Ultimate re-launch = hits and misses, part 2

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #2    Brian Bendis and David LaFuente


           My absolute favorite thing about Issue #2 is the cover, an artistic interpretation of how Spider-Man would look as viewed through a kaleidoscope, those cherished old-time toys that involved a telescope-like cardboard tube that you held to the light and looked through. They were colorful and usually featured abstract designs in geometric shapes. It was like looking at a stained glass window, and when you twisted the ends of the tube the images tumbled inside and changed.  And like that toy, Bendis and LaFuente take the Spider-Man we are familiar with and twist it and turn it so it appears new and different.

           After reading Issue #2, I feel even stronger (see my comments last month on Ultimate Spider-Man #1) about this book being the best chance to introduce new readers to Marvel.  It really feels like it is intentionally written for a much younger audience than the standard Marvel reader and seems to be making a deliberate appeal to that group, a group that may be reading from the tsunami-like selection of teenage manga available today or maybe even picking up Archie Comics. Marvel needs to grab some of that audience, and this book is their best shot at it.  (And no, I’m not ignoring the other Marvel teen team books --  I just don’t consider them as well-suited for the target market as I do this book.  Show The Order, The Exiles, Young Avengers, The Runaways, etc to a high school student - - Ultimate Spider-Man will also interest them but it should really grab the attention of  middle-school readers.)  And over at DC (where they put out way more youthful titles than Marvel does) the new BATGIRL may play a similar role in finding new and younger readers.  (FLASH: Per Marvel’s official web site ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #2 is sold out and pending a second printing.)

          So what am I doing reading this title, then?  Despite the age gap, there are parts of this book that I really find amusing, cute and clever.  There are also parts that I could do without as well as scenes that annoy my older sensibilities,  so I suspect that I’ll be coming to a crossroads decision with this book rather soon.  I’ve ordered this through Issue #5 as I want to see how the Mysterio plot unfolds. I don’t think I’ll be picking it up after that ends.

          What I liked:  The opening scene where Mysterio explains his mission statement (he wants it ALL);  the lunch room food fight phasing through Kitty Pryde and her confrontation with Mary Jane Watson; Peter and Gwen’s rooftop lunch getaway; and the unlikely robbery team with the foul-mouthed sibling.  What I didn’t like: some vagueness regarding Mysterio (I’ll explain later);  the rooftop conversation got a little too sweet and went on a few panels too long (but probably just right for those younger readers); the allegedly (since we don’t actually read it) foul language of the young Bombshell also went on for way too long (but probably not long enough for younger readers who will eat this up, even better than fart jokes); and the cartoony artwork.

          This version of Mysterio could be interesting, but I’m not quite sure where Bendis is taking him.  Was he talking to himself as he explained his purpose and goals, or was he recording his speech for later broadcast to the masses?    Did he not name himself Mysterio?  Was he a different villain before? (I was reminded of Electro in Issue #1).  He’s also got a very extreme and cynical world view (“All cops are corrupt.  All politicians compromised. Religion is a con and conspiracy is truth. There is no heaven or hell .. . . . You lazy cowards. I”m taking mine. You deserve what happens next.” )  Good grief, he’s like the “Glenn Beck” of super-villains!

          On a lighter note, there’s plenty of young romance here, including two jilted girlfriends (Kitty and Mary Jane) who seem ready to get after each other.  I’m predicting that by Issue #5 Gwen starts becoming attracted to Johnny Storm and Peter gets jealous.        

ULTIMATE ARMOR WARS  Issue #1 of 4  Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth9481header_banner2703947           I’m not sure I like this version of Tony Stark, but some of his behavior is understandable considering what happened that he’ll never forget - - his helplessness during Ultimatum as Dr Doom took over his armor’s control and used him to disintegrate Wolverine.  Those are scars that don’t heal quickly, and could easily lead Tony to the bottle or other distractions. We’ll see what develops here and in the Ultimate Avengers book (where he got drunk and caroused while  forgetting to assist with an important mission).

         His attempts at humor here and snappy retorts to Happy over his head-set have a very sharp, cynical edge to them. And his glibness and macho condescending manner with Justine Hammer don’t make him very admirable.  I’m wondering if this is Warren Ellis’ take on the Ultimate Tony Stark , or was his personality determined during a story conference and all the writers asked to keep within the profile?

          At least the art is worth some attention and the storyline could become interesting. The scenes of ravaged Manhattan and Stark’s NYC facility are stimulating. In the aftermath of Ultimatum, someone ( the “Ghost”)  is out to steal  the Iron Man technology/designs and uses some of his hacked weaponry/armor to evade Tony and make off with “Remnant 242”.  (Sounds dangerous and compromising).  While you’re admiring the art, check out the clever homage to Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting.  Kudos to Ellis or Kurth or whomever is responsible for that idea.

          I can’t put my finger on it but this story didn’t engage me as much as Ellis’ works normally do.  Maybe it needs some time (or another issue) to develop. Either way, I’m in for the short 4 issue run.

ULTIMATE AVENGERS #2  Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco


          According to the Marvel Pulse website, this issue also sold out. It’s not hard to figure out why - - this is the best of the Ultimate books so far for both story and art - -and in my opinion it’s the most creative and not afraid to take some bold chances.

            The beauty of the Ultimate universe is that writers don’t have to worry as much about violating almost 40 years of continuity.  They just have to worry about disturbing only less than 10 years of Ultimate continuity.  And if characters have yet to be introduced, then anything goes.

          So in this latest version of the Ultimates/Avengers the Red Skull turns out to be Captain America’s son.  That is writer Millar’s bold stroke - - and in Issue #2 we learn how that occurs.  It’s an absolute gem of a story that’s developing here.  The only way this could happen over in the standard Marvel heroes universe would be in the pages of WHAT IF?  (or as I like to refer to that title - - SO WHAT !!!).  Here in the Ultimate universe these changes will not be imaginary but permanent, and any future storylines have to respect what is being established here unless they begin to tamper with the younger Ultimate universe continuity.

          The scene in 1945 Brooklyn between Steve and Gail is very touching and reveals just how things got to where they are in the present-day Ultimate storyline.   There’s another mid-air fight (that’s one per issue so far!)  that separates Cap from the boys and sets up his fugitive status.  The banter between former and current S.H.I.E.L.D. leaders is priceless and funny. (Nick doesn’t just remind me of Samuel L. Jackson - - he acts like him here in that sarcastic, irreverent but insightful fashion).  And the origin of this version of The Red Skull is a whole different spin (with skin) than the regular Marvel Universe. Red Skull is motivated by extreme (ultimate) military brat resentment for his upbringing by everyone except his true mother and father (he was taken away from his mother, and Cap was already M.I.A., presumed dead).   The art throughout this book is amazing, including two escape scenes - - one by the Red Skull and one by Cap (and both were out-numbered and came out on top).

          The best lines of dialogue were in the exchange between Carol Danvers and Nick Fury as Carol says “Ill give you Hawkeye, but the rest of my Ultimates stay a million miles from your black ops crap.”  Fury responds nonchalantly, with arms crossed “Fine by me. Hawkeye’s the only cool one, anyway.” 

   There’s also some further insight that reveal more of the Ultimate Tony Stark’s character, as Hawkeye explains his behavior to Cap: “Tony’s been different since the Wolverine thing.  I tried to bust his nuts about letting everybody down back there, but it’s like talking to a brick wall.”  Cap answers “Killing a man will do that to you, Hawkeye.”   We also learn that in this universe Tony Stark has a disapproving older brother (who may end up replacing him, I suspect).


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