Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing the Ultimates 1, originally released November 11th, 2015.
Taylor: Canada recently elected a prime minister. His name is Justin Trudeau and people basically seem to love him. Maybe this has to do with his dashing good looks or maybe his liberalism is a nice shift from Canada’s previous, more conservative PM. Whatever the reason, he made headlines a week or so ago and further endeared himself to many when he was asked why half of his political cabinet are women. His answer: “Because it’s 2015.” Whatever your views may be on Canada’s new PM, this frank and forward thinking answer is certainly welcome in a world ready for a new breed of politician. “What does this have to do with comics?” you might be asking. Well, similar to politics, the comics world is prime for a new, fresh perspective, at least from the major publishers. Enter The Ultimates 1, a comic that promises to be progressive and different despite its trappings as a traditional title.
The Ultimates are Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Ms. America Chavez, Spectrum, and Blue Marvel. They’ve teamed up to protect the universe from nefarious cosmic powers. As such, they fly through space, see strange sights, and of course end up taking on Galactus. In this first issue of the series we’re introduced to the team and in doing so realize that they’re unlike any we’ve seen before. And while claiming that something in a comic has never been seen before is old hat, in this case it actually proves to be true.
What makes this new comic different from others is the composition of the titular team. The Ultimates are unlike most teams and this has nothing to do with the fact that they battle weird aliens and deal with deep cosmic mysteries. After all, I can find such things in Justice League Dark (RIP) and Guardians of the Galaxy. What makes the Ultimates different is that they all come from diverse backgrounds and not a single member is a white male.
From left to right, the team is composed of a man from Africa, a black woman, a black man, a Latino girl, and a white woman. While most superhero teams are diverse, it’s rare to find a team that doesn’t have a white male thrown into the mix somewhere. In this case, the team is made up of people who have traditionally been suppressed by white males. It being 2015, just as Justin Trudeau so accurately stated, this only seems like something that needed to happen in the Marvel Universe. Even if this is a move by Marvel execs who are trying to cash in on the zeitgeist, at least it’s an acknowledgment that those who read comics aren’t just male and white. Comic book readers are a diverse group and it only makes sense that that diversity would be reflected in a team-up book.
The way the Ultimates are different isn’t just superficial though. They promise to do things differently than teams before them have done. When Captain Marvel and Dr. Brashear confront Galactus things start off as I would expect. Our heroes fright off Galactus’ drones and successfully meet Galactus, seemingly for a big ol’ boss fight. However, what happens next is unexpected.
Instead of punching Galactus in his huge face, Danvers and Brasher inform Galactus that they aren’t here to fight. Instead they’re here to help solve Galactus’ problems. What this will involve in the next issue I can only imagine. Will they try to fulfill his need for eating planets? Will they make friends with him the way Squirrel Girl has done? I look forward to seeing what the answer is but in the mean time I’m relishing the fact that this comic isn’t following the same old progression that so many comics have before it. Again, it’s a different way of doing things for a world that is ready for a new way of doing things.
One last way that The Ultimates pleases me with it’s different way of doing things is just how weird it has proven to be already. Spectrum and Ms. America are on an ops mission on a distant planet when they find themselves under attack from a giant floating head spewing fly-like alien attackers.
It’s all just so damn weird and I can’t help but love it. While I’m used to seeing some weird things in comics, usually they’re built up somehow before they are revealed. Maybe they’re a part of the universe as a whole or maybe things get progressively weirder as the series moves on and the plot thickens. Here, writer Al Ewing and artist Kenneth Rocafort throw me head first into the deep end of the weird pool. There’s no explanation for this strangeness, save for a cursory one, and honestly I don’t think the issue calls for one. It’s just so much fun to see something weird for the sake of being weird and not have it become a distraction to the story.
Spencer, I really enjoyed this first issue and excited to see where this series goes. If it cashes in on the promises of progressiveness and new ideas seen in this issue, it could be really special. What’s your take on it? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
Spencer: I think I may just have, Taylor, although I admit, I’d probably be fawning over any title promising me a monthly dose of Ms. America (it’s been a long, rough two years since the end of Young Avengers, let me tell you).
