The Ultimates is one of the centerpiece titles in Marvel’s Ultimate line of books, which re-boot classic comic books in an effort to make them more appealing to The Kids. The Ultimates is sort of like a comic book adaptation of a live-action PG-13 Avengers movie, if that makes any sense. It’s packed with big-budget widescreen action, excellent character design, realistic art, mature situations (sex & violence), and lots of property damage. All this is good.
It’s the one thing that mars the book for me. At the risk of over-simplifying an entire genre, I want the protagonists of my colorful morality tales to have some redeeming qualities. I want to want them to win – not just because they are the main characters in the story and my sympathies lie with them by default. I want them to win because they are heroes, the good guys. I am a child.
The Ultimates, a super-team assembled by Samuel L Jackson, consists of Captain America (uptight right-winger), The Hulk (in rapey kill-kill mode), The Wasp (shallow and vain), Hank Pym (cowardly wife-beater), Iron Man (drunk), and Thor (sanctimonious lunatic). In the first volume, they battle evil aliens and each other and just generally tear shit up. Each issue features more collateral damage than Independence Day, and The Ultimates #5 is no exception.
The set-up is simple: Hulk is on a rampage, insanely jealous that the object of his affection Betty is dating heart throb Freddie Prinze Jr. The Ultimates have to stop him before he destroys Betty, Freddie Prinze, and most of Manhattan. Have I mentioned that Ultimate Betty is an asshole too? Well, she is.
Minor complaints aside, The Ultimates delivers in terms of action. Hitch clearly invests a lot of energy in every panel - there are no art shortcuts or cop-outs in this book. The amount of time it must have taken to draw the page below... man, I get carpal tunnel syndrome just looking at that thing.
There isn't a ton of plot going on in Ultimates #5 which is pretty much a cover-to-cover fight scene, but it does touch on the theme of superhero-as-celebrity that runs throughout the first volume of the book.
I have to give writer Mark Millar credit; all the characters are well-written and possess distinct personalities and all sound different from each other. The Ultimates take on The Hulk one at a time, so each little vignette allows us a glimpse at the heroes and what they're all about. Tactically, this doesn't make a lot of sense - don't those guys read X-Men? They've got to work as a team, damn it! - but it makes for a satisfying story as each character takes a turn in the spotlight.
Here's Captain America using some good ol' fashion American butt-kicking on the grey behemoth:
The socialite Wasp also engages The Hulk, but in a different way. This is the first comic book I have read where a heroine flashes her tits at the bad guy to distract him. North American male comic book readers have waited for decades for the art to reach this point, when boob-flashing is OK.
Iron Man takes his turn with the rampaging libidinous monster as well, blasting The Hulk through Grand Central Station. I love the long shot of the station, below, with the shiny marble effect on the floor. Pretty.
In the end, The Wasp manages to subdue The Hulk not with her bosom, but by shrinking down and zapping his brain. The Hulk plummets from the aircraft he's clinging to and lands like a meteor in New York City, where he reverts back to Puny Banner. Captain America approaches, and Banner begs Cap not to hit him any more...