Comics You Should Own – ‘The Ultimates’ (volume 1)

Yes, it’s time to look at Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s paean to superhero excess!

The Ultimates by Mark Millar (writer), Bryan Hitch (penciler), Andrew Currie (inker, issues #1-7), Paul Neary (inker, issues #8-13), Paul Mounts (colorist), and Chris Eliopoulos (letterer).

Published by Marvel, 13 issues (#1-13), cover dated March 2002 – April 2004.

SPOILERS ahead, I guess, but, I mean, it’s a superhero book. Bad guys are bad, good guys punch them. It’s not hard!

“You think this letter on me heard stands for France?” In issue #12 of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s ridiculous overwrought superhero epic, Captain America yells this to a Nazi/Skrull who tells him to surrender (as you can plainly see above). It is a beautifully drawn full-page spread of Cap, bloodied but not beaten, and it is, perhaps, one of the worst pages in mainstream American superhero comics ever published. It ignores the history of the character, who would have known, presumably, that the French lost over 4% of their population in World War I (the Americans lost .13%) and were still suffering from a nation-wide shell shock in 1940 and a character who, presumably, fought alongside many, many French who resisted the Nazis during World War II. It ignores the idea that the United States has never suffered a devastating invasion in its history and therefore doesn’t understand the trauma of it, and it also does not take into consideration that Cap himself was frozen during the World War and was only recently revived, so he would have no idea of the more recent meme that the French are cheese-eating surrender monkeys (to quote Groundskeeper Willie). It’s Mark Millar inserting his own prejudices and sense of humor into a comic, and it’s not even a true “Fuck Yeah!” moment, because the Nazi/Skrull who tells Cap to surrender even tells him that the world is about to end, so what good would it do Cap to surrender at this moment? It the entire world is going to end, why not go down fighting? You surrender when you have hope that you might live on. If you don’t have that, what good does surrender do?

It’s just one page, of course, but it shows the fine line Millar always walks with regard to his writing. He wants to be cheeky, and he can be very good at it, but he also wants to be daring, and those results are mixed. When they work, he can be a great writer. When they don’t, you get Captain America completely missing the point. That this comes toward the end of the first volume of The Ultimates, which is quite possibly the most influential comic of the 21st century, is unfortunate, because The Ultimates, as you can deduce from the fact that I’m writing a post about it, is not only influential, it’s pretty damned great.

Millar, of course, didn’t invent “wide-screen” comics, as Warren Ellis, at least, was doing them (with Hitch, though) in The Authority a few years before The Ultimates came along. But that was on a WildStorm book, and while it was part of DC, it didn’t quite have the impact Millar and Hitch’s Avengers book did. Millar also didn’t invent the idea of superheroes in the real world, as that has been a conceit for decades, but his particular spin, which he first wrote about following Ellis on The Authority, was that superheroes would be rock stars, with all the bad behavior that goes with it. Millar is a strong proponent of “superheroes-as-dicks,” which helps explain that Captain America page and should, by all accounts, make his comics unreadable. Some of them are, but with The Ultimates, it made it feel bigger and bolder than your standard superhero fare. There had always been arrogant superheroes, after all, so it wasn’t too big a leap for readers. Millar simply moved them into a far more recognizable world and ratcheted up the dickishness, which made them seem more like actual celebrities. He then introduced actual celebrities into the book, from Shannon Elizabeth, who goes into space with Tony Stark, to Freddie Prinze Jr., who famously goes on a date with Betty Ross. He turns their lives into a reality show, which means incidents like Hank Pym beating on his wife (which, naturally, defines Hank no matter what else he ever does) become big news stories rather than an event which doesn’t have much of an impact on Hank’s status as a hero. Superheroes always had some issues getting along with each other, too, and Millar amped that up as well. In the past, there would be the standard “heroes fight before because of misunderstandings,” and of course Lee and Kirby made the Fantastic Four occasionally get feisty with each other, but the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League might have been the first book to show superheroes actively disliking each other (in a humorous manner, of course). No matter what came first, Millar took all of those conceits and turned them up to 11, so that we get very strong, very distinct personalities in The Ultimates, and they’re not always going to get along on a fundamental level. Tony Stark is an asshole, and Millar really leans into his alcoholism (to the point that it’s almost unbelievable that nobody calls him out during this volume), Steve Rogers is decent but trapped in the past (his fight with Hank Pym brings this to the fore, as it’s a very 1940s thing to do, defending Jan’s honor when no one asked him to), Jarvis is a dick because he’s been working for Stark for too long, Nick Fury is a megalomaniac, Bruce Banner is a simpering weakling who yearns for Betty Ross but thinks he has to be a “man” like Stark to get her, Thor is a hippie, Hank Pym has an inferiority complex when compared even to Bruce – they’re all messes, but they’re domineering messes (for the most part), so everyone overlooks their obvious weaknesses. Millar gets into those weaknesses in volume 2, but it’s fascinating how he brings them up here and lets them marinate. Into this he injects heart-breaking moments, such as Steve meeting Bucky again after over 50 years of separation, and Millar does nice work showing how out of time Steve really is. That’s the most obvious moment, but even though the actions of the other characters aren’t necessarily admirable, Millar does a fine job showing why they do them, and the tragedy of their insecurities is why this comic is a better than a regular superhero slugfest. The Ultimates aren’t necessarily good people, but the ways in which they aren’t good are fascinating.