Anyway, Taylor, I too love the sheer diversity of The Ultimates, which, along with his New Avengers, feels like the natural progression of the kind of atypical rosters Ewing’s been assembling since Mighty Avengers. Beyond just the racial and gender differences, the Ultimates roster also features a lesbian (Ms. America) and an older man who is actually allowed to show his age (Blue Marvel, who may not look 80, but certainly looks older than most male heroes), and those are both welcome additions to any cast, in comics or otherwise.
I’m also fond of the ways these characters interact. Like its sister title, New Avengers, The Ultimates looks very much to be a more idea/plot driven book, but with a smaller cast, Ewing finds more time to dive into the perspectives and relationships of each character. What I find most appealing is how impressed all these characters are by each other. Blue Marvel and Captain Marvel spend a few pages just shooting the breeze, and we get to learn why Carol wants to be a part of this team in the first place; she admires not only Adam’s big ideas, but the strict morality he adheres to. After her time working against the Illuminati in Hickman’s Avengers, that makes quite a bit of sense.
Meanwhile, Spectrum is even more impressed by Ms. America.
Yeah, this is probably just the America Chavez fan in me, but I absolutely adore this moment. In Young Avengers America generally filled the “mysterious mentor” kind of role, but she was also the team’s oldest member — I love that America fills the same role on The Ultimates despite being this team’s youngest member. But really, every member of this team gets a chance to show off; it should be no surprise for a team that includes T’Challa in its ranks, but they’re all incredible, and they all know it. The fact that all these geniuses can still regard each other with awe, wonder, and cooperation instead of giving into jealousy and competition is just so refreshing.
Anyway, as Taylor already pointed out, the Ultimates’ mission statement and methods are just as atypical as the character work, and I love how, right off the bat, Ewing establishes where those methods come from: the rebooting of the very universe itself.
This is some impressively clever meta-commentary: Secret Wars has provided an opportunity for Marvel as a publisher to take their characters in bold new directions, but Ewing takes that opportunity and makes it literal within the narrative, establishing that the rebooting of the Marvel multiverse has changed the inherent structure of the multiverse itself. He’s essentially throwing out the old rulebook — the Ultimates have limitless possibilities, and they’re well aware of that fact. It says a lot about these characters that they embrace change and possibility instead of running from it and clinging to old, comfortable routines.
On a more plot-oriented note, I have to imagine that Neutronium will play a big role in the Galactus plot. Perhaps its presence in this new universe is making Galactus more powerful, which is why the Marvels are so interested in fixing his problems, or perhaps the Neutronium will allow them to alter Galactus and make it so that he doesn’t have to feast on planets for sustenance. I would love if it was the latter; in a way, Galactus is a victim of his own hunger and the role he’s forced to play in the universe, and I’m curious to see what sort of being he’d become without that burden weighing him down.
(Also, does Adam’s theory mean that Secret Wars is the eighth Marvel “reboot?” Does anybody with a firmer grasp on Marvel history have any theories on this?)
Fortunately, as happy as I am with the writing on this one, I’m perhaps even more impressed with Kenneth Rocafort’s art. First of all, the sheer amount of detail in Rocafort’s work is astounding — just look at the alien planet Spectrum and America are fighting on, for example.
Check out that massive maze beneath the floating head — isn’t that cool?! Rocafort could have inserted any ol’ generic background into this scene, but instead he takes the time to flesh out his environments, and it makes for a much more immersive experience. You can find similar examples on almost every page; I’m particularly fond of Carol’s intricately detailed piloting interface on her ship and the planet-sized orb full of swirling liquid that Galactus uses to steer his ship.
Rocafort also puts a lot of effort into his layouts and panel configurations. For starters, there’s a terrific bit of staging that comes when Carol goes binary.
By superimposing Carol from panel two over panel one, Rocafort allows the burst of power in her palm to also serve as the actual explosion in the first panel, and that’s darn clever. I also love the first page; the very first panel is a close-up of Adam holding a piece of Neutronium, and Adam’s fingers actually wrap around the panel! By the end of the page, bits and pieces of the panel borders are floating off into the gutter, as if the Neutronium is actually dissolving the panels. This effect doesn’t always work — in Black Panther’s meeting with the Secretary-General it just kinda looks like there’s some tacky 90’s wallpaper floating in the background — but I appreciate the risks Rocafort takes and the effort he puts in.
