The Ultimates 2: Ultimate Collection coverBad Relationships, Betrayals, and Corrupt Heros

Author: Mark Millar

Illustrator: Bryan Hitch

Following the first collection the widespread fame of the world’s most powerful superheroes, the Avengers, is beginning to descend into infamy as friction arises between ethical code and governmental (read political) uses of superhumans. Nick Fury is in the back pocket of the USA and soon the Ultimates begin to figure in oversees wars, turning the tide of battle and, in some cases, making some determined enemies. The public outcry is large, the disillusionment great as the protectors of the innocent become puppets for politics.

Meanwhile, the Ultimates themselves are conflicted over the new direction Nick is taking the team. But, being heavily flawed (and general jerks) in this particular re-imagining, they have plenty of distractions to keep them from making a decisive movement either for (or against) the new direction of the team. All, that is, except the hippie version of Thor, who leaves and creates a dissident group dedicated to world peace (and, you know, probably communes and things of that nature – the overt silliness distracts from the seriousness of Thor’s complaint – but I’ll get to that.)

Relationship disasters stud this particular collection as do betrayals and general disagreement among the heroes.  Frank Pym, depressed and discarded, slinks around the outside, creating Ultron and meanwhile becoming the Ant Man while joining forces with some garden variety kooks who pretend to be heroes but have no actual powers or even the vestige of super strength. Frank’s wife, the lovely Wasp, is meanwhile living with Captain America, whose trademark 1950s morals are discarded in this “modernized” version of him. Yet, good old Cap still maintains his chill aspects and general preference for decency and intimately stifling, old-fashioned, boring evenings leaving Wasp to consider cheating with her ex.

Tony Stark is wining and dining as usual, but it looks like his relationship with the Black Widow has evolved to the point that he doesn’t even womanize. This leads to some interesting conflicts later in the book and some heartbreaking scenes for Tony. Pepper, sadly, is still sidelined.

Banner remains outcast from the group and soon it is time for them to decide if the alleged good of the populace and Nick Fury’s dedication to the United States are worth the ultimate betrayal of a friend.

As the friction between characters increases, there are wars and rumors of wars and super soldiers are now everywhere, specifically involved in the ongoing war with the Middle East in what is evidently the Bush era presidency (Bush the second that is…) Hank Pym’s giantism formula is in wide use throughout the war and Cap’s no nonsense attitude while going through these countries leads to the creation of one surprisingly powerful enemy – a man who would do anything to get revenge for what has befallen his country and its displaced citizens. In the backdrop, this normal citizen turned villain goes through a process eerily similar to Cap’s transformation and bides his time. When Thor’s trickster brother Loki comes to town, it’s only a matter of time before the two band forces and plot the ultimate, saddest joke.

With so many things happening in this collection, including the obvious presence of a traitor (or maybe two) within the Ultimate’s team I was surprised at my relative nonchalance towards the progressing devolution of the Avengers. The drawings here, as before, remain utterly stunning and vivid taking on the gleam of true, detailed artwork with a minute attention to color and wide-ranging landscape details (especially amazing during the battles). Yet… despite all of the intrigue and the shockingly gruesome sequences, including a detailed torture sequence, I couldn’t even feel involved in the story beyond enjoying the aesthetics of the drawings (or cringing at them as the case may be). The beloved Marvel heroes were just too . . . unlikable. Most of the characters are selfish with extreme flaws: Hank Pym with his penchant to beat his wife, the Wasp with her wishy-washy fickleness and ability to continually cheat on current partners,  the Widow for her duplicity – and basically everyone for their continual betrayals of each other, all of which are major and, for the most part, unforgivable.

The characters who are not especially besmirched remain caricatures. Thor is a renegade hippie and the theme soon goes from kitschy to absurd to downright annoying. Cap is, indeed, stolid and stale and the intense emotion surrounding his story is dropped for stoicism. Despite our general dislike for the flighty Wasp (haha, see what I did there?) Cap is a stodgy date and his presence is ultimately uninspired and, dare I even say, downright dull.

The villains, Loki himself and the Middle Eastern super soldier, remain distinctly back burner. Where are all the good one liners? Where is the epically insidious evilness combined with that long ranging penchant for diabolically clever scheming? Loki (one of my personal favorite Marvel characters) barely shows up and the funny side of him is eradicated. Instead, he is merely vengeful evil with none of the personality and verve that leaves audiences stunningly conflicted with that old love-to-hate this guy feeling.

The destruction wrought by the Middle Eastern villain (so trivial to the tale that I will admit I forgot his name) is unparalleled and makes for some good fight panels, but the villain himself wasn’t given any page space. Indeed, by the time he appears in the ending readers must embarrassingly admit that we entirely forgot that briefly mentioned storyline – so this dude is back, huh? His final speech where he reveals the method behind his madness and his intentions is cut immediately short by a fight sequence and . . . never resumed. So, the villain dies having never said his piece and having gained minimal interaction with the readers, leaving us distanced from the entire struggle.

The only true involvement we have with the dark side is through the imprisonment and torture of one of the heroes (and the annihilation of his young family.) The traitor in the team is revealed at the end and is someone we did not ever suspect would inhabit that role. It’s well carried out actually and extremely brutal, leaving the dark sadness of this particular reimagining solidly in place. Don’t expect your favorite super heroes to be the good guys here – and don’t expect that goodness and patriotism necessary rule this morbid side universe where the Marvel Avengers embrace their own inner corruption.

–        Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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