Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Bryan Hitch (p), Paul Neary (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Tony Stark builds an Iron Woman armor for the Black Widow, who accepts his marriage proposal. Janet is bored with Steve Rogersí living in the past. But the main plot involves Thor killing Italian police officers during a violent riot. The Ultimates team-up with Europeís super-soldiers to bring in Thor. Thorís brother reveals Thorís very mortal origins. The issue ends with the two teams demanding Thorís surrender.
Iím not a fan of this series, but this issue was particularly good. The new status quo is set up nicely in the first third of the comic. Sub-pots about personal relationships are set-up and advanced. The best parts are the little pieces of dialogue that reveal the storyís depth. For example, the riot in Italy began as a peaceful demonstration against the idea of European super soldiers. We later meet ďCaptain Italy,Ē whose existence was leaked to the press. These leaks most likely sparked the protest that turned violent.
Hen Thor is trying to explain to his teammates how his brother Loki has rewritten reality to frame him, and he sounds like a desperate lunatic. He also sounds like the Marvel Universe Thor. The universe of the Ultimates is one without any cosmic beings (so far). No Watcher, no Eternity, no Asgard, nothing. So when a guy says heís the God of Thunder, and heís the victim of a conspiracy perpetrated by an evil god, heís going to be crazy. The ending is sad and thought provoking.
As for the art, you always get a good job out of Neary and Hitch. Really, wonderful figures, great action, fine storytelling, great work all around.
Frankly, this issue has more subtlety, character development, depth, and interweaving plot points than anything Iíve seen from Millar. Iíd give it if I thought he could keep it up.
He wonít of course, but itís nice to think so.
Thor has always been one of my favourite Marvel heroes, and certainly my favourite Avenger, so Iíve always enjoyed his Ultimates appearances, as theyíve tended to restore a dignity and mystery to the character that has often been missing in his original incarnation. As such, Iím inclined to believe his side of things in this issue, as weíre given his origin story from the perspective of someone who may in fact be Loki, God of Mischief. I wouldnít go as far as to say that Millarís being exceptionally clever with this approach to Thorís origin, but itís still somewhat refreshing to see the device of the unreliable narrator being used in a superhero comic, especially on something like an origin story, which usually tend to be inviolate, Crises permitting.
We also get some other bits and pieces of plot and character development, and a scene introducing the new Captain Europe Corps (or whatever), and while itís nice to see Marvel finally capitalising on Battle Fever J, only twenty-six years too late, this really is Thorís issue. Despite Thorís dubious anti-war tactics, Millar makes him sympathetic and likable as he calmly awaits a titanic battle with his former teammates and the aforementioned Captains. One plot type that will always get me involved in a story is the one in which someone is unfairly persecuted, often by friends or allies operating under a misapprehension about the characterís past actions or motives, and as thatís essentially what weíve got here (if ďLokiĒ wasnít lying), Iím hooked.
Iíve never been much impressed with Bryan Hitchís post-Marvel UK work. Itís very well done, but aside from that glorious two-page spread of the rampaging Hulk in the first Ultimates arc, Iíve not been nearly as impressed with his work as everyone else seems to be. Yeah, itís good, but these people routinely build him up to be the Leonardo da Vinci of comics or somesuch. The same is true of this issue; while the art is much more than competent, there are only so many splash pages of Captain America looking tough you can take before it gets stale. That said, I found myself quite impressed with the subtler moments in the book. Starksí proposition to Natasha is wonderfully done, and that one panel of Thor staring into space as the Ultimates and the Battle Fever team approach is superb (ďIf you stay, youíre only going to get killedĒ). But maybe Iím just gay for Thor or something.
Iím still baffled by this titleís popularity. Itís certainly not a bad comic, by any means, but itís never been an exciting read for me. That said, this issueís focus on the mysterious origins of Ultimate Thor have done enough to keep me onboard for this arc at least. Itís an intriguing mystery, and itís going to be fun to see where it goes from here.
Plot: Itís finally time to get to the bottom of The Problem with Thor. Like,
is the dude muy loco or what?
Comments: Well, I guess first off, I like that the problems with this team, thus far, are the guys. Banner, Pym and now possibly loony Thorlief Golmen. Not that there arenít standup guys around with Cap, Hawkeye and Fury, but so far no pure evil babes, which is a big plus for this Marvel reader these days. Not that all is going smoothly on the personal front, either. This is the Avengers for adults, and adults care as much about love and sex as they do about big explosions and guns. This second series is upping the soap opera rather than the epic battles this time around, and I see that as a major plus and an unexpected deepening of Millarís writing skills. For example, Waspís shallowness presents itself as Capís more retro affectations show no sign of diminishing. Hitch and Neary make her growing boredom clear with her posture.
