Reviewer: Tim Stevens
Story Title: N/A
Written by: Mark Millar
Penciled by: Bryan Hitch
Inked by: Paul Neary
Colored by: Laura Martin
Lettered by: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The nice thing about superhero comics is that while they are almost always about the good guys in colorful costumes triumphing (eventually) over the bad guys in colorful costumes, they can be about other things at the same time. In this issue, Millar’s script reveals what will almost certainly be one of those “other things” for the duration of The Ultimates’ second tour. We will get back to that in just a moment.
The Ultimates’ organization is still reeling from the leaking of documents last issue that revealed Bruce Banner was in fact the Hulk and that, thusly, the Ultimates big debut was nothing more than reining in one of their own. Even in light of their more recent victory over an alien invasion (in the closing arc of Vol. 1) the Ultimates’ star has lost some luster and the government is coming a-calling to set everything right. Or at least right enough to calm America down a bit. Meanwhile, someone had to leak those files and it seems pretty clear who that someone must be: Thor. And we all know how Captain America takes to those who violated his moral standards (Giant Man anyone?)
One of the more interesting aspects of Millar’s vision of “superheroes as government organization” makes a reappearance here as Betty Ross returns to the fold to try and spin the damage away from the team. The conversation amongst the members is chilling in how far the organization will go not to lose a PR battle. Cap’s discomfort with the whole process adds another brick in the wall between what he views as his job and the reality of it. Brutality on the battlefield is something in which he has no problem, but the media battle is still unnerving to him. What’s even more interesting is how quickly he slips back into line as the “good soldier” in tracking down Thor for a “chat.” It’s misplaced anger, certainly (he can’t be the type of hero he wants to be so he’ll attack the most obvious problem to make him feel like he is), but how many more times can he misplace his anger? How long before he grows tired of punching the first thing he can and stops being concerned about being the “good soldier”? Because such a moment is coming, I think, and none of the Ultimates seem to see it.
The “big” idea I alluded to in the opening paragraph does not make its appearance until the closing pages in a conversation between Banner and Hank Pym. Pym is being let go because, in his estimation, the government is moving beyond the first team of Ultimates. As Cap’s military excursion last issue highlighted, these “heroes” have tremendous potential abroad. Why wouldn’t the government tap that? It is a reflection to the PR campaign mentioned above. The colorful heroic Ultimates help the people of the United States grow used to the idea of larger than life superpowered beings. When that happens, the government is free to roll out the next line, those that would perform covert maneuvers, settle foreign disputes, and generally enact the US government’s will abroad. In other words, if the Ultimates are the public face of the “new” military, what’s its secret face look like.
There is a lot of great stuff this issue, but I still can’t give it a higher grade than I have and the reason is, admittedly, a very nebulous one. This is the first issue of the Ultimates that I have read that I didn’t feel absorbed by. I have had problems with it in the past (the Pym domestic dispute never felt “earned” to me, for one), but I always was involved and drawn into the story. This time around, I read it and I enjoyed it, but I did not have the same connection to the work. It could be when I read it, how my day was, or any other number of factors. It could be that I will read it again in another week or so and feel completely different. But for now, there was a noticeable disconnect for me and I had to recognize it and dock the issue accordingly. I know that is a very nonsubstantial critique, but, there it is, nonetheless.