Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ultimate Comics Avengers: Next Generation (comics)

Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Collects: Ultimate Comics Avengers #1-6

After the events of Ultimatum, which sucked, the world is starting to recover. That sure won't last for long though, because the Red Skull is back. Worse still, he's Captain Americas son; and now Cap knows. When Cap goes rogue, Nick Fury is brought back on the job to do two things; neutralize Americas Greatest Douchebag and take out his son.

Cue, Project Avengers, who in the Ultimate universe are a black ops squad.

Obviously, the Ultimate universe sort of went down the toilet over the years. It started when several of the ongoings started to kind of suck, then Loeb took over the Ultimates and that went about as well as you expected. Then Loeb sort of finished the job with Ultimatum, after which the only real option is to relaunch because good lord did you see what went on in that book? Since Marvel doesn't like producing crap any more than any company, they made a few decisions with this relaunch to try and rebuild its reputation.

First step, get Mark Millar involved again. To their credit, given the success of his Ultimates run, it really wasn't a bad plan. But did it work out?

Now, before I talk about anything else, can I just note that I love the Ultimate Comics trade dress that came with the relaunch of the line? It really works. Simplistic, yet still appealing.

Personally, I'm hot and cold on the Ultimate universe. It's accessible for sure and - at least in the boom years of the line - they did a lot to try and differentiate it from regular Marvel. Sometimes, it works in both small and subtle ways. Others, not so much. The Ultimates - which are basically Ultimate Marvels version of the Avengers - never really appealed to me, because whenever I've seen them they've been less Earths Mightiest Heroes and more Earths Mightiest Assholes. Sure, an asshole can be a great protagonist, but it can also be difficult to give a crap when they have next to no redeeming qualities, yet are supposed to be the premiere superteam.

This is remedied a bit by making the book about a black ops squad; it seems a minor change to quibble over, but it's easy to accept your protagonists as pricks when their root concept or place in the world doesn't require them to be at least somewhat good other than for the hell of it.

Ultimate Comics Avengers actually worked out better than I thought it would. Part of that is because I expect little from Mark Millar these days, so my expectations are easy to exceed. Another part is that they've gone back to trying to put new twists on familiar concepts; and aside from accessibility that's a core draw for the Ultimate universe. Everyone knows of the Red Skull and the fact that he's an old Nazi. Great a villain as he is, we don't need a repeat. But framing him as Caps son brings a different edge to the typical adversarial relationship and had some potential.

Whether it actually worked is tough to say. I was interested in the parts we got in relation to Cap and his son, but it turned out to be few and far between. The two only meet twice in the story. Both scenes are brief. Everything else comes from exposition and flashbacks. We get a sense for what this all means in the grand scheme, but Millar never actually shows it in regard to Ultimate Cap, save for a scene or two at the end of the book. Most of the book he's either fighting the Avengers or smacking around his comrades out of nowhere.

Seriously, I'm not telling you anything new here, but Ultimate Captain America is such a douchebag. Sure, learning the terrorist who just whupped you is your son is definitely an understandable shock to the system. Less understandable is the reaction, where he goes rogue by kicking his friend in the face, beating the snot out of allied soldiers and blowing a hole in the side of his transport plane to escape. I mean, waiting until you'd landed and could escape into NYC is for pussies, right?

Some of Millars other choices also tend to make one scratch their head. Nerd Hulk? What? I mean, the concepts not bad, but even "Professor Hulk" didn't sound this stupid. And the point of Ultimate Iron Mans big brother, aside from the fact that Ultimate Tony himself was busy in other stories?

Regardless, this is one of Millars better efforts. When he wants to, Millar can be a capable storyteller and can reel you into the story. The problem is that this fact can get lost beneath his shock and schlock tactics that reel people in with the lack of good taste but frequently leave nigh unreadable messes ripe with wasted potential. He doesn't fall into some of his usual traps here - at least not as bad as usual - and aside from essentially reusing a scene from some of his earlier comics work he pens a downright readable story, even if most of his protagonists are reprehensible people. If he could reign himself in more often, we'd be in business; but I can't blame him, because that would make him less money.

I haven't even mentioned the art by Carlos Pacheco, but if I need to tell you how great his art is you don't pay enough attention to comics.

The Score: 7 out of 10

Well, it wasn't the best thing I've read all year, but it was readable and kept my interest. I may be rating this a hair too low, but I'm not a hundred percent sure how I feel about it; it's not bad, but I don't think it's something I'll race to re-read. Still, it wasn't bad and next volume features Ultimate Punisher. I'm a pretty big mark for the Punisher in general and I didn't hate this at all, so I'll be back. Give it a look, but don't expect gold.

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