We can probably blame Brian Michael Bendis for “decompressed” comics, but this run is extremely decompressed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was only frustrating during the publication run because it took two years for 13 issues to come out, and early on they came out pretty regularly before dropping off at the end. So reading it “monthly” was annoying, but when read together, the decompression – Millar taking a long time to get to the action – is part of what he’s trying to say, and it’s interesting. He begins the run with a bang, as Captain America fights Nazis in 1945, which leads to his icy entombment and also sets the stage for the Chitauri story arc, which doesn’t really begin until issue #8. Then we get three full issues of table-setting until the Hulk attacks Manhattan in issue #5. This might seem excessive, but Millar does a good job with them. We get Steve Rogers waking up in the 21st century and having some culture shock, as well as reconnecting with Bucky Barnes, who of course married Cap’s old girlfriend. We get the introduction of Thor, the hippies’ hippie, who’s somewhat coy about being a god and acts as the left-wing conscience of the comic, and we get the increasingly disturbed mindset of Bruce Banner, who doesn’t handle the way the team belittles him all that well. In the scene in which Nick Fury casts Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in the movie (which, of course, directly led to Samuel L. Jackson being cast as Nick Fury; it’s something that Millar seems to like doing, as he cast Eminem in Wanted at about this time), Millar does a terrific job writing the team not exactly belittling Banner, but which he could easily take that way, while in these issues Hitch does a great job showing how disheveled and downbeat Banner is becoming. As noted, Millar shows the team not only being in conflict with each other, but actively disliking some members, and the psychological trauma that Banner suffers in these issues – mostly because he doesn’t conform to the warped idea of masculinity embodied by patronizing Captain America and womanizing Tony Stark, and even wisecracking Hank Pym – is gripping to read. When he decides to give the Ultimates a foe to fight and becomes the Hulk, it’s partly because he wants them to be able to justify their budget, but a large part of it is because he’s grappling with masculine ideals that are outmoded at best and toxic at worst. Banner is a beta, sure, and he’s ridiculously jealous (the Hulk, remember, is pissed that Betty is out to dinner with Freddie Prinze Jr.), but he’s also stuck in a world where his best attributes aren’t appreciated as much as the best attributes of others. It’s not surprising he’d snap and “Hulk out,” even in so literal a manner. Millar does a good job setting the Hulk’s rampage up, because it needs to be as justified as possible because of all the carnage the Hulk causes. It’s not surprising that issue #5 ends with Cap kicking a defenseless Banner in the face to knock him out. The Hulk is horrible and Banner is stupid for letting him out, but Cap thinks all problems can be solved with violence. Luckily for him, he’s in a comic where that’s okay.

