Monday, March 17, 2003

Ultimates #9 - A Review

Written by: Mark Millar
Penciled by: Brian Hitch
Inked by: Paul Neary
Colored by: Paul Mounts
Lettered by: ChrisEliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I wanted to like this book. I really did. I got into it after hearing about the concept for Thor and found myself enjoying the portrayals of Iron Man, Captain America and Bruce Banner as well. Then sometime about Issue 6… things got darker. And the books started running late. And now with Issue 9 in my warm little hands, I have to ask… how can two talented individuals create something this horrible?

Millar has done good work in the past. I greatly enjoyed his work on “The Flash”, alone and with Grant Morrison… but having read this and his work on Ultimate X-Men recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that he should not be writing team books. Most of his characters have a degree of sameness to their dialogue and cannot be told apart, except for the occasional injection word. The worst offenders are Tony Stark (who is slowly turning into Robert Redford in “The Great Gatsby” with all his “pussycats”, “old boys” and “sports”) and Black Widow (who reminds me of Natasha from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle show” with all the “Darlings” and “Comrades”).

Sadly, it is these injections that account for most of the characterization in the book. This would be bad enough if the book were pure action, but this month’s issue is supposed to be a character-building issue. Too bad we know little more about any of the characters personally or professionally at the end of this issue than we do at the beginning. Black Widow and Hawkeye suffer the most, being the newest additions to the team. Natasha is a total cypher As for Clint, all we find out about him is that he has a girlfriend and kids and even that little bit of information comes from someone else. Besides that, all we get are scenes affirming the Cap loves Wasp/Tony is an alcoholic subplots and the only real change seems to involve the relationship between Betty Ross and Bruce Banner.

Thematically, I’m not enjoying the book. It seems like Millar is trying to turn The Ultimates into a bastard child of The Avengers and The Authority and failing miserably in the crossbreeding. You can’t write about superheroes without the heroes. And I find it very hard to call most of the people in this story heroic. I also find it interesting that the least angsty and most purely heroic character in the series, Thor, has been given the least amount of screen time. His appearance in this issue is limited to three panels and he has been given relatively little to do or say since Issue 6.

As for the art, it’s as disappointing as the story. Hitch goes for a lot of detail in his artwork and I’m guessing that’s the reason why this book has been so chronically late, since Millar has had no trouble getting Ultimate X-Men out 3 times in the last 4 weeks. Now I have no problem with detail-driven artwork. Heck, Michael Zulli is one of my favorite artists. But Hitch is severely lacking as a visual storyteller and I was hard pressed to tell from the pictures just what was going on during the fight between Captain America and Giant Man. For instance, there is one panel where it is difficult to say whether Cap is trying to kick Giant Man or just jump away from his hand. Also, Hitch’s style is, for lack of a better word, dirty and a little hard on the eyes. Still, I will give him credit for doing some good images, like the close up of a smiling Bruce Banner.

All in all, I’ve been disappointed in this book and nearly every aspect of it. The three month wait between issues hasn’t helped matters. Ultimately, The Ultimates sucks and it is now off my subscription list.

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