Review: Ultimates #2 — WHAT???

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The Ultimates #2

Written By: Al Ewing

Art By:  Kenneth Rocafort

Release Date: 12/09/15

WHAT???

In my last review, I mentioned how excited I’d been for Al Ewing’s take on The Ultimates based on the tagline alone: “Ultimate problems need ultimate solutions.” The idea Marvel’s smartest, most powerful characters buzzing around the furthest reaches of outer space solving the universe’s biggest problems grabbed me. And the creators weren’t shy about how heavily Galactus would factor into their plans. As was made clear in the last issue, The Ultimates’ first plan was to get proactive about “the Devourer.”

That makes sense. But even so, who among us could have predicted that here, at the close of the very second issue, the Ultimates would succeed in not only solving “The Galactus Problem,” but actually reversing it?

A little backstory for those not in the know. Since 1966, Galactus has been one of Marvel’s pre-eminent cosmic beings: a “villain” only in the sense that his aims are generally at odds with our heroes—seeing as his sole purpose is to satiate his hunger by devouring planets. Galactus has always been more of a force of nature—a cosmic Darwinian law that must eventually drive all species into extinction.

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But the Ultimates have a plan. T’Challa has discovered the existence of an “incubator,” the “egg” from which Galactus “hatched” at the beginning of our universe. By getting the drop on Galactus, they manage to trap him in the incubator for a few seconds, blast the thing full of power (courtesy Spectrum’s ability to transform her body into any form of energy) and, well, basically see what happens.

As plans go, it’s not necessarily one befitting the brightest minds in the Marvel Universe, but there’s something delightfully Silver Age about it. When Blue Marvel says “We need to overclock it—feed it an almost inconceivable amount of raw energy!” it feels like a line Stan Lee might have written. And pretty much all of Galactus’ dialog feels ripped from his first appearance in Fantastic Four #48, droning about his vast superiority to humanity. Lines like “As you are to the ant, so I am to you” shows that Ewing’s got a lot of love for the medium. I’d love to see him tackle a few more classic characters with this same mix of innovation and tradition.

But if all that paid tribute to Kirby and Lee’s original vision for Galactus, what follows is one of the crazier rebrands in recent memory, which is no small feat. The final panel of Ultimates #2 shows Galactus—now decked in angelic white and gold—infusing dead worlds with new life.

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WHAAAT???

This comes with all sorts of questions. Who discovered this giant egg thing? Where is Reed Richards, probably earth’s foremost expert on dealing with Galactus’ putdowns? Is this new Galactus permanent? How sure are we that this is a good thing? Also, WHAAAAT???

The issue largely belongs to T’Challa and it all works terrifically. Despite being the least powerful Ultimate, Black Panther might just be the brightest and maybe even the bravest. I’ve read a lot of comic books this year, but I don’t know if I’ve seen anything as badass as T’Challa’s simple response to Galactus’ command that he “fly away.”

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A lot of what makes T’Challa work so well is artist Kenneth Rocafort’s decision to show hints of his facial expression underneath the mask. Exactly what materials the Black Panther is using that render his lips visible through a mask is a mystery (probably the same stuff a lot of Marvel’s heroines in the ’90s used that were tight enough to see their belly buttons through) but it both humanizes him and makes him tougher—you can tell he’s not flinching from a staredown with the guy who literally eats planets for lunch. That’s a baller move, T’Challa, and I respect it.

Actually Rocafort’s art is terrific throughout here. His best might be a gorgeous, just slightly harrowing two-page spread of T’Challa’s transuniversal transportation. I’m also a big fan of his take on Carol Danvers, who so far spends most of her time looking like she’s having a hell of a lot of fun saving the universe. Rocafort cuts no corners on any of his work—his detailing of alien vegetation is as thoughtful and compelling as anything else here.

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Based on the #3’s title (“The Lifebringer”), it’s a safe bet we’ll be learning a little more about Galactus’ new creative impulses next month. My guess is that it may not be quite the boon it first looks like, but after this whiplash, I’m probably better off not guessing much. Hopefully, we’ll get to see a little more characterization too, as the first two issues have been so jam-packed that we haven’t gotten to see a whole lot the human drama and characterization that made Ewing’s I, Zombie such a treat, but I’m not too worried. Ewing and Rocafort are clearly working on a whole different level than I am. Best we can do is hang on for dear life.

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