The other way the decompression works is in the way Millar introduces the bad guys. The idea of superheroes creating supervillains has long been both subtext and actual text, but Millar takes it very seriously in the first arc, as he points out that the Ultimates, as a government-sponsored supergroup, are using taxpayer money to sustain themselves, which comes up early in the series. Larry King asks Stark about it in issue #4, when he points out there’s only been one notable supervillain attack in American history. Stark points out that’s like refusing to get medical insurance because you’ve never been sick, which is a valid argument, but King’s argument is still valid, as well. King also asks about the rumor that Stark’s media interests stirred up the idea of a supervillain threat to get some fat government contracts, which, in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks and the new emphasis among some groups on “false flag” operations, is all too trenchant an observation to make (I don’t know how much lead time Millar had on this book, but the only issue that could have conceivably written before 9/11 is #1). Banner is feeling inadequate because he can’t replicate the super-soldier serum (and Betty never lets him forget it), so he becomes the Hulk again, and Millar ties the two threads of his arc together nicely – he wants to give the group something to fight, but he also says he’s missed being “big.” Millar has never been the most subtle writer, but prior to Banner turning into the Hulk, his sexual inadequacies aren’t front and center, and it’s only when he becomes the Hulk that his masculinity becomes his defining trait. He tells Betty how horny he is, he gets distracted when Janet Pym flashes her breasts at him, and Thor’s hammer only makes him horny for Betty again. He’s still pathetic, though, as he just doesn’t want Betty to leave him. Millar actually does a nice job turning him into one of these sad boy-men who don’t handle rejection and whine about how they “deserve” a woman without being too blatant about it. In issue #13, Cap gets the Hulk to fight the Chitauri by telling him that their leader was hooking up with Betty, which of course sets the Hulk off (Cap, perhaps, knows that this will make the Hulk angry because he himself tried to defend Jan’s honor after Hank beat her up and learned a hard lesson about 21st-century chivalry and the notion that men shouldn’t assume that they can defend a woman’s honor), and he later tells the Hulk that the other Chitauri were questioning his sexuality. All of this is done well, as Millar doesn’t go after these kinds of men directly, but in a nice roundabout way, so we reach the conclusion that Banner/Hulk is kind of pathetic on our own, without Millar beating us over the head with it. Millar also does an interesting subversion of this at the end, because all of the Hulk’s rage actually turns Betty on. The Ultimates is more complex than we might think it is on a first reading. After issue #5, we once again slow down, as Millar brings Hank’s domestic abuse to the fore in issue #6 and Cap’s beatdown of Hank in issue #9. In issue #8, we get the first fighting against the Chitauri, which leads into the second big arc. Issues #10-13 are almost non-stop fighting, but because Millar has taken a good long time to set it all up, it works very well. We see the strategies of the Chitauri, we see how smart the Ultimates are, and we see the Hulk go nuts again. It’s good old-fashioned superhero action, on a much grander scale than readers were used to before. Millar’s slow burn paid off very nicely, even if it was torture reading these issues as they came out. Now, reading them all at once is a treat.

As noted above, Millar uses the extra time to give us characters who might not be exactly admirable, but who are still fascinating. Cap and Thor are probably the two most noble characters, but Thor doesn’t really get too much character development in this volume, so it’s Cap by default. He’s a decent guy who, naturally, has a 1940s mindset. In issue #4, he wonders whether Hank will mind that Jan has been showing him around New York and helping him buy clothes, and of course he attacks Hank later after finding out he beat on Jan. Millar writes him really well, from the sadness but stiff upper lip he displays when Nick Fury tells him what happened to his family to his attempts to reconnect with Bucky and Gail. He tries to stay in his old neighborhood even though it’s much more crime-ridden than it was in the 1940s, leading to his apartment getting burglarized and his new record collection getting destroyed. The best thing about the way Millar writes him is that Cap, like the others and even like Banner, is much more comfortable on the battlefield, but while Banner’s discomfort comes from his own personality, Steve’s comes from his situation. In social situations, especially with women, he seems a bit out of sorts. When he’s fighting, he can be himself, and Millar introduces this idea – which is a prevalent one in war stories – nicely, so that again, it’s a subtle way to show how difficult it is for Cap to live in the modern world. In issue #3, Millar brings this to the surface when Steve tells Fury he should have left him in the ice because everything he (Steve, that is) loved is gone, but it’s cleverly done as almost a moment of weakness in the character, even though Millar is letting us behind the curtain very briefly. Eventually, Cap integrates well, but Millar, using the space he’s been accorded, makes it a more difficult journey than we might expect.

Hitch helps make this a great comic, too, not surprisingly. This might not be Hitch’s greatest work, but it’s during his greatest period, after his early, occasionally awkward days and before his art became a bit slicker and looser. In The Ultimates, both Currie and Neary provide rougher inks, while Mounts’s coloring, while almost certainly digital, isn’t as slick as some early digital coloring, and it adds nice nuances to the line work. Hitch, as noted above, worked with Warren Ellis on The Authority, perhaps the first true “widescreen” comic, and his style works well for that kind of comic. He doesn’t do unusual stuff with page designs or panel layouts, telling the story as “simply” as possible, but what Hitch does well is immerse the reader in the world, as he uses amazingly precise details in every panel, never taking one off, even if what we’re seeing is relatively innocuous. He’s superb at blocking out a battle scene because he uses every inch of space and fills it with … stuff, for lack of a better word, making the battles seem crazy and chaotic and busy, so we can believe that these are large groups of people clashing over very important ideologies. He moves easily from the macrocosmic to the microcosmic, as in issue #1, where we get a double-page spread of the Allies storming the Nazi fortifications and we are blown away by the sheer scale of it all, but then Hitch quickly moves to the human cost of war, as soldiers get gunned down with frightening efficiency. When the Hulk attacks Manhattan, not only does Hitch draw every building with incredible accuracy, giving us a wonderful sense of place as the team tries to take down Banner, but he also adds hundreds of spectators, because of course people would stop to watch instead of getting the hell out of there. This attention to detail also makes the fights that much more brutal, which is necessary in a world-altering story like this (world-altering in the Ultimate Universe, that is, not necessarily in ours). The brutality has to be part of the fighting, because Millar and Hitch want to get across how titanic these people are and how much it takes out of them to stop the villains. When the Ultimates are supposedly killed in the South Pacific, Hitch draws the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fleet and the skeletons on deck with precision. When they fight Kleiser, Tony shoots him in the head, and Hitch draws the gaping wound beautifully, so we see the carnage a close-range bullet can do (it doesn’t kill him, of course, because he’s an alien, but it still looks messy). He draws the Hulk’s rage in issue #13 powerfully, so when the Hulk finally kills Kleiser, we get the utter destruction the Hulk can wreak on a living creature, and it’s both amazing and horrifying. And of course, when Hank beats Jan up, the details of her ordeal, as Hank sics his ants on her, is absolutely disturbing because we can see all the wounds both he and the ants inflict on her. Hitch’s “destruction porn” doesn’t work in every comic, of course, but it works here, because Hitch gets the scale of the Ultimates’ operations across wonderfully with each piece of building that falls and each ruined girder that clutters each panel. Millar gives him the space to do so, but Hitch nails the intricacies of total destruction excellently.

