Thursday, 12 July 2012

Books: Ultimate Comics: Doomsday


Ultimate Comics: Doomsday
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Rafa Sandoval

Available now from Islington Libraries
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I'm just gonna admit it. I'm not ashamed. Ultimate Marvel. The Ultimate Universe. Ultimate Comics. Whatever you want to call them - I'm a fan. They're good. I like them.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about ("Ultimate what now?") read this footnote [1]: and as for the rest of you: well - I'll admit that I don't really know what the general critical consenus is - am I preaching to the choir (Sing it with me! Ultimate Marvel! Testify! Can I get a hallelujah?! Hallelujah!!! Amen!) or is this one of those things were I'm standing alone in an empty field with everyone else (in the field next door I guess - the one marked "We all hate Ultimate Marvel") staring at me like I'm crazy (see also: Garth Ennis' Crossed which - damn it - I don't care what any of you say - is one of the best horror comic books ever written)? For me the Ultimate Marvel books feels something that most of us comic book geeks should be getting behind - and yeah - I'll say it: celebrating. I mean - ok - I'm not totally bonkers - I'm not going to stand up for Jeph Loeb's Ultimatum [2] but out of all the superhero books and different types of series out there - the Ultimate books are (with a few exceptions) the ones that my brain has to make the least excuses for - and - yay - the ones I enjoy the most.

It was something that I couldn't really put my finger on until I got to this - Ultimate Doomsday (which seems to me to be Bendis' attempt to redo Ultimatum - but this time make it good and not suck). Because the thing that I really love about Ultimate Marvel (and the thing that it does best) is embracing the principles of change.

Back when these books first started - with Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Fantastic Four (which please please please - if you're thinking of reading this book I would recommend you go and check out beforehand - for the simple reason that you will end up enjoying Ultimate Doomsday so much more - and it'll make it a richer experience and blah blah blah - not to mention that Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate Fantastic Four are both awesome and fantastic superhero books) - it was all about rebooting the famous Marvel properties [3] and making them fresh for a 21st Century audience without the need to be boggled down in countless years of back issues and whatever. But what the writers (most notably Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar) discovered is that rebooting the characters also gave you a chance to remake them and have them do different things. So - you didn't have to make Bruce Banner be a noble genius scientist with dashing good looks - no - you could make him a snivelling little nerd with personal hygiene problems (and if you like the sound of that: go read The Ultimates - don't worry - you can thank me later). And if you could make the characters different - you could also make the things that happen to the characters different as well... (and the best example of that - is that they killed Spider-Man and replaced him with someone new).

Because yeah - I know - we all know - that the worldwide famous superheroes with all the movies and the books and the tie-ins and whatnots can't be allowed to change too drastically. Peter Parker (whether he's played by Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield) is always going to be a white [4] middle-class smart wise-mouth teenager and blah blah blah: with nothing being allowed to rock the boat too much. And - well - for me at least - a really great story is always going to involve a lot of boat-rocking (because you know - changing the status quo is what a story is about really: it's almost the simplest possible defintion of what a story is - things are one way and then they change). Best example of this - compare the two versions of the Fantastic Four. In the normal Marvel universe the big change is that they killed Johnny Storm - but yeah - we'll know he'll be back - and that eventually (when Jonathan Hickman - the current writer - leaves) things will just go back to how they were before. There's a form of change - but it's more about moving the pieces on a chess board rather than doing anything irrevocable [5]. And then - well - if you read this book you'll notice right from the start that things between Marvel's First Family have developed well beyond the point of no return so that - well - so that things are no longer revocable (that is a word right?).

The metaphor that's sitting in my head that I want to use to try and describe how reading Ultimate Doomsday  feels (and of all the Ultimate books - for me - it's the one that goes furthest in terms of striking out and becoming it's own thing - but also (for that kinda of stuff) I'd say you should also read Ultimate Comics: Avengers) is that it's a bit like watching (which I guess in a way it is - so not much of a metaphor then - more a description - ha) a little miniature world that you already know works out one way (am thinking Lisa Simpson and The Genesis Tub) - rewinding it - and then watching things - well - I guess the best word would be mutate - in a whole new way. And while the mainstream Marvel Universe (for me) feels like reading the exploits of something that died a long long time ago (which I guess explains the success of Marvel Zombies): Ultimate Doomsday feels like something that's actually alive.

Just to you know: it's not a perfect book - like all superhero things it would be a lot better if it got over it's need to have everyone always fighting all the time - and the ending (after the massive grand build-up) feels a little of a meh. And after reading too many of these types of things I've gotta admit there is an element of "Epic Fatigue" ("This time things are as bad as they can possibly get"! "No wait - now it's the worst things can ever get!" "Oops - wait - ah - here we go: this is it!" "This is the epic climax bigger than anything else ever! No hang about..." etc) And I kinda wish someone would let Bendis write something where there didn't have to be disasters and explosions every 10 pages - but I guess that's just what you have to sign up for when you read this stuff (and - hey - I'm sure the kids love it. Right kids?)

[1] From wikipedia: "Ultimate Marvel is an imprint of comic books published by Marvel Comics, featuring reimagined and updated versions of the company's superhero characters, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. The imprint was launched in 2000 with the publication of the series Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. The characters have new origins, freeing them from the sometimes convoluted back-histories of the original versions. The universe has been designated as Earth-1610 within the Marvel Multiverse, which comprises an infinite number of alternate universes."

[2] It could have been Ultimate Marvel's finest moment - when superhero stories do the end of the world stuff it's always set outside continuity (see: The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come or (if you really have to), Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher) - but here was an event that killed off a whole bunch of superheroes and wiped out New York (for a while at least) and - basically - did the whole apocalypse thing but (for whatever reasons) was unreadible (I mean - I love the idea - but don't think I've ever actually managed to read the whole thing all the way through - and man: what with comics being so damn easy to read - that's a pretty big indictment). And I'm not the only one: everyone thought Ultimatum sucked. (Another cut and paste from wikipedia: "Despite strong sales, Ultimatum received intensely negative reviews since its conclusion. IGN's Jesse Schedeen gave the series' final issue a scathing review, saying, "Ultimatum is one of the worst comics I have ever read," [Ouch!] and called it "the ultimate nightmare." [Which is actually the name of one of the books in Warren Ellis' Ultimate Galactus Trilogy - but whatever] Points of criticism among these reviews included the level of graphic violence, which included cannibalism, and the notion that the series was sold on the basis of its shock value, with some reviews also singling out Loeb's dialogue, characterization and storytelling [which - damn - is pretty everything - no?], others asserting the story's lack of originality." [And man - having a go at a superhero comic for a lack of originality means you know that it must be really really awful])

[3] Sorry - characters. Silly me.

[4] Sorry Donald Glover.

[5] Oh - sorry - in case you didn't know - death isn't really such a big thing in superhero comics anymore.

Links: The M0vie Blog Review, Comics On The Ration Review.

Further reading: Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics: Spider-ManUltimate Comics: Spider-Man: Death of Spider-ManUltimate Galactus Trilogy, Ultimate Comics: Avengers.

Profiles: Brian Michael Bendis.

All comments welcome.

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