Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Cary Nord
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Two words coloured my expectations of this series: Warren Ellis.
That name meant coming to the issues with big expectations. I came hoping for a re-examination of the two starring characters: the Ultimate versions of Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark, and Bruce ‘Hulk’ Banner. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any defining work on either character yet (‘Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine’ looked so promising…) so, needless to say, I was excited.
Three issues later, I’m a little confused. Maybe even disappointed. We do get a new take on the two; “the two halves of the push to post-humanity”, as Bruce puts it, and there’s a sense of those grand Ellis sci-fi ideas, but we only ever really brush against them.
‘Ultimate Human’ begins with a nice look at these flawed characters: how Banner’s Hulk is a failure, how Iron Man is irresponsible. And how the villain of the piece takes offence to that.
Yes, there’s a villain. I’m not familiar with the 616 incarnation of the character, so I won’t spoil anything beyond his name: The Leader. I’ll just say how he struck me: like a super-powered James Bond villain. And, to begin with, as the weakest part of the story.
Until Issue 3, which is given over to his origins, wherein the comic becomes something else entirely. And wherein I start to see the point of it all. An originally confusing scene shift to MI6 headquarters allows an exciting look at the flipside of the politics seen in Millar’s Ultimates. Ellis shows us the effects of introducing government-owned super-humans on other countries, something Millar could only touch on briefly, and allows The Leader to become a fascinating character. You start to see why this series is called ‘Ultimate Human’. Even this, though, eventually melts into a clichéd Bond villain/Mad Scientist moment. We are given a villain for villain’s sake.
Like it was an idea Ellis was trying to work out how to use, and ended up crammed into this series. Or, more accurately, like the two Big Name superheroes were crammed into his story. There’s a reason this isn’t called “Ultimate Iron Man vs. Hulk”. And I don’t know if it’s been dumbed down for a perceived audience, but it often feels like the themes are beating us over the head, with bits of dialogue even being more or less reused to get the key ideas across.
And I realise I’ve rambled on rather philosophically about the whole affair, so let me sum it up:
Issue One is quite slow but full of interesting little ideas, Issue Two is almost all action, a throwback to the old days of the Ultimates, paced so it never feels like a waste of pages. And Issue Three begins to turn the story on its head.
Cary Nord’s sketchy linework combined with the subdued colours gives the art a feel very unlike typical superhero fare. The art doesn’t work so well in action scenes, but moments like the beginning, where Tony Stark just watches birds fly by, are delivered perfectly. In fact, Tony is rendered particularly beautifully; big blue eyes giving him an innocence Hitch’s Stark just never had.
So far, though, it hasn’t quite lived up to its potential, or my hopes. It never becomes a character piece, or an out-there sci-fi story, nor does it meld them in a way the best Ellis work does. There’s still time, though, and I am eagerly anticipating Issue Four.
Tags: Cary Nord, Hulk, Iron Man, Marvel, review, Ultimate Universe, Warren Ellis