There aren’t a lot of quiet moments in The Ultimates, but Hitch does a nice job with those, too. The overall mood of the heroes is “jaunty,” certainly, but not all of them fit into society all that well. Hitch nails Banner’s twitchy nervousness and insecurity, happy only when he’s working on something interesting, like waking Captain America up after thawing him out. Hitch gets Cap’s 1940s stoicism well, as there’s a nice panel when he realizes his apartment has been burglarized in which Hitch draws him with just the vaguest sense of disappointment and sadness on his face, even though he’s keeping his upper lip stiff. Betty is terrific as a fairly vile but effective PR person, and it’s easy to see why a milquetoast like Banner would want her, because she’s utterly domineering around him, and Hitch gives her mouth a good, sinister twist to it fairly often. The fight between Hank and Jan is harrowing partly because Hitch gets at the ugliness of their relationship through their facial expressions and body language. It’s an upsetting scene because Jan is just as awful as Hank, so when he finally turns on her, there’s the tiniest bit of satisfaction from the reader, until we realize the depths of his rage and pettiness. It makes a better point about domestic violence than if Jan had been a totally innocent victim, and Hitch does a lot of that work. That scene is intercut with the scene where Tony, Steve, and Thor have drinks and Tony reveals he has a brain tumor. Hitch gets his insouciant attitude toward life perfectly in the panel where he reveals it, as his charming smile never leaves his face. The fight between Cap and Hank, in which Hank grows until he’s Giant-Man, is more depressing than Hulk’s rampage through Manhattan, because Hulk’s pain is masked by his monstrous face. Hank’s shame and then unhinged rage as Cap goads him to changing size are sad because they’re all too human, as Hank is someone who genuinely feels shame for what he did but still can’t deal with his feelings of inadequacy. Hitch, not surprisingly, does the big expressions well, but in this book, he’s quite good at the quieter moments, too, which is why the Ultimates ultimately seem more human to the reader and therefore make their defeats and triumphs more relatable.

The Ultimates is a magnificent superhero comic, one that raised the stakes for the genre and influenced comics and the entire Marvel movie machine as well. Like a lot of influential comics, many creators took the wrong messages from the book, leading to abortions like Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, but that dreck shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Millar and Hitch (along with Currie, Neary, Mounts, and even Eliopoulos, whose lettering is well done) created a marvelous epic that took all the tropes of superhero fiction, twisted them just a bit, and ramped them all up to 11, and we get a beautiful and exciting comic that never lets go of your attention. It gave Millar the fame and cachet to allow him to take off for Image and make gobs of money by turning his books into movies. It moved Hitch to the A-list, certainly, although he was probably already there, and if so, it moved him to the A+-list, I guess. It remains a superhero benchmark, and if you have ever liked superhero comics, you owe it to yourself to give it a read.

There’s a giant collection of both The Ultimates volumes 1 and 2, both by Millar and Hitch, but I haven’t read volume 2 and I hear it’s just not as good. I’ve linked to it below, though, because it’s a pretty good bargain. It’s what, 26 issues for 23 dollars? Not bad at all. It appears the two trades collecting just this volume are out of print, unfortunately. But getting both is still a good bargain! I’m sure most of the people reading this have read The Ultimates – it’s not exactly obscure – but in case you haven’t, here’s your chance to rectify that!

