Posted May 9, 2012 by Mikael Angelo Francisco in Comics

KILLAR MILLAR STORIES: The Ultimates & The Ultimates 2

Welcome to the latest installment of KILLAR MILLAR STORIES, where your Flipgeeks bros read a ton of comics written by Scottish superstar scribe Mark Millar, analyze the aspects that truly make them tick, and, in words that would make Millar himself proud, generally have a hell of a @#$%ing good time.

As Millar’s arrival in the Philippines draws nearer, we continue to look at the best Millar-penned books for you to read (and maybe have him sign, nudge nudge wink wink). This part focuses on The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2.

Since the release of the first Iron Man way back in 2008, Marvel has been giving the Avengers franchise a much-needed push. Since then, the world has been bombarded with a successful cartoon, countless direct-to-DVD animated features, and full-length feature films starring the most prominent members of the Avengers.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock these past few weeks, you should be well aware that the Avengers movie is busy breaking box-office records left, right, up, down, and probably even in the Negative Zone. (Check out our reviews of The Avengers here!) Ask any new fan about what they know about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and I’m pretty sure at some point you’ll get the following answers: The genesis of the Incredible Hulk had something to do with attempts to replicate the Super-Soldier Serum that gave the world Captain America; Nick Fury is a one-eyed African-American badass who looks suspiciously like a Jedi; Hawkeye and Black Widow are S.H.I.E.L.D.-sanctioned Avengers, and Thor rocks epic facial hair and looks like a hippie.

Pictured: Not-Hawkeye and Not-ScarJo-But-Close-Enough.

The thing is, the Marvel Movieverse isn’t directly based on the classic universe, otherwise known as the 616 universe (reportedly named after the release date of Fantastic Four #1, June 1961 – the comic that pretty much gave birth to the Marvel Universe we all know and love). It actually borrows a lot more from the Ultimate Universe – an alternate Marvel reality that basically answers the question, “What if the Marvel Universe had been born in the year 2000?”

The Ultimate Universe sets itself apart from the 616 universe through its grittier, more realistic take on superheroes (or at least, as close to realistic as you can get when dealing with superheroes); you could suddenly be transported into the Ultimate Universe one day and, aside from seeing quite a few members of the spandex set here and there, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Ultimate Spider-Man kick-started the Ultimate Universe in 2000, and while it updated the story of everyone’s favorite webbed wonder for a new generation, it is more likely that the epic, real-world tone of the Ultimate Universe was in fact set when the first issue of The Ultimates first hit the stands in 2002.

The Ultimates, a collaborative effort between Millar and hyper-realistic artist Bryan Hitch, details the formation of the Ultimate Universe’s premier super-team. The first volume of The Ultimates spans 13 issues and focuses on the formation of the Ultimates, and how they managed to defend the Earth against a full-on alien assault, the seeds of which were planted as early as WWII.

The Ultimates are led by Captain America, who, in this universe, has abilities beyond “peak athlete” tier and is a bit rougher and more violent than classic 616 Cap. Joining him are Iron Man, a bored billionaire who routinely dresses up in a suit of armor to do something good before his brain tumor finally kills him; Thor, an anti-establishment rabble-rouser who wields a powerful mallet he calls Mjolnir; Giant-Man and the Wasp, a husband-and-wife superhero tandem plagued by insecurities and dark secrets; Hawkeye and Black Widow, two of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most skilled operatives; and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, who have left Magneto’s brotherhood and strive to redeem themselves in the eyes of the general populace. Also among their number is the often-bullied Dr. Bruce Banner…and his much-feared alter-ego, the gray-skinned behemoth known as the Hulk.

Millar and Hitch did a phenomenal job with The Ultimates, and after the conclusion of the first volume, they worked on a second volume, another 13 issues’ worth of stories. This time around, the focus shifts to Thor and his struggle to convince everyone that not only is he the genuine article, he has also been sent to save the world from a terrible fate at the hands of his deceitful half-brother, Loki. The Ultimates are also forced to confront a traitor in their midst, and regain their senses in order to kick ass and save the world once again.

“Seriously, Steve? All this firepower just to bring down the freakin’ Armadillo?”

Many good things can be said about The Ultimates. It consistently delivers the bombastic, guts-exploding-here-and-there “shock and awe” style prevalent in Millar stories. The breakdown of the main story into mini-arcs in both volumes is masterfully done, the dialogue is fresh and remains powerful and relevant even after almost a decade, and each character’s development is unique in a way that still pays respect to the way they have all been portrayed for years in the 616 universe. Also, Millar did a solid job of smoothly planting this story squarely in the 2000s; everything flows well and nothing seems forced, and the various pop culture references serve as rather entertaining Easter eggs, as well as neat little time capsules. Additionally, Hitch’s superb artwork perfectly fits the tone of The Ultimates; I would not be exaggerating if I said that there is no one who could have done The Ultimates better than he did, not even Alex Ross.

Millar’s Ultimates story has been so widely praised and recognized that it has effectively become the springboard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The designs and characterizations of the heroes, the plots, and even the enemies themselves; most, if not all, of these were taken directly from The Ultimates, and it works. It completely works. It is interesting to note that both volumes end in invasions of epic proportions, helping to give the books a very cinematic feel (especially if you read all of them in one sitting). Without spoiling much of the story of both volumes, let me just say that it’s as if Millar wrote The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2 with movie adaptations in mind.

The Ultimates – both volumes – are well worth tracking down. Fast-paced and compelling storytelling, kick-ass one liners and gorgeous, gorgeous art; this series has it all, AND shows Captain America kicking the Hulk in the nuts. I’m serious. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys realistic superheroes doing realistically badass things, then THIS is the superhero book for you.

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, well…

I think it did, Janet. Oh, I think it did.

This review was brought to you by the numbers 1 and 2 (as in, both of these books are worth reading), and the letters A-W-E-S-O-M-E (as in, these books are awesome, so what are you waiting for? Get them now!).

Check out other KILLAR MILLAR STORIES here.

Mikael Angelo Francisco