The Ultimates #1 – Review

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The Ultimates #1

Written By: Al Ewing

Art By:  Kenneth Rocafort

Release Date: 11/11/15

When Marvel announced their blockbuster collection of Avengers titles as part of the All-New, All-Different line, The Ultimates was the idea that really grabbed me. The book’s subtitle: “Ultimate problems need ultimate solutions.” Roll that around in your mouth for a bit, and then check out the lineup.

Of the team, Black Panther and Captain Marvel probably need the least amount of introduction (they’re also next in line for their own Marvel movies. Isn’t that a coinky dink.) Captain Marvel is Carol Danvers, whose recent, celebrated comic book run gave her one of Marvel’s most loyal fandoms. I’ve written about my love of T’Challa at length before, and it’s good to see his character less ambiguously heroic now than he was in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers run.

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(Captain Marvel and Blue Marvel: no points for creative names.)

There’s Blue Marvel, a woefully underrated Marvel character who’s getting his welcome shot in the spotlight (his Wikipedia list of powers and abilities would give Superman a run for his money.)

And Spectrum, which is the third or fourth moniker claimed by Monica Rambeau, a character who has been an Avenger (she even briefly led the team) and can transform her body into different forms of energy.

And finally Ms. America, a flying teenager who with enhanced strength and speed, and the unlikely but undeniably useful ability to kick open holes between realities.

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Ms. America and Spectrum: trans-dimensional troubleshooters

Here’s a team that really puts the “super,” in superhero—a collective that’s so powerful, saving the world isn’t really on their radar. They’re uniting to save the universe. Maybe a lot of universes.

There’s a lot of backstory to get through here, and as in most first issues, a lot of time is spent in introductions and catching readers up on what’s what. Indeed, the first two pages are filled with some head-spinning sci-fi mumbo jumbo that even this avowed nerd had trouble wrapping his head around. It seems there are now eight Cosmic Cube-type substances in the universe, and Blue Marvel is a little worried about the potentially reality-altering threat they might pose.

Fortunately, the global defense agency known as Triskelion has launched The Ultimates: a new wing that, in the words of T’Challa, “attempts to solve problems of cosmic scope.” While Blue Marvel’s concern about the proliferation of substances falls into that category, the Ultimates’ more pressing concern is to get proactive about Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds.

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The Black Panther does not have time to worry about putting earth in danger.

Galactus is one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s most eye-popping creations, and that is saying something. While first depicted as an ancient, giant, godlike being of immeasurable power, Galactus eventually came to be depicted as a catastrophic force of cosmic nature; one of the multiverse’s universal laws. There is no more bargaining with him to spare your world than there is bargaining with a hurricane to steer clear of your apartment complex. In truth, Kirby once said Galactus was inspired by a reading of the Noah story in Genesis.

So, like we said: Ultimate problems. Ultimate solutions.

Just what it is the Ultimates have in mind for Galactus isn’t clear yet, but Blue Marvel and Captain Marvel fight their way through an army of defenses to gain an audience with the big guy and make their mysterious pitch. In the meantime, Ms. America and Spectrum try to hold off Galactus’ ground forces on Moroder-O—the next planet up on his menu.

One of the things that drew me initially to Ultimates is Kenneth Rocafort—one of the best artists in the business. He does not disappoint here, churning out one idiosyncratically rendered character after another. From otherworldly spaceships to Captain Marvel’s spectacularly depicted energy absorption, there’s not a boring panel in the entire comic.

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I won’t spoil his illustration of Galactus for you, but it’s worth the cover price.

I enjoyed writer Al Ewing’s work in Loki: Agent of Asgard, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops this crew in future issues. There’s a lot of table setting in this issue, which is to be expected, but Ewing’s got an ear for distinctive dialog. His characters are so richly formed he doesn’t need to spend much time giving out character profiles or “as-you-know”-type conversations. Ms. America’s the youngest team member, but she’s also the most experienced in inter-dimensional swashbuckling. Blue Marvel spews technological jargon like John Madden listing NFL stats, but also has a wry sense of humor. Some of Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” titles have struggled with their first issues, feeling a bit like a group of people standing in a circle, forced to share an interesting fact about themselves. Ewing is definitely getting his plates spinning, but he has the good sense to do so with dynamic action sequences.

This is as good a place as any to address The Ultimates‘ most distinctive quality: the lack of white men. As far as I can tell, only one appeared in the entire issue—a background Triskelion agent. The only white character is Carol Danvers. Ms. America is Latin American. T’Challa is Wakandan. Blue Marvel and Spectrum are both African-American.

Given The Ultimates’ scope, the lack of white dudes—that most traditional superhero blueprint—makes sense. This is a global and super-global team, with origins in several multiverses. It’s as good a place as any for a hugely diverse cast of characters.

It’ll be interesting to see how Ewing handles this diversity going forward. As he told Comics Alliance in an illuminating interview from last summer:

 I think it [diversity] is important in the way that a roof is important. If you’re moving into a building and the landlord says “oh, and we have — get this — a roof! And four walls! We’re not just a hole someone dug in the street!, you don’t start giving out medals for that. That’s just a basic thing that ought to be standard. It’s just fiction reflecting reality — there are all kinds of people in the world, and we should reflect that properly and try not to screw up. To be honest, I think there’s a long way to go in a lot of ways, both on the page and off.

I certainly don’t expect race to be a major issue unless Galactus has some underlying racism, but these characters are definitely informed by their gender, race and ethnicity. Smart sci-fi, like Alien and more recently, Mad Max: Fury Road, made powerful statements about gender despite—or perhaps, because—they didn’t explicitly say anything about gender. In Alien, Ripley never gets on a soapbox about how she’s just as good an astronaut as any man, but no one would argue that you could have swapped her with, say, Harrison Ford.

Likewise, Aziz Ansari’s wonderful new Netflix series Master of None doesn’t harp on the fact that Ansari’s character, Dev, is an Indian-American living in a world where race still affects his social and professional fortunes, but it doesn’t ignore the fact either. Marvel has historically dealt very honestly and even heroically with minorities. It’s encouraging to see them continuing to populate their stories with these characters. It’ll be even more encouraging if Ewing dares to dig beyond just skin tone and X Chromosome count.

So, it’s a successful for foray into a much larger, much more imaginative universe, with a particularly exciting and innovative cast of characters who’ve deserved a main title for a while.

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