64 Comments

  1. toothpaste

    I haven’t yet read the Ultimates, but I’ll take the recommendation – on a related note, did you read Hickman’s Ultimates? Idk how the reviews are, and haven’t read that either, but I love me some Hickman.

    On an unrelated note, I bought Superman: American Alien the other day and that’s a really good comic (wasn’t a Superman fan until I read it).

    1. Greg Burgas

      toothpaste: I haven’t read Hickman’s Ultimates yet – I have a collection of the first six issues, but I’m so far behind on some things that I haven’t gotten around to it. It’s the same with American Alien – I got it, planned to read it, got behind, and then decided to just shelve it and read it later. It looks very cool, though!

  2. Well, gosh! I hated it, but I certainly agree it was influential. Wide-screen is a good term for it–I always found it to be like a Michael Bay flick in comic form, big and dumb and explodey. I agree that the Ultimate Universe was all downhill from there, but I always felt that this series set it on that trajectory. (As opposed to Ultimate Spider-Man, which somehow managed to remain good till the end, and I say that as not even a Bendis fan at all.)

    But I dig that you dug it. It’s good to dig things! And you make a good case for it, but the whole series was just too mean-spirited for me.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Sam: I disagree that this volume, at least, was mean-spirited. I think there’s a difference between the characters and Millar’s attitude toward them, and I think he does a good job showing us that we shouldn’t necessarily admire these people even if we need them to do a job. I read the first two issues of volume 2 before my Millar boycott kicked in, and I felt that mean-spiritedness creeping in a little, as it seemed that Millar was beginning to change the tone so that we WERE supposed to admire them a little, and that felt off. In these issues, though, I think he manages to walk the line better. But yeah, if it didn’t work for you, fair enough.

      I can’t remember where I first read the term “wide-screen” to describe these kind of comics, but it is perfect, isn’t it?

      1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

        I actually really enjoyed Ultimates 2, as it tried to examine the logical consequences of a government super-team, from both the US’s perspective and what the international response might be.

        1. Greg Burgas

          Carlos: Hmmm, that’s interesting. Perhaps one day I’ll get it, because I imagine Millar doesn’t get any money from it anymore, so I can buy it with a clear conscience! 🙂 Then I can see what’s what.

      2. tomfitz1

        I could be wrong, but I think I heard of the term “wide-screen” being flung about during the AUTHORITY era by Ellis and Hitch.

        Remember that giant-sized JLA book (Heaven’s Ladder) done by Waid and Hitch?
        Talk about wide-screen!

    2. M-Wolverine

      Yes, it goes back to the idea that your protagonists don’t have to be heroes, but you have to like something about them to sustain interest. No one wants to go to dinner with Hannibal Lector, but we can all think he’s kind of cool. These people were just all unlikable. Which maybe is true of how we’d feel of a rock group or movie cast like they were supposed to embody, but there’s a reason we don’t want to know too much of the real them behind the scenes. Because it ruins their performance image. This was just like only that version.

        1. M-Wolverine

          I will say I don’t think Game of Thrones is quite like my example, because even though the good guys are either dumb or pretty awful themselves, there are still people to like and root for like Tyrion.

          HOWEVER, I do think that hand in hand with it is his point, which is is something is ALWAYS depressing, dark, and dreary, fill with failure and bad guys doing bad things, then it’s not entertaining to a great number either. And I imagine reading Game of Thrones is even more depressing than watching it. So I get it completely.

          1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            I actually very much disagree with that.

            ASOIAF is significantly less depressing than GoT, because Martin doesn’t mistake “depressing/gritty/whatever” for “mature,” the way Benioff/Weiss, Zack Snyder and Rian Johnson do.

            Bad things happen to good people, but always as a result of the decisions they have made, rather than to show everyone that it’s “totally for adults, guise!”

          2. M-Wolverine

            Huh, considering most of the dark twists come straight from the book, I’m not sure I see that big a difference. And I’m not sure I’d call Martin’s love of violence, nudity, and brutality “mature” particularly when he seems to make a good deal of the characters children. Dany whole marriage and rape were icky enough in the show. Make her 14 and whatever and I’m not sure I’m giving Martin credit for having better taste.

          3. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            Actually, Dany’s marriage is a great illustration of my point.

            In the book, Drogo is gentle, kind and makes sure to obtain affirmative and enthusiastic consent from Dany before consummating the marriage.

            Benioff and Weiss turn it into a rape scene, because they think that’s what makes something “mature.”

          1. M-Wolverine

            I definitely have my dark side, but like any cynic I secretly hope to aspire to true heroism. And no spoilers, but I think that’s a problem I have with The Last Jedi. Star Wars is supposed to be black and white (almost literally). Not shades of gray where your heroes are too human, and failures.

