Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Books: Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates


Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Esad Ribic

Available now from Islington Libraries
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"Rebuild. Enhance."

The Ultimates was always Mark Millar's baby. It was him and Bryan Hitch who kicked it all off with the now seminal (yeah - I said it [1]) Ultimates all the way back in (what?) 2002 (wow): which lead to (amongst other things) the Avengers movie that broke the box office of 2012. I mean - when Nick Fury was just I dunno how you say it - created? born? designed? coined? - in the glory days of 1963 (by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee (who else?)) - he had his trademark eye-patch but he looked like a scrawny white guy (ok - so maybe scrawny is the wrong word - but what the hey). It wasn't until Millar and Hitch got on the case that he looked - well - like Samuel L Jackson (I mean this literally you understand - they didn't just decide to draw Nick Fury like a cool bad-ass bald black guy type - they actually based him on Samuel L Jackson. Which led to Hollywood looking over and going: you know what? That's not a bad idea! and etc).

After the high of the Ultimates came the nadir of pretty much the entire Ultimate Universe run the whole Who Killed the Scarlet Witch? / Ultimatum fiasco that I still (still!) can't bring to write about (I'm sorry - it just hurts too much) Mark Millar returned with the re-named Ultimate Comics: Avengers [2] which exploded in a grand firework show of "is that it?" (I mean - I was in there for the first few books - cheering along in order to drown out all the boos - but when I got to the end I must admit that I was left feeling much less than satisfied [3]). Hooray then for Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates! Seeing how the Ultimate universe is pretty much my only reliable destination for superhero comic book thrills [4] I will admit that I did salivate just a little when I first saw this at our library. The cover and that title (with that two-shot Ultimates: I like!) seemed to be making a promise:  straight up action: no messing around - and none of the continuity headaches of all  those other superhero comics out there. Jonathan Hickman on writing duties? Well - ok - we've had our ups and downs (the ups = S.H.I.E.L.D. the downs = Fantastic Four) but I'm game - show me what you've got.

First things: it's a lovely looking comic. Esad Ribic is not a name that I was familiar with - but he sure does draw pretty. The three things that I kept thinking of looking at his art was 2000AD (I haven't checked - but I would not be at all surprised if he put in some time at the Galaxy's Greatest Comic): his art has the same sort of depth and (erm) paintyness (?) that kinda reminded me of the old 2000AD greats like Colin Wilson and Dermot Power. Two (related to one) would be your European comics: the best known example being Moebius - but all those kind of Heavy Metal guys - wide expanses and sound effects that have had as much care and attention paid to them as everything else around them (trust me - you'll know it when you see it just watch for the BOOOOMs and CRASHs and stuff [5]). Plus - not being afraid to twist the angles around a bit (the upside down flying and seeing the landscapes all tilted and top-to-bottom being a particular fave). The third thing (and I guess this was the thing I felt the strongest) was that there were loads of panels that really reminded me of the covers of cheap looking science-fiction novels. You know the ones I mean - of giant cities spread out over half a planet with strange towers with bizarre looking noddles (no - that's not a real word I know) and attachments and things - with giant bright yellow spaceships with lots of bulges and spikes and stuff. Yeah? Well Ribic's stuff reminds me of that - and that is a really good thing. (Most of the time stories kinda stick to keeping things kinda pared down so that they make more sense - but what's nice with Hickman at the controls is that you get a superhero story that amps up by a factor of lots all the outlandish science-fiction elements. It's Stephen Baxter meets Stan Lee - and it's loads of fun.

I mean - yeah - it's not perfect. There's references to other things (I think?) that I didn't quite get (what happened to Captain America? What is Hawkeye up to?) but I guess - sigh - that will be explained if I go away and read those other books. But all in all: I had a good time. Superheroes. Big ideas. Smashy fun. What's not to like?

[1] Plus: strictly speaking - it's true. Looking up the meaning - there's two definitions. One goes: (of a work, event, moment, or figure) Strongly influencing later developments. And seeing how it basically helped kick-start (along with Ultimate Spider-Man obviously) the whole of the Ultimate Marvel line - well... (And we'll just ignore the second definition for now - if you don't mind? (Ok - then: Two: Of, relating to, or denoting semen. Happy now?).

[2] Just imagine the obligatory mention of how the Ultimate Universe was supposed to streamline stuff - but has ended up getting pretty complicated itself somewhere around this point and we can move along ok?

[3] There's a metaphor that I really want to use at this point - but I've always tried to run this as a family comic book blog - so will quell the urge to get scatological... Yes. You're welcome.

[4] Would it be too much if I renamed this blog the Ultimate Islington Comic Forum? (Or: Ultimate Comics: Islington Forum? (Or Ultimate Comic Forum: Islington?)).

[5] I didn't actually write them down: but now realise I should have (oh well).


Preceded by: The UltimatesThe Ultimates 2Ultimate Comics: AvengersUltimate Comics: Avengers vs New Ultimates: Death of Spider-ManUltimate Comics: Doomsday.

Further reading: S.H.I.E.L.D.The Manhattan ProjectsThe Red WingFantastic FourThe Avengers: The Avengers (2011 - 2012).

All comments welcome.

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