Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's "Kick Hank Pym While He's Down" Week!

Millar, Hitch, and a lot of pages.
And so the first part of this week's unannounced entry is revealed. That's right, the first part. While this is a great collection, I'd highly recommend getting the smaller trade paperback editions if you want to save a dollar. I think this was one of the last things I got from the LCS that shall not be named, and I paid enough for it. While Amazon no longer have any copies in stock, they do have Amazon sellers that will get you a new copy from $127 US, or used from $79 US. The Ultimate collections (in paperback) on the other hand go for $23 US each at the moment. The difference seems to be some 40 odd pages (880 for the Omnibus, 840 total for the two Ultimate Collections, which is likely the cover galleries, introduction from Joss Whedon and commentary from Millar and Hitch. While those are nice, you have to ask yourself if they (in addition to being a lovely omnibus) are at least $33 worth it. Personally, I doubt it.

For those unfamiliar with the Ultimates, they were essentially the Ultimate Universe version of Marvel's Avengers. The book opens with Captain America's final mission at the end of WWII, before cutting to Nick Fury (who looks remarkably, and intentionally, like Samuel L. Jackson - just like in the Avengers movies) recruiting the other members of The Ultimates. It's worth noting that while this part already contains Bruce Banner bashing, it's basically the high point for Hank Pym.

The first issue ends with Cap being discovered in the ice, and the second issue follows up with Steve Rogers being introduced to the 21st Century (including a poignant reunion with Bucky who is married to Steve's former girlfriend). Granted it's another couple issues before there's any more fighting, but by that point the character's have been well enough established that they are believable, including Thor's rejection of the idea of working as a cog in the US machine and a discussion about who would play who in a movie about the Ultimates (off the casting choices given, only Sam Jackson got the gig, though my wife would tell you that Robert Downey Jr and Johnny Depp are the same person). Of course, it can't last and Bruce Banner decides it's time to try and shortcut his way through the super soldier problem, unleashing the Hulk on Manhattan, much to my delight (the idea of Hulk as essentially a horny, horny teenager with uber strength just tickles my fancy, and "Hulk want Freddie Prinze Junior!" is gold). The punishing handed to, and by, Hulk here is brutal, not least Cap's unconscious delivering kick to Banner after he's already de-Hulked.

What does that letter stand for?
Now up to this point, Hank Pym has been belittled, he's been trounced by Hulk, and then he does what Hank Pym is renowned for: he beats on Jan. Except that this isn't the Silver Age, and Hank isn't just under stress. He's genuinely a nasty piece of work (also Jan's an egg laying, skin shedding mutant) and he really goes all out this time, which is why it's so satisfying seeing Cap hand him his ass two issues down the road, which is right about the time that the first clues come to light as to what SHIELD are actually worried about: an alien invasion. More importantly, an invasion by Skrulls. If this sounds similar to that other Marvel story from a couple years back, fear not: this came out first. And was done to a higher standard. With that final piece in place, Millar and Hitch unleash the final three issues of Ultimates 1 which is a drag out fight to the end between the people of Earth and the Chitauri (Skrulls). It also includes one of the most popular pages from The Ultimates, and Hulk out to prove just how straight he is (answer: very).

Following the wrap up from Ultimates 1, we get an intron to Ultimates 2 from Jonathan Ross, who seems a bit pissed about just how fantastic Ultimates 1 and 2 were. I think that's fine, but really he should have just had fun reading them.

I'm 19, dress like a tarty Viking...
and want you to dress up as Cap. In?
Given that it's another 13 issues (some of them double sized) in Ultimates 2, here's the highlights: The Ultimates are being expanded in size, and being used against Rogue States, Thor is being portrayed as crazy, Jan and Cap are an item, there's a traitor on the team, Hank Pym is off the team and hits his own low when he joins The Defenders and has sex with a 19 year old girl (who ends up getting powers somehow before Ultimates 3),  Bruce Banner / Hulk is executed after being put on trial for the devastation he wrought on Manhattan, and, drumroll, Loki was behind it all, and Thor's not crazy. Then we get the big fight scene (which our guys win), The Ultimates split from SHIELD, and we get a series of personal epilogues that wrap up each character's story neatly.

For a bit of extra fun after that, we get Ultimates Annual #1 which is really about how Nick Fury is so awesome that he uses himself as bait to take out a hired assassin so good he's an actual security threat. There's not much more to it than that, and I'd be happy to skip it.

So that's a lot to read right? Sure it is, but it's a lot of quality to read. It is decompressed, but it's done well. The fights are made more meaningful because we connected with the characters first. We're also given versions of the characters that aren't just quick summations of their standard Marvel counterparts, and that's something that was lost the longer that the Ultimate Universe has run on. And while it may be a bad reason to recommend a book there are a number of must read points (such as the 8 page spread in Ultimates 2). The commentary is useful and points out a few of the easter eggs throughout the book, and the size of the Omnibus edition is just about perfect (though if some of the bonus materials like the cover gallery and the sketch and script pages weren't included it might have been a tad more manageable.

Basically it's Where's Pietro.

As I said at the top, it's a big price to swallow for the omnibus, and the only real reason I can give you to get that edition over any other is that it's an omnibus.

The Ultimates 1: The Movie...
Only Not Quite.
Now if you're the kind of person that doesn't like reading, you have the option of skipping Ultimates 1 and watching the Ultimate Avengers animated DVD feature, but keep in mind that it's not quite the same story, and that it misses out some of the important beats (it is for kids after all), and some of the big Hollywood moments. As I did watch it during the week just to verify it wasn't quite the same I must say that I was a little disappointed at how much got cut or changed, and that they changed the look of some of the characters. Again, it was a kids feature, and thus needed substantial editing, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

Well that's the larger part of this week's review, but join me again in a few hours for the second part.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of an Omnibus, but it's not just the cost that often puts me off - they're actually every awkward to try to read because of their size and bulk. Still, I have actually held off on the trades for that special moment when I find this particular Omnibus on sale :). Great writeup as always, and I look forward to the next instalment!