      1. Greg Burgas

        M-Wolverine: That’s true, but I find a lot to hold my interest with these characters. Cap’s re-integration into society, Tony’s alcoholism, Thor’s odd “Is he a god or isn’t he?” coyness, the tragedy of both Bruce and his insecurity and Hank and his insecurity. No, I don’t want to spend too much time with them, but I think they’re fascinating without being simply out-and-out unlikeable. But that’s me! 🙂

        1. M-Wolverine

          I’m open to the possibilities.

          What do you like about them?

          What makes you think they want to help people, rather than just aggrandize themselves, other than maybe Cap?

          And how do they see themselves making the world a better place? (When they can’t even agree on that)

          1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            I find Tony and Thor’s bromance delightful, and Cap’s combining absolute clarity of purpose with a willingness to admit when he’s wrong very appealing.

            At the time of the series, Tony is giving nearly everything he owns to charity…and his very presence as Iron Man, rather than selling the suit to the government for untold billions, demonstrates, in his words, a commitment to “helping fix the world, rather than bleeding it dry.”

            Thor refuses to help the team until Bush doubles the international aid budget, and then proceeds to refuse to join the team as an official member, but makes himself fully available to help with any genuine crises.

            And Cap, of course, is entirely altruistic, even as he has trouble defining what “the right thing” means 60 years after his time.

          2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            And the fact that none of them agrees on what “making the world a better place” means, even as all are determined I help do so, is one of the most compelling parts of the book.

  3. Eric van Schaik

    Yeah, another comic that I also own 🙂
    I’m wondering how many posts there will be before you start TPB’s you should own?

    Best wishes for the new year to all of you, contributers and readers.
    I hope nobody got injured while celebrating or using fireworks.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: Well, I’m in “U,” so it can’t be that long! But there are some really long runs coming up (X-Men, Wonder Woman), so that might take a while. We shall see!

      Happy New Year to you, too, sir. I hope it’s much, MUCH better than 2017 for you!

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Some years ago, I got a hold of the tpb collecting the first six issues of Ultimates 2. And after reading it, I’ve never wanted to read any more Ultimates. Pretty much the only thing I liked about it was the art, and in fact, I’m now more interested in reading the initial run of the Authority by Ellis and Hitch that you mentioned.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: You’ll notice I didn’t include Ultimates 2 in this post! 🙂

      The Ellis/Hitch run on The Authority (the first 12 issues) are quite fun – they’re less thoughtful than these issues, but they feature a lot of awesome punching of generally horrible bad guys, which is nice.

    2. I remember some good moments when I looked over the issues in the store. But not enough.
      I particularly remember the big fight in which the Chitauri, as modern villains often do, is mouthing off deep insights about good and evil while battling Cap. Scenes like that only serve to demonstrate why comic-book writers aren’t also famous philosophers.

    1. Greg Burgas

      matt: You’re welcome! I never know when I’m going to get one of these up, because sometimes there’s a lot of comics in between entries (I re-read Ultimate X-Men – all the 78 issues I own – between my last entry and this one), but I try to keep up!

  5. tomfitz1

    Mr. Burgas, I can’t believe that you didn’t read this series way back when it first came out. (I did) At least for the Hitch art, if not for the Millar story.

    You may not have mentioned it (oh, you did at the beginning for vol. 1) but both volumes had been met with constant delays. So it took nearly 5 years to finish it.

    I read a lot of the Ultimate Universe while it was in its infancy stage, then got bored and stopped.

    Occasionally, I go back and read where I left off, if the library has the trades.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: Where did I give the impression that I didn’t read it as it came out? I even noted the agonizing gaps between issues! Back then, I was a fan of Millar’s, and of course I dug Hitch’s art, so I bought each issue and waited (and waited) for each issue. I’m just pointing out that it reads a lot better all at once rather than over two years!

      1. tomfitz1

        I stand corrected, admonished, reprimanded, and “Burgas”-ized!

        However, you are right about the fact that it reads better in one sitting than 1 issue at a time, especially the long wait between issues/volumes.

        Do you remember that they wanted to wait publishing volume 2, until they had a few issues in the can? Look how that turned out! LOL

  6. I never bothered with Ultimates; I hated what Millar did on Ultimate X-Men, hated the cynical and paranoid world he created. The only Ultimate Universe book I liked was Spider-Man, and the second SHIELD showed up there, I dropped it like a hot rock.

    The only Millar work I’ve ever liked is his Superman Adventures stuff. Apart from that, his stuff is so bitter and he goes in so much for shock value (Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch incest, anyone?) that I’m just not interested.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Jim: I’ve cooled on Millar, but you’re right about the shock value. His Swamp Thing, however (which was, I believe, his first American work), is wonderful, terrifying and horrific but also extremely humanistic. I miss that Millar!

