Saturday, January 14, 2006

TPB REVIEW - The Ultimates Vol. 1

The Ultimates Vol. 1 – Super-Human

Writer: Mark Millar
Penciller: Bryan Hitch
Inker: Andrew Currie
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

I do not think I was reading comics when the Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Spider-Man began their runs. If I was, I was not aware of the Ultimate line. In fact I did not become aware of the Ultimate books until some time around the release of the first X-men movie. By this point the books were far enough along that I did not feel like jumping on mid-stream, plus, by this point I was already spending too much on comics each week and I did not need more books to read. Couple these with my general disinterest in the Ultimate titles and a long held dislike for the Avengers, it should really come as no surprise that the Ultimates was initially off my radar. Once I became aware of the Ultimates the series was already trapped in the timeliness issue that has been plaguing the industry at large over the last several years. Since I was already behind, I just used the lack of a predictable release schedule as another reason not to get involved in the series. This is not to say I was not interested in the book. In point of fact, I was, and once I heard Marv Wolfman discussing how much he was enjoying the book I became even more interested, but the verdict was in. I would have to wait and pick up the series in trades. Well, thanks to a light week in comics, I finally did.

Since I have been reading the second Ultimates series there were not really any shocks as far as the plot goes. The series opens with an issue detailing Captain America’s last mission and ends with Tony Stark having a revelation somewhere in the Himalaya mountains. Over the course of the next three issues we are introduced to Drs. Hank and Janet Pym, Dr. Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, and Samuel L. Jackson nee General Nick Fury and some of the baggage they bring to the table. We are also introduced to Thor, who may be a Norse god or may be just some nut with a big freakin’ hammer. Once the team is in place nothing happens. Nothing at all. They sit around in their super-high-tech headquarters and decide who will be cast in the movie about their as to yet none existence exploits. Then the Hulk puts in an appearance in Manhattan and the Ultimates swing into action, with the expected results.

Overall I enjoyed the book. The writing is well paced, and even though there is a large amount of exposition in the book, it flowed well and did not have the stench exposition often carries with it. Having said that, I felt that some things could have been done better. First I would have liked to see more of Captain America tacking down his family and old friends. I feel like this story could have filled an entire issue rather than the seven pages Millar and Hitch dedicated to it. Usually I am against decompressing the story line, however I feel that Steve Rogers attempting to find the remnants of his life, attempting to find a touchstone in the modern world, could be a very emotional story if done right and Millar has the skills to pull it off. My second problem, which is actually bigger than my first, is that Hank Pym’s fight with Janet seems to explode out of nowhere. While some of the dialogue could lead the reader to believe they fight on a semi-regular basis, what appears to be the motivating factor of the fight does not even appear in the comic. Hank is acting a little hostile towards Janet and says, “There’s a picture of you with your tongue down Captain America’s throat in every newspaper in the world.” However the event never occurs in the comic. There is a scene where Janet has spent the day helping Steve (Captain America’s civilian identity) shop for clothes. That’s it. No kiss. No inappropriate touching of any kind. There is nothing to indicate all is not well at the Pym household and then SLAP, everything changes. When I got to this moment in the series, which again, was not a surprise since I am reading the second series, I felt the same way I felt when reading the recent OMAC Project miniseries from DC where the defining moment of the series took place off-screen. I felt a little ripped out.

Hank Pym’s dropping the old Rick James on Janet demonstrates another problem I have with many of the comics on the shelves today, and specifically this book. I want my superheroes to behave in a heroic manner, and with Bruce Banner having a breakdown, Betty Ross being a manipulative bitch, and Hank Pym putting the smack down on Janet, there were a couple too many bad apples for my taste. If I wanted to watch this sort of crappy behavior I would either videotape myself, flip on a reality TV series, or heck, just the news. Superhero comics are supposed to be moments of pure escapism not little slices of the real world.

Anyways, I realize I have spent most of this review discussing my problems with the book rather than the successes, however, rest assured, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre or Millar’s work. Like the New Avengers trade I discussed last week, this collection is a little bare-bones, containing only the comics and a cover gallery, but the $12.99 price for six comics worth of enjoyable reading really can’t be beat. Check it out if this is your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed.

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