Monday, 9 March 2015

The Ultimates

Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie
The Ultimates volume one (2002)

I'm confused. For some reason I was under an impression of this having been the gritty version of Marvel's Avengers which inspired The Authority by Warren Ellis and prompted Alan Moore to apologise for that whole violent, unhappy superheroes with herpes and criminal convictions trope resulting from the entire comics industry having missed the point of Watchmen; but the dates all seem to be in the wrong order, so I have no idea which came first, who inspired what, or whose fault it is.

Well anyway, if nothing else, it's fairly clear that The Ultimates was a significant influence on Marvel's big screen version of the Avengers, a film I very much enjoyed as it happens, although  enjoyed without necessarily wanting to rush out and see it again. The Ultimates, I guess taking cues from The Authority, re-imagined Marvel's Avengers from the ground up, and being sprung forth from the biro of Mark Millar, it's well told, brilliantly observed, and undeniably cinematic - partially helped by great art, of course. The marginally more fanciful elements of the mythology are revised to aid suspension of disbelief, so the Hulk no longer results from Banner's exposure to transforming radiation, and we learn that basic biology prevents Giant Man from growing taller than sixty feet, this being the limit beyond which his bones would no longer be able to support his body. I'm sure Richard Dawkins would still find something to moan about, but you have to make a few allowances, otherwise you're just left with a story about a guy called Marty who sells shrimp from the back of his van.

As a comic book, it's impressive and kind of fascinating, but is let down by the fact of most of its characters being horrible tossers, presumably for the sake of Alan Moore patented gritty realism, without much in the way of wit to redeem them - which is why the film worked better, I thought. Additionally, the scene in which Hank Pym beats up his wife, and the rampaging Hulk's apparent intention to rape some former girlfriend cast an extraordinarily unpleasant tone over the whole endeavour, and enough so as to ensure that I probably won't be bothering to pick up further volumes. I've defended Mark Millar's gratuitous use of shock on previous occasions because for the most part I tend to think he gets it just right and has thus generally been able to justify a few readers throwing up over their comic collections, but this is horribly misjudged, and is probably exactly what his critics have been talking about all along.

Despite everything this book has going for it - yuck!

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