 issue written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Esad Ribic, the Ultimates are most assuredly back.

Not in a long while have I read a comic book that captured the spirit of Mark Millar’s initial two-volume Ultimates run -- one of the most outstanding superhero comics of the twenty-oughts -- and that even includes a few starring the same characters and written by Millar himself. For the better part of the last five years, Marvel’s Ultimate line (with the exception of Ultimate Spider-Man) seemed to have lost the sheen of its smooth and polished early days. Now, however, it’s time to put that ongoing disappointment to rest, as Hickman succeeds in tapping directly into the cinematic feel, the geopolitical resonance, and the new reader accessibility of the original Ultimates series.

Mind you, though, this is no mere second helping of Millar, whose original work was as much a new take on the Avengers franchise as it was a spoof of the Bush administration’s foreign interventionism. Hickman’s tale here is political, yes, but it’s more West Wing than Fahrenheit 9/11. He places Nick Fury, once again in charge of the US’s superhuman arsenal, at the helm of a bustling S.H.I.E.L.D. command center, deploying forces to defuse numerous tense situations across the planet. All throughout, Hickman displays a mastery of the book’s whip-crack pace, escalating the story’s parallel conflicts in systematic rapid-fire succession.

Likewise, Ribic is no Bryan Hitch, but in some respects his work may actually exceed that of the heralded original series artist. While Ribic may not possess all of Hitch’s insanely detailed, cover-ready flair, his compositions have a dynamism and motion to them that Hitch’s movie scene frame grabs don’t always convey. And, in a pinch, he’s still able to muster up his fair share of the striking Hitchian character poses that franchise loyalists have been conditioned to expect.

As DC Comics prepares for a drastic relaunch of its entire line, Marvel has published a single issue that has perfectly achieved its competition’s lofty creative goals. Hickman and Ribic’s The Ultimates is an immediately arresting read that deserves to be placed into the hands of the superhero-hungry theater audiences who have descended en masse upon recent Marvel Studios films. The question isn’t whether you should buy a copy for yourself but, rather, how many of your friends you should grab a copy for as well.

Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin and can be found on Twitter as @Chris_Kiser. He's currently in the midst of reading and reviewing every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and regretting every second of it.

Travis Walecka:

Credit must be given for writer Jonathan Hickman’s ultimate balancing act.

First, the freakishly awesome Fantastic Four-turned-Future Foundation, Secret Warriors, and S.H.I.E.L.D. writer must incorporate the impending nature of The Avengers movie into this brand new line of The Ultimates -- because it’s editorially-mandated, duh. Second, he must compile, serve and make sense of a gazillion subplots from the Ultimate Fallout mini (from three separate writers, mind you); how can Hickman incorporate the Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimate Future Foundation (yup, already), next week’s Ultimate Hawkeye, and, of course, the result of Ultimate Spidey’s death? Not any luckier, Hickman must also carry the consequences from Mark Millar’s run from both the original Ultimates and Ultimates 2, and the civil warring damage that was Ultimate Comics Avengers vs. New Ultimates.

Got all that?

Thankfully, Hickman keeps the debut real simple and speedier than a career in reality television. A secretive alien dome drops, Asgardian gods respond, multiple Captain Britains respond further. Trust me, it’s not as complicated as it seems. And that goes thanks to the guiding light of this book -- and of course all of the Marvel Studios films -- Agent Nick Fury. Without a shadow of a doubt, Nick is going to be our main man, and, yet, despite all the title’s red, white and blue trim, Captain America is merely referenced. Here’s to hoping the next issue, Hickman finds a better way to drop down good ol’ Steve other than the typical Page 22 splash.

Hickman’s never that predictable, thankfully.

So, despite The Ultimates debut issue not causing quite the bombastic ruckus many readers have expected from the new leader of the "House of Ideas," the simpler oh-shit-there-goes-everything approach is enough to set things off. It’s not quite the lived-up classic, with the cute white poly bag, and extraordinary Avengers film-inspired cover art, but it’s no disappointment, either.

The best element of the newest Ultimates is the art. Dark Reign: Wolverine one-shot standout and Uncanny X-Force artist Esad Ribic commendably calculates confused-heroism with the paradoxical sci-fi, despite a few uniform hindrances and slightly confusing angle takes. I would’ve liked to see Iron Man put down a little more of an "ultimate" performance, as it’s no secret the 616 universe has caught up with its Ultimate sister in terms of new-age technology and film-motivated atmosphere. Some things really need to be taken next-level in order for this line to detach itself from the rest.

Yet, with ideas as big as Hickman’s -- there’s no question he’s the most original writer on the roster -- I’m sure we’ll see that and then some. Otherwise, the Ultimate Comics line will result in just another gimmick from Marvel to tie into their terrific films, and sadly, nothing more. I’ll stay optimistic.

Travis Walecka has gone through more phases than Paris Hilton has gone through tan lines; or apropos, more phases than variations of Batman titles. Hip-hop critic. MMA fighter. Furniture mover. Screenwriter. Hollywood bouncer. This guy puts Dean Malenko to shame, or perhaps, only Hayden Christensen. Nonetheless, this all-too-positive "Loose Cannon" (as monikered from various music and film review sites) newfound phase is simply, comics. And it's going on three years strong. After blowing the lot of his savings on graphic novels and stupid "collectible" figurines, Travis decided to leave it all alone in Boston and head to his next destiny: Hollywood, California.


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