The Ultimates Omnibus

January 29, 2010

Marvel fans will respond to this review of The Ultimates in varying combinations of only 2 ways. One is to complain that I’m cheating by discussing Volumes 1 and 2 together via the Godzilla-size Omnibus edition. The other is to curse me with breaths of boiling envy for even owning this and not the separate hardcover or, more unfortunate, trade paperback versions. Well, too bad that your parents didn’t make you with the patience of a turtle, you know? But, surely, every lover of the series will understand, once grievances are set aside, that this is the only way to read the undeniably outstanding series. The Mark Millar-Bryan Hitch team-up here is singular and historic in its bold accomplishment and must be kept at a good distance from the disaster that came after called Jeph Loeb, a.k.a. Killer of the Scarlet Witch and The Whole Ultimates Point. (Did the Ultimates even see this coming? As a twist of humour on the metaphysical plane, the fate feels quite faithful to the book’s motif!)

So what makes The Ultimates — if you join me in complete denial of the Loeb run (Loeb who?) — so consistently top-notch? Is it the way it messes with our little heads in its depiction of super-powered do-gooders and what they really do in the locker room? Is it Millar’s Tarantinoesque conversations that turn those Marvel greats into the complete nut-balls we would want as pub friends if we could go a few rounds on the house? Is it Hitch’s gritty but utterly believable and awe-inspiring drawings filling panel after panel and keeping us looking in vain for something out of place or less than perfect? Is it the redder-than-red and bluer-than-blue shiny but shadowy colours that somehow excite our more enlarged subconscious? Is it the panoramic double-page wide-screen experience that sucks us right into this TV reality, jaw, brain, hands, waist, and toes? Is it the endless bungles and moral dilemmas that capture so effortlessly our tragic but funny postmodern and post-political corporate universe? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes!

There you have it; any more I say will just serve as space-filler. Why do you even need me to rehash — if you have already experienced The Ultimates — the main plots or, if you haven’t encounter it, bother to “find out first”, you over-cautious unsophisticated cheapskate? Look, there’s a Nick Fury who is openly modelled after Samuel L. Jackson; should you be that clueless, the Ultimates themselves will tell you when they sit around deciding which Hollywood stars should play them. We do get a lot of sitting-around here; it’s like Friends or Seinfeld all over again. There’s an out-of-time (we know this already) Captain America who is losing faith in God in Volume 1 and then in the United States of America in Volume 2 — you got it, America is bigger than God for the Guy who, after all, has a big Sign of the Beast on his forehead. There’s Thor the freedom-fighting militant green crusader whose tree-hugging ways go so far up the insanity scale (“Help save Mother Earth or die!”) that you will believe the charge of a clinically psychopathic thief of high-tech weaponry that steadily takes root.

And Iron Man is, well, the usual horny, rich, and technomaniacal Iron Man you find in most Marvel universes; there’s really that much you can do with a horny, rich, and technomanical character. (At least, with DC’s Batman, one can play “Is he or is he not gay?”) Nice to know, isn’t it? The same may be said, by the way, for the Incredible (roll eyes) Hulk — how many ways can you re-phrase “HULK SMASH!”? But Bruce Banner here is the real creature of wonder as a brilliant but psychotic (I hope that you’re seeing a pattern by now) wimp struck down twice by an inferiority complex and a go-getting exploitative on-off girlfriend. This Betty Ross is truly the daughter of an American general: you literally watch her make him destroy himself in a way you can’t comprehend unless you have been in one of those highly abusive relationships and lived to tell. Thing is, it’s hard to like this Ultimate version of Banner either: he is the Morality Play’s picture of a very sad excuse for an individual.

Who else is there to cry over/laugh at? Black Widow, the ex-Russian agent on the market, is one hot momma who will shock you at some abrupt point by turning out to be a XXXXXXXX: trust me that not knowing is part of the ride, and it’s not a dirty word. Hawkeye is a top-of-the-class mercenary and also a hard family man, to whom fate will deal a very tragic blow and give him no other path than to die harder. I think the idea here may be to conflate Hawkeye and the Punisher or do something close. The vaguely incestuous brother-and-sister coupling of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch won’t be too vague in this series and turn up the notch on weirdness. But I save two of the best character reinterpretations you’ll ever see for last mention: Ant-Man/Giant-Man is an insecure schizophrenic wife-beater (how else do you explain his 7-millimetre to 7-metre transformation?), and his silent victim, the flirtatious Wasp, is one neurotic exhibitionist stew of confused desires. Put them together, and you get one long quest for self-redemption and, in the meantime, one increasingly hollow shell waiting to live and love again. Is this indeed the perfect match in a damned world?

O how do I stop myself from gushing, frothing, and thumb-uping this masterpiece before I gush and froth again? If you’re already screaming for the “good ol’ comics” where heroes are really heroes, values are pure and clear, and stories aren’t cheeky by half, well, I have two words: grow up! We who have experienced The Ultimates love its characters for tripping over themselves from one misadventure into another and creating more mess to work on because they are incompetent as individuals and even more so, alas!, as a government-sponsored tactical team. They make great friends though, and this title is a blazing tribute to all those embarrassing and often pointless friendships we have that make life a thing to look back with pride some day when we are gone in the teeth and still have (distorted) memories. From media catastrophes and genocide-level friendly fire to actual external threats such as invading undead Nazis, shape-shifting Chitauris, Norse demigods, and more, this team is a ticking time-bomb that will destroy both the bad guys and the good guys in circles, hopelessly. If you hear people tell you of the animated Avengers DVDs based on this series and are thinking “Maybe I should watch the cartoon first…”, kick yourself. You deserve it. This formula is unrepeatable: it is the Real Thing, it won’t disappoint, and you can thank me later when you’re hyperventilating in ecstasy.

Gweek knocks 10 blows into the hull of the Triskelion.

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2 Responses to “The Ultimates Omnibus”

  1. TR Says:

    LAOSHI!!!!

    Hi!

  2. Gweek Says:

    hello xiao mei mei!


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