I felt uncertain about The Ultimates in the middle of their first volume, because they seemed a tad too grim for me to distance my mind from the original Avengers. By second volume I had been hooked. The potential for such a grown-up, toughened up and re-imagined real world take on the Avengers bordered on limitless and I started volume three with the enthusiasm of a twelve year old. The series had a cool new artist [Joe Madureira], but Marvel had also hired a new writer [Jeph Loeb], a move I like to call the Ultimate kiss of death [get it?!].
The Ultimates could have achieved more, if Mark Millar had his third go with the characters for thirteen issues. Such was the case with the first two volumes. The Ultimates had severed the ties to the American government. Tony Stark took funding in his own hands and opportunity hung in the air, electrifying the atmosphere. The Ultimates could transition from a department to being superheroes in their own right. But what could’ve been, never got the chance to be in the 2008. For starters, there’s the shorter run. Instead of thirteen issues, this volume consists of only five issues. There’s no room to explore a solid plot, which demands at least two arcs of six-seven issues. These are the criteria for an ensemble team with a bigger roster, which in the 2008 run has broadened. Next to the regulars [Captain America, Wasp, Quicksilver, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, Thor, Hawkeye] we also have Valkerye, Wolverine and the Black Panther. Five issues to cover all these characters and distinguish them from their mainstream counterparts [originals] is an impossible task.
This and the change of the creative team, especially the writer, weren’t variable factors for the series. I can’t imagine why Marvel would substitute Millar for somebody else. Perhaps Millar was busy with Kick-Ass to participate in the third volume, but it’s true that he had been most involved in the Ultimate universe and without him the Ultimates are not the Ultimates. And it shows in the story line.
The Ultimates suffer from a set of unfortunate events as Stark’s XXX flic with the now dead Natasha Romanoff leaks into the media, the Scarlet Witch is assassinated and the Brotherhood of Mutants makes an appearance. There’s a mystery about how Valkyrie got her powers; what is Black Panther’s deal and who killed Wanda. Throw in killing, killing and lots more killing along with the strained family relationship between Magneto and his offspring, the notion of incest between Pietro and Wanda, Janet trying to run the team as a leader and Ultron coming into the picture. I can extend the list, but there is no point. On theory the ideas are good and can fit well to the Ultimate universe, however the five issues frame makes the writing feel rushed, just barely scratching the emotional depth and potential. The result is that Loeb may be a good writer, but he can’t show it and the volume leaves a bitter taste upon completion.
On the positive side, however, we have a boost in the art department. I loved Bryan Hitch, because his art has a certain undertone, which established a certain synergy between story and the lines. Millar and he were a match made by the comic book gods, but on purely superficial level Joe Madureira is the man. Idealized male physique? Ungodly female grace and beauty? He does that and my ADD quest for shiny, brightly colored and pretty things ends, when I see his art. I like how over the top it is as far as the human body is concerned and it’s a quality that got me into comic books in the first place. The wrong reason, I know, but I have grown since then or so I like to think.
Verdict: I’m torn between a B with a big minus or a C [if I’ve to bring bad memories from highschool], because even though the art kept me turning the pages, the story deteriorated the overall experience from volume three.