Everybody say Hick! Everybody say Lash! Hick! Lash! Hick! Lash! Hicklash!
Yes, it's that time again, the Review Group is reading a Hickman book. Oh dear.
The Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week that we each take turns selecting. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's Newstand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate in.
Yes, it's the return of the Hicklash this week, as the pick is The Ultimates #1 the first chapter in the brave new world of the Ultimate Universe. It's under the esteemed pen of Jonathan Hickman and the esteemed pencils of Esad Ribic, but if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that the Review Group don't even know what esteemed means, let alone do they care who is esteemed! Read on...
So I've actually kept up with the Ultimate Universe through trades over the past couple of years. Haven't read DoSM or Fallout yet, but no bigs.
There's no question that this is a Jonathan Hickman funny book, there's some setup, there's some intrigue, there's some cankles, but mostly there's setup. Love him or hate him, Hickman's established his own style at Marvel and there's no question it's his work when you pick up one of his comics. Even though I'm 100% anti-Hicklash, this was a bit of a bore. I love the style, but sometimes I wish Hickman would just get on with it. I get that this was targeted at new readers and bringing back readers that bailed for Loeb, but I needed more payoff for all the setup. Reading primarily in trades has just spoiled me for most single issues, I guess.
The art was okay. I'm not a big fan of Ribic as a painter, but as an interior artist he's better. Speaking of painters, the cover for this is way ugly.
I've lost count of the number of times this series has been restarted, too many that's for sure. Quick back story on the title's history:
We had Millar and Hitch's Ultimates 1 & 2 which I personally loved. It set itself as apart from traditional superhero comics by making the Ultimates (Ultimate Avengers) a government superpowered strike force rather than your typical superhero book. Hard to find a series this decade that impacted mainstream comics so much.
Then it was followed up by Loeb's Ultimates 3 that I dropped 2 issues in, hated it. I get writers wanting to add their own take on the formula but this was a classic case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it, but they did it anyway" as the book pretty much became an Ultimatized version of the 616 book with colorful superheroes and equally larger than life villains. Following the Ultimatum event that I've all but blocked out, this continued with Loeb's Ultimate Comic New Ultimates (hell of a mouthful, right?) book.
Millar returned and gave us Ultimate Avengers 1,2 and 3 which seemed like a total deviation from his original formula. This brought the government agents side of the book to the forefront once more but it became a more traditional superhero book in some ways thanks to the politics and military adversaries being replaced by Red Skulls, Ghost Riders, Vampires and crime lord Hulks in a more Hollywood style of storytelling as his recent work shows. It was nice, but it was clear that this was a totally different book. Mixed feelings overall.
And now Jonathan Hickman of the FF, Secret Warriors and SHIELD fame has stepped in with his own take. Being pretty pleased with his work on the above mentioned titles I thought why not take a shot at this?
First thoughts, this seems to be a back to basics approach to the Ultimates with the a world of politics and superpowered armies as the opening setting. Seems too simple and down to earth for a Hickman comic, doesn't it? Throw in Asgard now on Earth as the viking gods plunder and pillage breweries across the globe triggering a global incident that the EU's own super soldier program is sent in to quell. There's also political unrest in Asia which I assume is a thread for Hickman's Hawkeye series and a few other threads that may or may not gain prominence later.
But yeah, still seems relatively tame for a Hickman comic....I guess that explains the purpose of what can best be described as the Ultimate Future Foundation who have a giant dome as a base which popped up out of nowhere, killer robots and jet packed soldiers with a mission to save the world at all costs. Hickman's at least managed to make the book stick to its core premise while adding his personal storytelling touch to the mix.
The end result? It seems epic in scope that's for sure....there's a lot of stuff going on in this issue and it all looks like key pieces to a larger puzzle, and that may be my biggest fear going into this: that Hickman's ability to tell epic stories with countless threads interweaving will end up as a slow burn until the reader finally knows just whats going on and why.
Outside of the story, looking at the book as a jumping on point for a newcomer...it does what it's supposed to do: explain the premise quickly, kick off the stories that will fuel this book for however long Hickman plans to and uses established recognizable figures, who are on the verge of being used as Marvel's most ambitious big screen project to date: The Avengers and the cover even uses that fact with obvious likenesses to Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and the RDJ Iron Man armor design (though it seemed WAY too photo-referenced and shiny with its polish, almost ruined the feeling until I saw how different the interiors were, but more on the art later).
Being a reader of the Ultimates since the start, the new-reader-friendly format the book took dragged on a bit for me unfortunately..with various expository scenes of characters roles being described, a couple scenes here and there that seemed more eye candy to showcase the characters rather than forward the books story. Not that it dragged on too much in today's world of decompressed storytelling, but it felt like a rehash that could've been done in a recap page at the start to catch people up to speed or a page of Hickman's notes (which he has done in SHIELD and Secret Warriors a lot, great companions that explain things we're meant to pick up between the lines). So while I enjoyed the book and its pace for the most part, that aspect didn't help blow me away with any huge game changing moments.