Strangely enough, the only major qualm I have with this issue is actually the lettering: the size of the dialogue just seems really big, distractingly big, to me. Even then, though, I appreciate the sense of design that goes into the lettering, especially the credits, which play out for pages like the opening of a TV show. In pretty much every way, The Ultimates doesn’t feel like any other book on the stands, and while it deserves attention for that alone, it’s also an enjoyable read in its own right. Consider me a fan.
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It’s interesting to see Rocafort a little reigned in. They sorta let him draw whatever on Superman and Red Hood. It’s a little less kinetic and crazy, but maybe that’s to the series betterment.
Also, I don’t know if it’s just because he’s drawing T’Challa and Carol (and sundry Avengers), but I’m almost getting a Leinil Francis Yu vibe from his work on this series. (Also that six-eyed alien head looks like a Nick Pitarra design.)
Apparently, Marvel editorial was really frustrated when Alan Moore declared the Marvel Universe to be Earth-616. The idea that the Marvel Universe wasn’t special, just one of a hundred other universes (unlike the DC Universe, which has always been Earth-One). I love that Al Ewing has done that again. Secret Wars may have rebooted the universe, but it wasn’t anything too special. It had happened six times before. One of the best things Moore did for Marvel was make the universe 616, and I think Ewing doing the same thing is just as important
I have to say, I think the Martian is going to be a big point of comparison to Ewing’s Avengers. New Avengers barely works if you treat it as a typical team story, but as a ‘army of experts solving superhero science problems’, it has a lot of potential. THe Ultimates seems to be committing to this approach even further, and doing what I recommended New Avengers do, and make truly complicated challenges for the super scientists to solve (as I can’t imagine solving Galactus is going to be anywhere near as simple as solving the Neohedrons). And, even better, the characterization is much stronger, with character moments that seem to be motivated by character instead of events (I think the use of inner monologues is going to help a lot).
But the best thing about takig the route Ewing has taken with the Ultimates is the beauty of the idea of a team going around solvign problems. While it is important to punch Thanks in the face, it is great that we have a Superhero team who don’t want to do that. Their goal is progressive. They aren’t trying to defend that status quo, but improve upon it (which is also why it is so cool that they have such a progressive lineup)
I have loved Rocafort’s art, due to how organic is feels. Especially when he does technology, as it creates something unique and weird. And he is proving to be a great choice for the Ultimates, that is committing to unique and weird.
All in all, I think this is going to be the best Avengers comic. Haven’t read Uncanny, have sadly little faith in A-FOrce after the mini series and All New All Different is really bad, sadly. But Ultimates looks like it could turn into something amazing
Thoug I really wish more artists did what Jamie McKelvie did and not have Miss America in the smae outfit every story. I loved that touch in Young Avengers
I was uncertain on this comic as I hard a very hard time getting into Mighty Avengers from a couple years back. My concerns with this were the same as before: I don’t really care about any of these characters coming in. I couldn’t tell you America’s powers before reading this, even though I’d read Young Avengers. I knew Spectrum and Blue Marvel from four or five issues of Mighty Avengers, and that was it. I’ve tried Captain Marvel multiple times and dropped it every time. And really,the only time I’ve bought anything with Black Panther in it has been when he’s been part of a team. I liked his feud with Namor (that I didn’t fully understand), but he’s never been a character I followed.
And this was a fine comic. I still don’t really care about the characters, but I found them at least a little bit interesting. What was more interesting was the idea of solving the impossible (yes, sounds a bit like New Avengers) problems.
My problem? This story was told already this year in Squirrel Girl.
Bah, enough complaining. I liked the art, I liked the story, I’ll read this first arc and see if I grow attached to any characters. A solid beginning.
