Sunday, September 23, 2007

PROPAGANDA Reviews: Ultimates by Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch

I loved The Ultimates. I still think that the first two volumes (Superhuman and Homeland Security) are absolutely marvellous. Mark Millar completely nailed the idea of widescreen superheroes and totally reinvented the Marvel heroes concept in the process. Of course, it helped that Bryan Hitch was producing the best artwork of his life, out-widescreening Millar’s writing with ease.

Take the Avengers concept and give it a modern makeover. Instead of well intentioned super types saving the world for kicks, make it more realistic; a state-sponsored, highly paid super-team. You’ve got Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, masterminding the show, Tony Stark as half Bill Gates, half international playboy, Hank Pym (Giant Man) with serious inferiority issues, Janet Pym (Wasp) as his not so dependable wife, Bruce Banner as a repressed scientist with violent tendencies, Thor the new age, eco-friendly God of Thunder and Captain America, recovered from 1945, a naive super-soldier out of time and space.

With Millar and Hitch at the controls this book was as much fun as it sounded; Millar’s crisp, funny, inventive dialogue made the book the perfect high octane, check the brain at the door, sit back and enjoy it blockbuster. Hitch added to the potent mix with superb action packed visuals that make every page a delight to look at.

The first book, Super-Human, covers the formation of the team, Captain America’s recovery, the Hulk taking out Manhattan and much more. The second book, Homeland Security, expands on the story, bringing in more old favourites and continuing to amaze us with jaw-dropping special effects you’ll never see in films.

(the Cap tells it like it is in Ultimates: Homeland Security,
art by Bryan Hitch, (C) Marvel

This was the perfect example of how interesting superhero comics could be if written with a bit of talent, style and cheek. By the end of Homeland Security Millar had wrapped up pretty much everything he’d started in Superhuman. Two volumes of the perfect superhero book. To be honest he should have left it there.

But eventually Volume 3: Gods And Monsters came out (or, following the stupid labelling system Marvel decided it should have - The Ultimates 2: Volume 1: Gods and Monsters). And now we have Volume 4: Grand Theft America.

(panel from Ultimates Volume 2: Homeland Security, art by Bryan Hitch, (C) Marvel)

And sadly for us, Millar seems to have completely run out of ideas at this point. The ideas go stale and the originality and sense of wonder has gone. It has the feel of a horribly forced sequel. Bryan Hitch is still producing some stunning work, but even that lacks the wonder and punch it had in the first two volumes as if he’s reflecting Millar’s writerly fatigue in his artwork.

So, the answer is quite obvious. If you fancy reading one of the best examples of modern superhero fiction, with a cracking story and gorgeous artwork I can heartily recommend you pick up The Ultimates Volume 1 and 2. In fact I’m going to insist that if you’re in anyway a superhero fan you pick these two books up. They form a self contained story that gives you the start, middle and end of everything you want to know about the Ultimates.

After that, I’m pretending that there are no Volumes 3 and 4. I suggest you all do the same.

(Originally posted at the FPI weblog here.)


  1. Sorry Rich but i have to disagre with you. I think Millar brings the book full circle in Volumes 3 & 4 and makes it into the Superhero Team Book it was deconstructing in Volumes 1 & 2. At the end of it The Ultimates no longer wish to be goverment puppets, they want to do good, they want to be the heroes they have become. Thats how i see it anyway.

  2. Ah, I don't necessarily have an objection about Millar moving the book full circle and ending with them waving the hero flag in the air.

    It's just that he makes it such a tedious and bland experience getting there, only made more unbearable by the shining brilliance of the first two books.

    The end of book 2, at least for me, marks as good an end point as I can get. Anything else is just extra crap.

    A bit like the way I can stop reading the Authority halfway through the second book at the end of Warren's run and consider it completed.
    (Not that Warren Ellis should be held up as a shining example of great writering all the time - I just read Doktor Sleepless 1 & 2. Oh deary deary me.)