Onto the art, Esad Ribic's art is beautiful here and the digital coloring really helps enhancing stuff like Fury's war room and Iron Man's armor. Facial expressions like in the silent scenes, especially the Jamie Braddock/Thor face-off were also brought to life nicely. It seems very versatile and capable of portraying lots of things if this issue is anything to go by. Very different to his work like the Loki miniseries or Silver Surfer Requiem...to best describe it, it seems like a mix of the dynamics of his 90's work combined with the refined artsy style of his painted work. Solid art all around.
Bottom line, solid recovery for the title after the Ultimate Loeb debacle but not quite at the heights the franchise was. Still room for improvement which this arc will either make or break this title in today's declining market.
Hickman does one thing in his work that no other writer of late has been able to do for me. He makes me appreciate Bendis and Morrison. This book was SO not worth the money it's not funny. There really is nothing here worth reading at all. As usual with Hickman there is setup, setup, and then there is some setup.
It's a first issue, I know, so that is to be expected, unfortunatly he is so dull in his dialogue that I became uninterested in about three pages. I think he's so focused on creating this ultra amazing story with two hundred threads that he loses perception on the characters he's writing about.
Now if you are a fan of Hickman's writing, then go for it. This is probably right up your ally. Personally I don't get it, but then I've never really understood the Ultimate Universe other than another playground where this time writers can kill off whoever they want much easier. For me this was probably the worst comic I've read in several months. Even the art did nothing for me, though it wasn't horrible, but it was bland. The whole book was bland.
My Score: 1
I can't wait to read a hickman comic that isn't complete setup for no reason at all. The Ultimate Universe has gone through a ton of changes over the last few years to get us to the point where this comic starts and no where is there even close to a recap, I thought all these characters were dead? They should have pulled the plug on the Ultimate U years ago like after the initial MIllar/bendis run...we've seen how they've run Spiderman into darkness...
yeah this issue is boring and a waste of time.
This was alright I guess. There were parts that I liked, the scene in which Jamie Braddock starts the fight with the Asgardians being a good example. Overall though, and this might just be because I'm just not that familiar with the Ultimate Universe, there just wasn't enough there to hook me into the story. Its not bad, but its not something I'd really highly recommend either.
I'll give it a 5 out of 10.
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'
I've been totally out of the loop when it comes to reading any Ultimate books. I knew Spidey was going to bite it, so I picked up his last issue, then the full Ultimate Fallout mini.
With the little I've read recently, I still found Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #1 easily accessible (for the most part). I've always enjoyed Hickman's writing, and although this isn't his best work, it's still quality stuff that had me interested. All the characters are familiar, even if I don't know the Ultimate versions that well.
Esad Ribic is an amazing artist - his 'painted' work is always top-notch. It seemed that his interiors here were pencil and ink, with no painting involved. As a result it didn't look like Ribic art that I'm used to. It wasn't up to par for Ribic IMO.
The combined effort was enough to please the comic fan in me, and they did their job well enough since I plan on getting issue #2.
GRADE: 7.5 of 10
You know, I enjoy Hickman's work much more when I don't have to reread and review them. He's a 'young' writer with a lot of great ideas and a fun approach but sometimes things just don't click. Ultimates is one of those times.
I had to think twice about how to review this book. Even though I consider it a centerpiece for a linewide reboot, I'm going to judge the book on its on merits and not how it handles being the first book in a relaunch.
There's just nothing really special about this. We're introduced to a new, mysterious faction in the middle of nowhere and their symbolic atomic-mushroom shaped construct. We have Nick Fury back in control of SHIELD and handling multiple crises with cool aplomb. We have Iron Man, Hawkeye, Thor, and international teams of supersoldiers being hastily dispatched to deal with these crises. Of course, things go horribly wrong and we're left to wonder what-the-fuck and What Would Cap Do? But it feels as Hickman is relying on the reputation of the Ultimates to make the landscape bigger and more grandiose than what's actually put on the page. Reading a book about supersoldiers at war is a lot more fun when we know who the enemy is, even if it's under the vague umbrella of 'terrorism'.
And, yeah I know I'm in the really small minority, I don't like the art. It's pretty, I guess, but it's soulless and confined. Even the part with the Asgardians, which should highlight proseless storytelling, doesn't seem that impressive. It seems like silence for the sake of it in a medium that's meant to take advantage of word and art.
Maybe I've just changed too much to appreciate the Ultimate Universe. I hope not. I like Hickman enough to give the title another chance but I'm wondering if there's anything unique he can impart this book and the UU that's not already being done better in the current 616.
Wow, some pretty divergent opinions there, a couple of 1/10s, but some positivity as well. It all means that the overall score is the not actually that indicative 5.41 out of 10!
Read the full thread here, including some rants about the book that don't really count as reviews. Next week's pick is Uncanny X-Force #14, it's the Age Of Apocalypse! It's the 90s! Cowabunga dude!
Written or Contributed by: Niam Suggitt