  7. Peter

    This was definitely the last good Millar work that I know of (I haven’t really bought anything since he wrote Old Man Logan and I found it gross, but sometimes I will peruse a trade at the library to make sure that my distaste for his later work is justified). His points are not subtle, but he does have some thoughtful themes about Jingoism and vapid celebrity culture in the book, and the Hitch action scenes are a lot of fun even if you find the writing mean-spirited. In my humble opinion, Ultimates 2 is actually better – for one thing, I’m oddly partial to Paul Neary’s inks, and he inks that whole volume, and Millar also writes a pretty gripping, legitimately-surprising action/thriller plot. He even made Ultimate Quicksilver a worthwhile character at the very end. If you can ethically make an exception for your Millar boycott, I’d really recommend reading it.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Peter: That’s very interesting. As I noted up-river, I doubt if Millar gets any money from this any more, so I am kind of tempted to get Ultimates 2. I certainly agree that Millar isn’t particularly subtle, but it’s big-timey superhero comics – I don’t really go in thinking it’s going to be subtle. That this first volume is as subtle as it is is a win, in my book! But your recommendation of the second volume is appreciated. That’s two people telling me I should check it out, so I might have to cave! 🙂

      1. M-Wolverine

        I’m still waiting on that “Why I banned Mark Millar” from my buy list” column.

        Though I did like his work better when he was just Morrison’s back up. Little things like Aztek were actually pretty enjoyable.

  8. dancondonjones

    I actually love that “you think this letter on my head stands for France” line.

    It would be horrendous for the 616 (or movie) Captain America to say it, but the Ultimate version is a macho dickhead who would say the macho dickhead thing.

    The timeline problem you mentioned is a little problematic, but I think you can pass that off as him having been in the present day long enough to pick up on the modern interpretation of the French as “cheese eating surrender monkeys”. And you know, macho dickheads will say the macho dickhead thing even if it does contradict what they really think.

    1. M-Wolverine

      You know, I always thought it was just Millar going for the easy joke, but if you really wanted to justify it, he could have easily put it in an earlier story that would have made it make sense this way. He was a man out of time, so he certainly would be (in any incarnation) a student of history, being history himself, and catching up. And the way the team here is set up as media stars, it would have been easy to have a background video saying “France decries USA flaunting international law with new Ultimates team,” and it wouldn’t even have to be something they listen to or react to. Not even a line, but text on the scroll of whatever fake news network they were using, either in the background of the base lounge or a TV in a window on the street. Because the art has that much detail.

      Then it would have been a good Easter Egg, and some in story justification, where in the issue it originally appears in it would just be an eye roll minor background joke that “yeah, of COURSE France would object to this…they object to everything.” And you wouldn’t have to see Cap hear it to justify that he would HAVE heard about it. And no, I don’t think this Cap (unlike maybe the 616) would be getting into the psychological ramifications of being invaded twice affecting their world outlook. He’d be more “how in the hell did the guys I fought and died with and saw Americans and English die for turn into such pussies while I was gone? They need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” cliches.

      But yeah, that would have required a lot more thought than I think went into this comic. And I think it succeeded on the “ha ha” value, but I didn’t expect it to be well thought out or in character. Because who recognizes anyone with the character assassination that the whole book basically is?

          1. dancondonjones

            A bit of both – but that’s not really my point. My point is that it’s not character assassination because they’re not the same characters.

    2. In fairness to Millar, nobody writes modern Cap as a man of the 1940s. Lee’s Cap spouts Cold War cliches like he’d been a HUAC investigator, but he also has no problem with treating blacks as equals or women fighting on the front lines. So Millar’s Cap reflecting then current attitudes about cheese-eating surrender monkeys isn’t that radical (still stupid though).

      1. This is kind of a sticking point for me. I’m working on a post about it, but the short version is the the characterization of 1940s men as “macho dickheads”is really a postwar thing. Compare the heroes of prewar movies to the ones in postwar films; Jimmy Stewart, William Powell, Cary Grant, even Clark Gable (the manliest man in Hollywood ever) were gentle, sensitive, and treated women as equals. If was after WWII that masculinity and femininity were redefined in reaction to “Rosie the Riveter”; of course women could do what men do, but a “real woman” finds her fulfillment and satisfaction in domestic life, home and family. Because woman had proved they were capable, femininity had to be recontextualized, and in order to maintain “the battle between the sexes”, masculinity had to be ramped up. The notion that “men don’t cry, men don’t feel, men don’t show emotion” is largely a post-1945 invention, and pretty much the basis for toxic masculinity.

