The Ultimates ended (again) today with issue 100 and I just wanted to say something quick about it. On and off since 2002, The Ultimates has been a title that meant subverting expectations and playing with what superhero comics can do. Originally conceived as a hip, new retelling of the Avengers, they grew into their own weird thing. The first two series were drawn by Brian Hitch and written by Mark Millar. And if you know Millar, you know what to expect. It’s Avengers by way of Kick-Ass. They’re all violent sociopaths.
The rebooted Avengers featured a Captain America who acts like a soldier and has old fashioned values. Like an actual 40’s guy values, a real “men should be men” guy. Bruce Banner is a spindly little neurotic. Thor is a hippie who might just have delusions about being a god. They’re all damaged and ugly. Alcoholic, tumor-ridden Tony Stark is the most decent person on the team. Think about that.
I wouldn’t recommend movie fans to read it as it will be almost unrecognizable as the characters you love. However, If you like the Avengers movies, you have to thank the Ultimates. It influenced the look and tone of the movies. The Chitauri? They’re from the Ultimates. Samuel L. Jackson as Fury? Ultimates. Hawkeye being lame? Ultimates.
It’s a series heavily rooted in the war on terror. Super Soldiers taken literally. The second series a response to that with an international team of supervillains fighting American Imperialism. It’s purposely jingoistic and terrifying, but also causes a surge in patriotism when they win. It’s a series that makes you question America as much as you do it’s “heroes”. It’s a lot to chew on and it’s not all good, but the original 26 issues of Ultimates defined the superhero comics of the early ‘aughts of the century in really interesting ways. Not necessarily in good ways, as they quickly became gritty and real in ways not entirely unfamiliar to the early 90’s.
Since then, the series has been relaunched 5 times, some good (Ultimate Comics, the current run) and some have been the worst comics I’ve ever read (Ultimates 3).
Today, Al Ewing and the various artists who have worked with him over his 22 issues on the new series have made something special. They took just the name and gave it a new cast, a new universe, and an entirely new mission. Made up of Marvel’s most powerful heroes, they’re the Ultimate Team for the Ultimate Problems.
The new cast is almost the exact opposite of the old one. They’re people who care, people who want to fix things instead of stomping them into the ground. They have their problems, but they don’t let it consume them. They’re a diverse team with only one white person and it’s not a dude. They fix the universe.
In the final issue, the evil Reed Richards of the original Ultimates’ universe brings them back from non-existence as his pawns, but the new team manages to break through to them and they have something of a redeeming moment. They become the heroes we always wanted them to be. The original Ultimates sail off into the sunset to hunt evil multiversal Reeds (it’s a really weird, really great book.) And finally, we meet the Ultimate Ultimates made up of previous incarnations of the Universe itself.
It couldn’t get any more Ultimate, any more extreme. And that’s what the Ultimates are ultimately about; “Make this comic as big as we can”. From blockbuster action to cosmic insanity the Ultimates has always been the biggest book on the self. When it came out. The Ultimates has ended seven times before. This is only the end of series 8 and anyone who’s read this series knows that 8 is the one that made it possible.
It’s the end of a series I loved and that defined how I read comics, for better or worse. The Ultimates was maybe the first book that showed me not just flawed heroes, but fundamentally messed up ones, and the new series showed me how to fix a problem; think bigger. Ultimates is far from perfect and at times is almost insulting. It knows it is. That’s why it works. It’s the Ultimate extension of Marvel’s “the hero that could be you.” It’s the hero you could be at your worst and at your best.
See ya Ultimates, I can’t wait to see what the next Ultimate thing is.