Written by Mark Millar
Illustrated by Bryan Hitch
I clearly don’t purchase enough comic books. Some people (my wife, in particular) might question the accuracy of that statement, but “enough” is a subjective term and is currently subject to my parameters. Thus, the statement is valid.
The upside of not purchasing enough comic books is that the titles that I might be inclined to purchase are often collected in trade paperbacks that are convenient and largely advertisement-free. This is the case with Marvel’s Ultimate universe. I’ve never purchased a single standalone issue of any series in the universe, but I’ve purchase trade paperback collections of The Ultimates, Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. Ultimate Fantastic Four is next on my list.
Last week I bought a copy of The Ultimates Vol. 2: Homeland Security, which collects issues 7 – 13 of The Ultimates comic book. Now that I’ve read Homeland Security (how many Google hits am I going to get from that phrase?), I can see that The Ultimate Avengers animated movie was pretty much based on the first thirteen issues of the comic book.
If you read my review of The Ultimate Avengers, you may recall me mentioning the alien invasion storyarc that wasn’t evident in the first six issues of The Ultimates. That’s because the aliens weren’t a factor in the series until about issue eight, when Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much retconned the latter half of the 20th century. The big difference between the movie and the comic book is that the shape-shifting aliens (called the Chitauri, though in some cultures they are known as Skrulls) aren’t shy about revealing their true form on the screen, something they almost never do in the comics.
The pesky aliens, as it turns out, have been around for quite a while and frequently try to stir up all kinds of trouble. Such a stir has begun and Nick Fury wants The Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D. to put an end to it. On the roster are Captain America, Iron Man, the Black Widow and Thor. Team members Giant Man, Wasp, Hawkeye and the Hulk are largely uninvolved this time out, for various reasons. I say “largely” because all of them figure into the story at one point or another, though not necessarily into the “defend Earth from alien invasion” bit. Also, I’m not entirely certain that Hawkeye is officially a member of The Ultimates.
It’s not a new story, by any means, but that doesn’t make it any less entertain. Mark Millar spins a decent yarn, and his “Ultimate” take on the characters is interesting. Captain America, for instance, is still an uberpatriot, but he’s also not going to put up with any shit from his teammates, and he’ll pound the point home very literally, if need be. Bruce Banner starts the series almost entirely wrapped up in his own little (well, big) problems, but has begun to appreciate the consequences of having an angry, destructive force living within himself. Thor is a hammer-wielding hippie who may or may not be an escaped mental patient and/or the son of Odin.
To go along with Millar’s imaginative interpretations of these classic heroes, the artwork by Bryan Hitch is beautiful. Taking a cue from Alex Ross and other comic book artists who lean toward photorealism (and, perhaps, from the X-Men movies), Hitch’s heroes aren’t running around in spandex. Their uniforms appear far more practical and (with the exception of Captain America and Iron Man) far less flashy. They look more like clothing and less like a second skin, which works very well for the series.
I believe that The Ultimates wrapped after thirteen issues, followed by The Ultimates 2, which picks up a year after the alien invasion is resolved and features a bunch of new characters. Whether the sequel to The Ultimate Avengers movie will continue to follow the comic books remains to be seen. All I know is that I don’t purchase nearly enough comics and The Ultimates 2 Vol. 1: Gods and Monsters is on bookshelves now.