The Avengers #1 Project continues with Royal Nonesuch taking a look at The Ultimates #1!
Credits & Solicit Info:
TITLE: The Ultimates #1
COVER DATE: March 2002
COVER PRICE: $2.25
Story: Mark Millar
Pencils: Bryan Hitch
Inks: Andrew Currie
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Paul Mounts w/Bongotone
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Associate Editor: Brian Smith
Editor in chief: Joe Quesada
President & Inspiration: Bill Jemas
"This coming Monday begins a brand-new chapter in our lives, boys and girls."
The year 2000 marked the start of an interesting time in comics. Changes were afoot, and Marvel Comics was caught right up in it all. One of their biggest and boldest moves was the formation of the Ultimate line of comics, which was created with the mission statement of rebooting Marvel's mainstay characters with a brand new continuity. Basically, "what if The Marvel Universe started today ("today" meaning in the year 2000) rather than in 1961?"
Another change that could be traced back to the early years of the new century came about in the formal way comics were told. Comics had evolved a leaner method of storytelling, one which had taken greater advantage of the long form nature of periodical comic books. This so-called "decompressed" style, as it came to be known largely by the internet commenteratti, was fueled by the notion that a single issue of a comic need not encapsulate the series as a whole, but could in fact be a single piece of a narrative gestalt. It was a style that rewarded reader patience, (or tried it, depending on the commentator).
This is the style utilized by Mark Millar with THE ULTIMATES #1. The modern day reboot of The Avengers came to be known for its modern day cool and cynical hipness (not to mention lengthy delays between issues), but little of that really comes up here in the first issue. In fact, at first glance it looks more like an Ultimate Captain America #1 rather than the first issue of an all-new team book, since the issue focuses so much on Cap on the last day of his participation in World War II. He leads an airborne unit onto a drop zone outside a Nazi stronghold in Iceland. The mission: disable some Nazi super weapon before the Germans are able to deploy it against the US.
The first segment of the story relies heavily on exposition. Millar has the legend of Captain America speak for itself, through war photographer "Bucky" Barnes and another soldier who doesn't believe Cap is in any way useful to the Army outside of a recruitment poster. The dialogue could afford to be a bit more tight and concise, but the meaning is clear and it gets the job done. Several pages into the story, the reader finally gets to see Cap in action. He demonstrates his proficiency in combat tactics when he adjusts the plan of attack after finding holes in the original one, then shows off his bravery by charging right into the Nazi base without hesitation.
Bryan Hitch, whose wide open, cinematic approach to comic book art first turned heads on JLA and The Authority, packs in all of the grittiness and chaos of the most intense battlefield scenes. His famously detailed forgrounds match up well with his impressionistic backgrounds, bringing out panels that are as deep as they are wide. What's interesting about the art team is the how well they illustrate these men straining against their environment. War is as crowded and dimly-lit as it is loud and dirty. The colors approximate such a setting really well. Even that bright, blue, star-spangled sentinel of liberty Captain America is colored with a muted palette in this harsh environment. The only thing that throws the whole thing off is the lettering. The mixed-case lettering had come into vogue with the Ultimate titles, and Chris Eliopolous could have used a less stylized font here. The font used is too playful and undercuts the gravity of the situation.
Millar chose a more grounded, "real-world" approach to the Avengers for this series, and starting it off with a gritty war scenario is a great way to do just that, but there are spots where he will remind readers that this is an action-adventure comic book (for example, when Cap and an unnamed Nazi officer being able to hear each other as they engage in battlefield bragging as rocket engines ignite in the same room!)
The issue takes an interesting turn in its final three issues. These are devoted to Tony Stark on the summit of Mout Everest in the present day. What's remarkable is the economy in the storytelling here. Tony Stark only has three pages devoted to him (two of which are a silent, double-page spread of the Himalayan peaks and a silhouetted Stark), but the reader gets a lot of insight into him. Millar and Hitch convey that Stark is a free-wheeling multi-billionaire with big ideas, and plans to act on them. As to how the World War II scenes relate to the present day epilogue...well the reader is going to have to check out the next issues.