Honestly, that is the greatest difficulty with Superhero team books. Indie comics know that the characters are new, so have to introduce them. Superhero comics have to balance introducing the characters and introducing the premise of the team. Easy when you have Iron Man, difficult when you have Blue Marvel. There is virtue in Marvel treating these black characters just like they are white characters and going ‘we don’t need to justify Blue Marvel’, but the hard thing about that path is that too many people don’t even know who Blue Marvel is
Never read Mighty Avengers, but I feel Ewing struggles a bit with team books. He did Loki wonderfully, but with team books, it seems like plot ends up being more important than character. I’m hoping he proves adept at making plotting meaningful (please, let’s have one good Avengers comic). Certainly shows potential. I’m happy with it and stand by what I say in that it could turn into something amazing, but both New Avengers and Ultimates really need to capitalize on their strengths, because if Ewing takes the wrong path, it could easily turn into something like Waid’s All-New All Different Avengers at worst, or what A-Force appears to be if it is like the Secret Wars miniseries at best. Which is a shame, as all four of the comics looked like great ideas, and a great sign of what Marvel should be doing
Still, unlike Waid, Ewing has given us a solid start. Not worth being too negative
Also, I think the Binary thing is a very old continuity point, with Binary being one of the many names Captain Marvel used before she was finally given Captain Marvel. Really didn’t seem like a good choice, personally, considering how obscure it is
I absolutely adore Loki, but I don’t think it’s because Ewing only has to focus on one character. Loki is so fucking solid because there’s a single concept that the entire series can be wrapped around. For whatever reason, team books too often seem to be beholden to a very rote theme of teamwork. The heroes agree on saving the world, disagree on the methodology.
Where Ultimates already distinguishes itself — and I think T and Spencer do a nice job of articulating this — is that the characters do seem to like each other and are allowed to be impressed by how their teammates work. We’ll see if this is where the series is headed, but I’d fucking love to see a book that about being inspired by your peers. That’s a single (and unique) idea.
(Beeteedubs, that’s what I’m expecting this turn with Gallactus to be: he’s going to be a peer and not an obstacle.)
It is a refreshing change that the team seems to like each other and want to rely on each other instead of the first year of stories be power struggles.
I’m still mostly happy where this book is at the moment, but that is because of the scale, the weirdness and the premise of fixing the problems caused by the former without punching them. Just as New Avengers 2 actually managed to impress me.
My complaints is that at the moment, is that the Ultimates character dynamics is just ‘they like each other’, which isn’t dramatic. If they do go for this idea of each member inspiring each other, that could be amazing. THere is so much you could do with that idea, and it would really fit.
I think the difference between Loki and Ewing’s AVenger stuff is that the concept of the series was intrinsically linked with Loki. THe character and the concept were one and the same. With his Avenger works, The concept gets linked with the team as a greater whole, which leads to New Avengers, where every team member is utterly boring (despite generally liking almost every character in other books) while AIM is fascinating. I can see Ultimates falling into the same trap, if Ewing doesn’t build a nice, dramatic character development soon (the inspiring each other one is a great idea)
Oh, and I think this is a distinctly different story to Squirrel Girl. Certainly related, btu one was about stopping Galactus from eating Earth by approaching him with empathy, the other was about stopping Galactus from ever having to eat an inhabited world again
Oh, yeah. What does it mean when Captain Marvel goes binary? It didn’t really seem to do anything, other than be a big deal. (like me walking through the grocery store. They stop and stare, “Is he shopping in base 8?”)
Also, shop in base twelve like the rest of us.
Just had one little quibble. In describing Panther as an African man, we still don’t know who he is ethnically. If one was new to comics, they wouldn’t know if his ancestors were from Asia, Europe, or native to the continent. Furthermore if one was intentionally going down the rabbit hole, is the implication the “real” blacks are from the US? I read that part twice because it didn’t read right (to me) at first. Sorry if I sound picky? Loved the write up and perspectives as always.
I think Taylor was just being specific, not intending to separate “american blacks” from other other black people. I think there’s even an added stigma of being from Africa – though your point about what we can consider Wakanda is well made. That is a weird thing though – right? Black Panther ends up being representative of blacks while not sharing anything culturally with anything in the real world. His heritage is fictional.
From a diversity stand point, there is something very important about Black Panther being from Africa. Considering how American/Western superhero teams tend to be, the fact that he comes from outside ‘the West’ is an important progressive point, just as that fact that he is black