        Steve Rogers would be a lot more like Henry Fonda and a lot less like John Wayne than modern audiences might expect or accept.

        1. M-Wolverine

          Yes, and it also kind of a misnomer that everyone was a raging racist misogynist back then. I mean almost a hundred years earlier there were people who would fight a war to declare all men as equal. There were certainly more openly racist people, and even those that weren’t didn’t have the sensitivities or sensibilities of today, but this whole idea that everyone was in the Klan just 80 years ago really isn’t the case at all.

          1. M-Wolverine

            Having said that concerning Cap’s views on equality, I do agree it’s written in the 616 with pretty modern sensibilities. Not just politically, but socially. There’s the occasional “back in my day” moment, but you’d think he’d really be concerned about all the sex and violence out there now, and the Internet would make his head explode. But the way Cap is usually written you’d expect he’d be on Twitter.

            And it only gets wilder the longer time goes. Because a guy who was only on ice an almost plausible less than 20 years has now had to have been frozen for 75 years.

        2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          Eh. It could very well be argued that serving in WWII was the crucible transforming the American masculine ideal from Fonda to John Wayne, as millions of men returned from war with no infrastructure in place to help them process what they had just experienced, and didn’t want to worry their loved ones.

          1. That is definitely a factor. One of the defining traits of WWII veterans (and Viet Nam vets too) is their reticence to talk about what they saw. I think the experience of the war, and the societal changes the men faced when they got home, were instrumental in creating the postwar perceptions of masculinity and femininity (though the latter was helped along by government programs intended to convince women to go back to the kitchen through popular media portrayals), and subsequent generations just followed along, thinking this is the way it’s always been, when it clearly wasn’t.

            That said, I think Chris Evans perfectly captures the prewar masculine ideal in his portrayal of Cap.

          2. Some of what I’ve read on PTSD argues that it wasn’t that bad: they got sent home by boat, with their platoon, so they had a chance to destress in the company of the guys they trusted most and they had a while to make the transition. In contrast to which Vietnam veterans were flown home and dropped into civilian life in an instant.

            One fantasy I’ve noticed in recent years (following the burst of Greatest Generation nostalgia of the 1990s) is that every guy in America wanted to be Captain America and bust Hitler on the nose. In contrast to which Kids These Days just sit around playing videogames and refusing to go enlist and fight to destroy the Islamofascist bastards threatening to kill us all in their beds (as George Orwell observed, the people who say this never fight themselves). You’d never know listening to this line of bilge that we actually had to draft men to fight.

        3. Good point. I remember Mark Gruenwald said during his time on the book that a lot of fans thought of Cap as a Reagan-era conservative when he was actually an FDR New Deal liberal. Some fans have argued he’d have been well to the left, given that he was anti-fascist before it was cool.

          1. M-Wolverine

            I’d guess he’d be less of a Reagan era conservative and more of a Reagan like conservative. Because of Reagan being a democrat who switched to a republican. Which is where I think that started, but got twisted into what Mark said.

            The interesting thing that Ultimate probably more realistically reflects is while Cap probably would have been open to all races, and certainly not a woman hater as he was raised by his mom, he probably wouldn’t be so accepting of homosexuality. At that time that was much more universally verboten. 616 Cap is probably ok with it, because you just know one of the Howling Commandos was gay. 🙂

    3. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      I still don’t really understand the whole “Ultimate Cap is a dickhead” narrative.

      He’s not exactly 616’s warrior poet, but he’s fundamentally decent and self-sacrificing, without being jingoistic.

      Other than the France line, the next worst thing people point to is his kicking a man who had just murdered hundreds of people, because he wanted to feel big again, in the face.

      1. Greg Burgas

        Carlos: Yeah, I don’t think Ultimate Cap is a dick, either. He’s fundamentally decent, if a bit out of touch. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t like the “France” line, because it does seem a bit out of character for him.

        1. I don’t like the France line because it conflicts with the facts of his experience. The Vichy government made cowardly decisions, but the French people demonstrated courage rarely seen, and Cap would know that. Those of us sitting 70 years way from the events can be snide about it, but he’d know better.

          I will merely suggest one look at the history of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and tell me those people are “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”

          http://www.chambon.org/weapons_en.htm

          1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            Well…if one really wanted to lawyer-ify the line…you could distinguish between the French *people* and “France,” the nation state which Cap mocks.

      2. dancondonjones

        He’s not pure dickhead. He’s part chivalrous gentleman and part macho dickhead. In the very first issue he claimed that parachutes are for girls. Clearly he doesn’t really believe that, but he’s obviously a guy who will say the macho thing for effect.

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