The Ultimates #1 - 'The Republic Is Burning' - Hickman, Ribic and White
Story - The Ultimates used to be one of my favourite comics. Over the course of 26 issues, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch laid out a new template for modern superhero comics. It was relevant, it was big, and it was a lot of fun. There's a very good reason why Marvel Studios are using the Ultimates as the basis for the Avengers movie over the 616 alternative. But then the Ultimates (well, the entire Ultimate Universe apart from Spider-Man) kind of went off-track. Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum were terrible. Mark Millar's return with Ultimate Avengers just wasn't the same, and whilst New Ultimates was OK. Gone was the political satire, gone was the wide-screen action, and in it's place was something a lot like what the 616 was already giving us, but with more sex. It was clear the Ultimates needed some new blood, so enter Jonathan Hickman.
And while he hasn't quite returned the book to it's Millar/Hitch heights, the signs are good that the Ultimates are back to doing what they do best.
This issue was probably one of the most set-up heavy first issues I've ever read, and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. It's basically a morning in the life of Nick Fury that goes catastrophically wrong. Hickman quickly sets up several big threats. There's the Asgardians, there's something fishy going on in Argentina, and something even fishier in China. Plus there's the mysterious dude on the first page, who you'll have no idea about unless you read Ultimate Fallout (OK, I'll tell you, but just between friends, it's Ultimate Reed Richards, who is totally eeeevil and his new Future Foundation, who are also totally eeeevil). That's a lot of stuff to be getting on with, and this issue only just scratches the surface. I'm sure the China plot-line will be picked up in next week's Ultimate Hawkeye mini-series, but still. Some readers may find this large amount of set-up a waste of time, but I liked it, the Ultimates should be a decompressed comic, it's what works best for it. For me, the problems with Loeb's run on the book was that too much happened and too quickly. Hickman knows that with the Ultimates he has the freedom to move at a slower pace, and takes advantage of it. I mean, the first issue of the original run was 20 pages of Captain America in WW2, it wasn't relevant to the plot, but it was awesome, this is at least plot-related.
Even in a comic which can be said to have not much happening in it, there were a few very strong scenes, my highlight was the European Super-Soldier initiative's confrontation with the Asgardians. Hickman drops out of the book at this point and let Ribic's art tell the story, and it's great stuff, the facial expressions of Thor and the new Captain Britain are wonderful. I also really liked Hickman's take on Ultimate Tony Stark, who was always my favourite Ultimate. I had worries that Hickman, whose work is normally pretty straight humourless, wouldn't be able to write the drunken lecher to Millar's high standards, but he did it.
In the end, this was a good start to the new world of Hickman's Ultimates, the book has returned to it's roots as a comic that looks at superheroes in a more realistic light, focussing on the politics and the militaristic side of things, rather than the soap opera it had become under Loeb. It's not quite perfect, as I said, not too much happens in this issue, but I expect big things to develop in the coming issues. There's even a lot less of the usual Hickman pseudo-gibberish here, it's the Ultimates, and they're back, end of story.
Art - Esad Ribic is an artist I've always liked, I loved his painted work on titles like Loki and Silver Surfer: Requiem, and I normally dislike painted comics. Then he began to do interiors, and I began to like him even more. His interiors are just great, they remind me of John Cassaday at times, but they also have their own style. As I said, he tells the silent scene between Captain Britain and Thor brilliantly, and the rest of the action is great too. It's not quite as wide-screen and photo-realistic as Bryan Hitch, but what is? He's the best fit for the Ultimates since he left, and puts Joe Mad, Frank Cho, Carlos Pacheco, Steve Dillon and Leinil Yu in the shade. Those are all great artists, but the Ultimates needs something a little different, and Ribic provides this.
Best Line - 'Redheads, old boy ... always redheads'