Monday, January 18, 2010

The Ultimates vol. 2

The Ultimates, judging by its publication date and after searching the Internet for proper ways to define it, is an irregular ongoing series. I understand that as volumes published with larger pauses in between instead of the traditional monthly run, which is the cannon with the longer projects. I had to adjust to the grimmer atmosphere of the first volume, so that acclimatization made it a degree or two weird to read about America’s sweethearts [in the super hero variety] being un-sweetheart-like. I am well adjusted now and fell in love with the second volume.

The team’s christening was a relatively smooth sail. The Solar System is not disintegrated into loose atoms and not too many people died in the process, so I say that this is a win-win for the good guys. However, Mark Millar’s quest to introduce super heroes to the grouchy and pissed off realism that defines our reality means there is only trouble ahead. There is more PR on the horizon that has to keep the public satisfied about having billions invested into the SHIELD program and the series more or less wade into political waters, which I personally try to avoid as a topic of anything. I am an escapist and daydreamer, so politics is a big personal downer. What I can say is that a storm is brewing and at its center stands Loki, Thor’s brother and the god of mischief and lies.

The blows to the Ultimates and their reputation come in a quick succession. The intention’s to divide and conquer. First, someone leaks information that puts and equation mark between the Hulk and Bruce Banner, which results in a global trial with an obvious outcome. As if to add more of a punch to this story line Bruce [who hasn’t even turned into the Hulk with the help of Xavier’s telepathic sessions] is lied to, sedated and executed in a rather merciless way. The next target is Thor, who ends up in a holding cell, after the Ultimates are convinced that he is just a delusional man, who stole some multi-billionaire equipment. Next, Hawkeye’s family is killed in front of him and Captain America is framed. That seems to be all it takes to divide the team and create enough a distraction that might lead to America’s downfall as a country.

I give high props to Millar, who used all known tricks of the trade to keep me interested and I do mean all. Misinformation, cliffhangers, suspense, betrayal, conspiracy… I’m talking about a super size package here. Before I reached the end, I really wondered whether or not in this world Thor would be the delusional psycho with powerful gear. Did the Hulk really die? And who was the traitor in the Ultimates [I am not giving up that information]? Even the small and ordinary touches he put in during the characters’ interactions with one another seem genuine. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Captain America and the Wasp fall apart [’cause it was done so well, not because I enjoy watching people break up]. Tony Stark falling in love and Captain America’s problems adjusting to the new time. Banner’s depression and Pym hitting rock bottom; all these were built upon a solid base, well founded in reality to sound plausible, but most importantly, make me feel something for these characters.

The one thing that bothered me [it’s not the art, can you believe it] happens to be the political message. I know that comic books follows the exploits of super heroes and they have to fight enemies that do not originate from the same country, but this Loki plot relied too much on the enemies of America making their own Ultimates sent to destroy America, because it’s being a bit too ambitious. All is fine and dandy until the Ultimates band together and wreak havoc to the pseudo-Ultimates, who in turn instantly cower, give up and die. As US enemies we have Russia, Korea, China, France [I am curious, why this one in particular] and Iraq, but our US heroes rise to the challenge stronger, faster and always one level better than their enemies. I’m probably getting this wrong, trying to read too much between the lines of a superhero comic book, but there seems to be a message that America can take anybody on no matter what. The very least [I still think that this may not be the case] this makes for an interesting observation.

Verdict: I’m thinking A minus. Overall awesome plotting, awesome storytelling, topnotch art and well crafted battle scenes, but to me that little political nuance isn’t flattering to the series. Thankfully at the end, the Ultimates have cut their ties with the government and fly solo with the funding provided by Tony Stark.

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