Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Ultimates 2 1, originally released November 23rd, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Drew: It’s odd that we have a concept of ideas that are “ahead of their time” — that is, it’s odd that ideas are so often rejected only to be later praised that we have a phrase to describe the phenomenon. Optimistically, the fact that those ideas can be reappraised suggests that you can’t keep a good idea down, but the other side of that coin reveals how common it is to reject good ideas in the moment. Indeed, the very fact that those ideas can later be proven to have value illustrates that the initial problem wasn’t with the idea, but the people involved in implementing it. Maybe it comes down to personalities involved or the politics surrounding an idea, but good ideas can be rejected for reasons totally unrelated to the quality of those ideas. Those mistakes may be corrected by history, but often over the course of generations. To me, the best way to speed up that process, unlocking the value of good ideas sooner, is to constantly reevaluate our decisions, never defaulting to the assumption that the “best” idea always wins. Such is the case with the idea of the Ultimates — the politics and personalities involved may have prevented that idea from reaching its fruition the first time around, but that doesn’t mean it should be discarded completely.
Indeed, while T’Challa and Carol toy with the idea of bringing the team back together, quibbling about the reasons they fell apart in the first place, America Chavez skips right ahead to the point where they decide to give it another go.
It’s an unexpected twist, putting America in the drivers’ seat, but it suggests a very new direction for the team. Indeed, writer Al Ewing paces the the issue to emphasize just how different America’s approach will be — while the rest of the team spends the issue talking, America is all about decisive action. Throughout the issue, characters ask each other about their dreams, seeming to slowly piece together the image of Eternity in chains and under attack, but in the meantime, America has already put her plans to do something about it in motion. It’s a great piece of characterization for America, even though she only appears in this one image.
Of course, that means the rest of the issue is chock-full of characterization for the rest of the cast. Adam’s drive to gain Monica’s perspective on the world is fascinating, but may boil down to little more than a suped-up parallel to getting to know a crush. Still, it reveals Adam’s love of science and his approach to the universe, contrasting it with Monica’s impatience with it. Moreover, it puts both in touch with the visions that seem to demand an Ultimate-scale team to solve.
I’m more enamored of T’Challa’s meeting with Carol, and the specificity with which T’Challa voices his objections to Carol’s actions. In essence, the political/philosophical debate surrounding Civil War II isn’t nearly as offensive as drafting the Ultimates for such a petty disagreement. He’s here to focus on cosmic-level threats, and superhero infighting is just a distraction. He’s happy to reform the Ultimates, so long as they recommit themselves to the task they were originally conceived for. Carol, ever the pragmatist, is a bit more concerned about the political repercussions of reforming the Ultimates, though I suspect America’s intervention may have rendered those concerns moot.
All of which is to say: this is a fantastic first issue, establishing these characters and their conflicts clearly and confidently for new readers while also building upon themes already established in the previous volume. It also allows artist Travel Foreman to demonstrate why he’s such a great fit for this series. Etherial weirdness is Foreman’s bread and butter, and it’s on full display in an issue full of visions, dreams, and impossible cosmic forces.
It might be easy to dismiss the dismantling of the team as a meaningless hiccough elicited by Civil War II, but I think the restructuring of the team — both the Ultimates and the creative team behind them — suggests a truly new direction for this series. This title is at its best when tilting at huge, Universe-altering ideas, and everything seems to be pointing back in that direction. I couldn’t be more excited.
Spencer, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this season premiere of sorts. I’ll admit, this series lost a little of my attention as it got sucked into Civil War II, but this issue more or less addressed all of my concerns. Does this feel like a new direction to you, and if so, are you looking forward to where it’s going? Oh man, and what about that teaser image at the end of the issue?
Spencer: I do feel like that teaser sums the entire aesthetic of The Ultimates up rather handily — the trippy ideas and artistic perspectives, arc words, and interpersonal drama are exactly what I’ve come to expect from this title at its best, and what we get from this new premier as well.
Anyway Drew, I agree with your assessment; I think this is a strong “new” direction for this title, based in embracing what worked about the previous volume and away throwing what didn’t. Drew alluded to it some in his lead, but the conversation between Carol and T’Challa lays out rather nicely the direction Ewing and Forman seem to be taking The Ultimates 2 in.
No matter what angle you look at it from, Civil War II destroyed the Ultimates, both as an in-universe team and as a title. This was never supposed to be an organization or a book about in-fighting, or really even all that much about its cast’s personalities. The Ultimates is about big ideas, and this issue promises to return to that. The universe needs a team that can tackle threats of this magnitude, and I’d wager that perhaps Marvel Comics needs a title to fill that niche as well.
Yet, as this issue attests, Ewing and Forman can’t just go back to the way things were either, can’t return to the time when the various members of the Ultimates were essentially expositional power-sets who were simply in awe at each others’ abilities; that ship has sailed. Conflicts between characters still fuel this issue, but they no longer dominate it the way the Civil War II tie-ins did. The creative team has found a happy medium between “petty in-fighting” and “grand ideas with little-to-no characterization,” and I’m guessing maintaining that balance will help Ultimates 2 to shine.
It helps that the character conflicts here, of course, are deeply connected to the grand conflicts the Ultimates so want to work together to resolve. The issues that defined Civil War II were so far from this book’s typical themes that they always just felt like a distraction, and they ultimately did little to deepen most of the cast; Carol and T’Challa’s disagreement, though, is not only immediately more relevant, but reveals new, interesting facets of both characters as well, and I’m not just talking about deep, weighty stuff either.
T’Challa’s “Luke Charles” act had me in stitches (he reminds me of Luke Fox — is this purposeful?), but it also reveals a more playful and human side to this cast that had never really existed in the previous volume of The Ultimates, bar perhaps America’s dates. Meanwhile, Ewing’s handling of Carol is a bit more subtle, but perhaps more insightful as well; even as she digs in her heels against T’Challa she’s also referring to herself as “kind of a bitch,” and I don’t just think that’s meant to throw the waitress off her disguise. Carol’s stuck between trying to justify her decisions and feeling guilty for them, and that could lead to some interesting places.
If nothing else, this new volume feels more well-rounded so far, and that should hopefully mean that the book won’t get as thrown off-kilter if another tie-in disrupts its momentum.
Foreman’s art (along with the colors of Dan Brown) is an interesting change of pace as well. If previous artist Kenneth Rocafort tried to imbue even the book’s slowest moments with spectacle and grandeur, Foreman instead embraces normalcy, creating lovingly detailed mundane locations such as diners and the mundane conversations that take place there. Then he and Brown disrupt that normalcy in the most jarring, otherworldly ways possible.
At this point the diner is barely recognizable — the outline of the tables and counters are still visible in the background, but the arrival of the Anti-Man has almost completely drowned it out under the din of spectacle. Being able to leap between the mundane and the extraordinary on a dime is a useful skill in almost any title, but especially one as far-out as The Ultimates 2 — the contrast highlights the difference between these characters’ everyday lives and the lives they chose by signing up to “solve the ultimate problems.” It also further emphasizes the two levels on which this book is attempting to exist: the more grounded character work, and the limitless potential of the universe’s grandest challenges.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see if Ewing and Formeman can keep up this level of quality — the first volume had an extremely promising first issue too — but for now, I’m happy with the course correction and the new-old direction this issue promises.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?