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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