Ultimate Thor #1
If there is one thing you can trust Jonathan Hickman to do, it is to not play in the Lowest Common Denominator Sandbox. But do higher concepts automatically equal excellent comic book?
When the Ultimate Marvel line was launched 10 years ago (depending on which calendar you subscribe to, it would either be this or last decade), it was met with immediate critical praise and financial success. Not only did it serve to revamp Marvel’s most popular concepts and characters for modern times, it also was a gateway for the curious reader to jump into the Marvel Universe, without having to deal with a Continuity that was approaching its 5th Decade. At the time of its greatest heights, it was inconceivable that it would not only fall out of favor, but fall into the same prohibitive trap led it to be created in the first place.
However, in 2010 if you we to say that the Ultimate Universe has fall far from its peak, you would be grossly understating the situation, as not only did it fall out of favor, it also became as hard to get into (save for Ultimate Spider Man), as its Marvel Universe counterpart. It also didn’t help that the line was inundated by delays, bad stories, and the original creators simply moving on. They would clear the decks with Ultimatum, but that story would damage the Ultimate brand beyond repair for some readers. The relaunch after that event, has been met with solid sales, but there hasn’t been anything that has recaptured the pure magic that Ultimate Spider Man had in its golden days. Ultimate Thor #1 by Hickman, Pacheco and Vines is the latest attempt to bring the Ultimate line back to its glory days. Where does it fall when everything is said and done? It’s something that really can’t be answered with one issue by itself due to things I’m going to discuss throughout this review.
Do you lack faith Brother…Or do you believe? The book opens with that in the middle being surrounded by symbols in the old Norse Language. It doesn’t take any time at all for those symbols to become important to the storyline, as not only are they splashed on the first panel of the first page, but they play a role into what seemingly caused Ragnarok in the Ultimate Universe. We soon learn that those symbols are the hidden code from the “Poetic Edda” (A Collection of Norse Mythology directly from that Civilization), which opens the way to Asgard. So not only do we have the Poetic Edda coming into play, we have a scenario where it’s possible that Midgardians were the ones to cause Raganarok. A concept that you will not find in your average comic book (it could also be a first for a comic book, as well), much less a novel. Hickman is definitely thinking high concept, and that should be commended. However, there’s still the business of actually telling a story, and this is where things end up falling short.
This isn’t to say that the writing is bad, but it definitely doesn’t do the great concept justice with its unevenness. Some of the characters are very well written, and automatically become interesting (Dr. Donald Blake’s ability to read Thor’s Norseian Script makes him stand out, especially), while others are just there with no reason for you to care, or want to care. Not only that, we really don’t get a reason why the villains want to Invade Asgard, nor do we get a reason as to why their allies ally with them. Addressing one of those issues would’ve made this read as strongly as it did on the Train Ride home from NYCC, instead of the flawed read that presents itself under further examination.
On the art side of the book, Carlos Pacheco delivers an effort that seemingly wants to be great, but never crosses the threshold to actually deserve that distinction. On one hand we get some amazing art that grabs you from the minute you take a look at the pages, with the first 2 Page Spread being a perfect example. In fact most of the backgrounds are well drawn, helping the reader to feel immersed in the comic. As with the writing, the drawing of the characters falls short, especially in the modern times, where Captain Britain looks like a girl in some places (something that I noticed during my first read). The characters are better drawn in the 2 other settings in this book, but it still makes you wonder how great this book would look if Pacheco took the greatness of the backgrounds, and spread it all around.
After everything is said and done, what you have here is a book that wants to be great, but doesn’t put the entire package together to cross that threshold. It even has trouble being more than above average simply because of the misses in the overall creative process. Of course, this could read a lot better in the trade format, simply due to the fact that the whole story will be collected. However, there are only so many points one can give on potential when you have to review the issue in front of you, and right now it seems like the Ultimate Universe has to wait for its “savior” just a little bit longer.
Story **3/4 (5.5): The High concept helps to carry this comic to the finish, but the characterization lacks in most cases, and the dialogue is simply average.
Art ***1/2 (7): I want to give it a higher score than this, but I really cannot due to the uneven art on the characters. The backgrounds themselves would earn upwards to 4 Stars, but it’s not part of the overall package.
Accessibility ***3/4 (7.5): If you were to read this at face value, you have virtually everything you need to read this. However, the Poetic Edda and the concept itself might challenge people in the wrong way, which could turn them off from this comic.
Final Judgment: **3/4 (5.5. or I still lack faith in the Ultimate Universe recapturing its glory days)