The Ultimates is the latest series of adventures of Marvel Comics’s alternate universe Avengers, and it’s quite good. There’s not need to beat around the bush on this one, especially since the comic itself wastes no time. With the very first issue the creative team composed of writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Esad Ribic and colourist Dean White, jump right into the story. Even from the very first page they manage to hook the reader and those who continued reading were not disappointed.
The story, once you break it down, is rather simple. A villainous genius, The Maker, creates impressive evolutionary pressure cooker somewhere on the European continent and it threatens the planet. Nick Fury, commander of SHIELD, and his Ultimates are unable to deal with this thread and compounded with other global catastrophes they are nearly completely defeated. There have been several similar stories in superhero comics but the creative team manages not only to make it fresh but also succeed in making the threat feel real. The only possible conclusion here appears to be the collapse of both the Ultimates, SHIELD and several world governments.
The first comic I read with Esad Ribic on art was the opening story arc of Uncanny X-Force. He has a different style than many artists working in mainstream comic. There’s a European vibe to his art and I like it. He’s well suited to smaller character moments as he is big action sequences and that’s exactly the kind of balance in storytelling that makes a good team superhero book. That compounded with the fact that Ribic’s art simply looks good makes him an excellent choice for this title. My only complaint is that sometimes, when there’s a lot of action, his panels can get a little too packed with art and details but it’s difficult to criticism because he still manages to make it look good. I love the way he draws Thor. I think the Ultimate Universe has my favourite Thor look and it’s mostly because of the beard. I love Thor with a thick beard. It’s better than a goatee and it’s significantly better than the wimpy beard Thor has in the Marvel movieverse. I think Thor looks good without the beard in regular Marcel continuity but here in the Ultimate Universe, the beard is able to excel in part because of the difference in tone.
You can’t talk about Ribic’s art on this book without mentioning Dean White’s colours. He’s an excellent colourist. He’s not my favourite but he has such great skill that it’s impossible to ignore his contributions to the art. He’s very versatile and his colours look very different here than they did on Uncanny X-Force. It was good then but I think it’s better here, simply out of personal preference. The colours of The Ultimates manage to incorporate the vibrant colours and sense of wonder of superhero comics but it’s also grounded in the 21st Century pseudo reality of the Ultimate Universe line of titles. I can’t recall reading another comic that was coloured by White other than books also drawn by Ribic and that’s fine because I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather see colour Ribic’s art. They’re an impressive collaboration and their work definitively helps to elevate the story.
Hickman has become a prominent writer at Marvel in the last five years. He’s written fan favourite and acclaimed runs (Fantastic Four is a good example) and he’s become one of the Marvel Architects which essentially means he’s proved himself as a writer and now Marvel gives him access to their most popular properties. Hickman is currently the writer of the recently relaunched Avengers and New Avengers. I haven’t had a chance to read either of those yet but I have a feeling it would be more difficult for Hickman to write a story like the one in The Ultimates. For starters the tone of the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe are very different. There’s a sense of danger in The Ultimates that would be nearly impossible to match in a regular Marvel book because the writers are limited in what they can do. Yes there can be stories that change things but at the end of the day the characters and the titles are a product that has to remain recognizable. If you look at the characters and the world of the Ultimate Universe today compared to the first few years after it launched, very few things remain the same.
That’s probably one of my complaints, actually. So much has changed that sometimes it’s difficult to know which character is who, what they’ve done and how they’re different from their Marvel Universe counterpart. For examples, when Thor was first introduced in Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, he was a man pretending to be a god but then he actually became Thor God of Thunder. Now in Hickman’s run he no longer has his godly powers but not quite, now he potentially has more than ever before because he’s the living incarnation of Valhalla. . . or something. See what I mean? Things in the Ultimate Universe have gotten complicated over time and despite some ok to mediocre comics in the line there are some real gems. What’s great about The Ultimates is that Hickman doesn’t even use all the team members in this first volume. Instead he has several other secondary as well as tertiary Marvel Universe characters into the mix. A smart move that has already paid off in this volume and I’m convinced will continue to do so in the second part of the story.
Hickman, Ribic and White tell a thrilling, no-holds-barred superhero comic and expect you to keep up. I love comics that are dense and quick, I love comics that challenge me. With Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates my ability as comics reader and my knowledge of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe are challenged while my cravings for intelligent, well-crafted and interesting superhero comics are satisfied. The Ultimates isn’t a run of the mill smash ‘em up comics spoon fed to you by a barely sub average writer, this is the real deal and I’d recommend you check it out.
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