Meanwhile (and I have no clue where this came from, even though Iíve been reading the series since volume 1, issue 4 or so), Tony proposes to a newly Iron Maiden-ized Black Widow (who refreshingly sees no reason to change her name even with the new super-suit), which I could almost buy if I felt we had a handle on this Ultimate Tony at all, which we donít. I suppose weíll get it from Card, but I no longer read Card, so Iíll never know. Tonyís rich, and he drinks. We need more if weíre going to get a love story. But those are the subplots; the main plot here is another cleverly played chapter in Thorís story. We meet ďLokiĒ this issue, and he looks for all the world like a normal, trustworthy, brilliant guy. His very credible story about Thorliefís delusions is completely convincing. In fact, itís so slick, I find myself doubting it completely. Iím on the side of the mad god Fabio for this one, folks, and looking forward to even more non-resolution (yep, Millarís actually making me like how he prolongs every payoff agonizingly - Iím his bitch) next issue.
On the art front, Hitch has fun with an array of international Captains, including some female ones, and does a stunning drawing of a tree. This is what super-realism is meant to be used for: to make the fantastic glow in even higher relief.
The Plot: The Ultimates branch out into more traditional super hero action as they continue to adjust to their celebrity and personal relationships with each other. Protests against a European Super Solider initiative turn violent and Thor dramatically intervenes on behalf of the protestors, assaulting police officers. The Europeans reveal how Thor gained his powers, but he continues to believe heís the son of Odin. This issue ends with yet another splash page of a characterís face (Captain America) setting up the next issueís action.
Comments: Considering the length of time between each issue of the first Ultimates series, itís easy to forget how slowly that series developed. It wasnít until issue #5 the team first battled the Hulk. And it wonít be until this volumeís next issue (#5) when they fight Thor. In the original series, the lack of plot advancement was acceptable given we were learning about the characters and marveling about the general style of the series. The ďWowĒ factor has long since passed and reading The Ultimates these days feels more and more like a $3 exercise in snarky dialogue and left-wing observations barely kept under wraps.
If this series had been released as one large graphic novel, it wouldnít feel so stretched out and torturous. Taken individually, the character moments are well executed. Speaking as someone who regularly works out in a university gym in Washington, D.C., I completely agree with Capís grousing about iPods and flavored water. Itís nice to see Tony and Natasha find a measure of happiness together. But when all these moments are collated Ė combined with a lack of any action Ė it tends get real old, real fast.
While it seems Thorís origin is explained rather obviously, something about the character suggests his concerns about his ďhalf-brotherĒ Loki are not completely born out of delusion. While the character is principled, it is disconcerting yet not surprising to see the police depicted as the oppressive bad guys. Itís tired and clichťd, but expected in this day and age.
Though Captain Britain was introduced while in action a couple of issues ago, his companions just stand around and chat with the Ultimates. A better, and more interesting, introduction would have put them in the field accomplishing heroic deeds. Hitch, as always, gets credit for the stunning detail of his pencils. Thor is particularly well drawn this issue, which is a good thing given his prominence. But in panels with multiple characters, the faces become less defined and sketchy. Hopefully heís received the issue #5 script well in advance and had more time to finish it, considering what a throw down it will be.
The Final Word: Well, Millar has finally set up the fight between Thor and the Ultimates. The next issue should be wall-to-wall action with little to no character moments. This series would be a lot stronger if Millar could strike the same balance he did while writing The Authority.
The first three issues of volume 2 have been good. Not great, but good. The writing has been ok, the art incredible Ė but nothing had really lived up to the excitement of the 1st seriesÖ until now!
Millar and Hitch have lifted their game here. For issue #5 Ė man, thereís going to be one hell of a knock down coming as basically Thor will take on the rest of the Ultimates,
ďMan, this is gonna be good!Ē (Superman II quote).
What is nice about this issue, apart from the build up to the final pages, are the little moments between Cap and Wasp lady/girl/thing (not a fan of the character Ė although she is good in this series) where their age gap starts to show. We have some nice moments with Tony Stark proposing in a way that only Tony Stark can (you got to see it to believe it). Millarís writing is as good as it was on volume 1, but the series lacked excitement, although as each issue of this volume has passed they have gotten better. There is a real sense of sadness and desperation in Thor near the issueís conclusion that comes from Millarís writing, his pacing of the dialogue combined with Bryan Hitchís wonderful art. Also as a reader, I wondered, could the Ultimate Thor really be a nutter? Could Millar be pulling something on us? At the moment I am on Thorís side. I believe that he is telling the truth, but maybe he is not. Is he mad? Is it Loki? I canít wait to see Capís reaction when/if he finds out Loki has been playing him.
Being a Brit, I enjoyed getting a closer look at Captain Britain in his Ultimate incarnation. I am not too familiar with the original version and always thought the costume with the union jack to be a little OTT, but this was fun and I hope to see more of the character soon. The cover is great as it shows off Cap and Cap ready to take IT ON!
Hitch is great. I find it hard to find fault in his work. If there is one, it is that he needs to be quickerÖ but again God took 6 days to make the world, and he didnít rush it. Anyway, from Cap curling dumbbells bigger than a car to Thor pleading to the satellite in the sky Ė this is great work. I didnít like the last page as much I thought I would, itís a close up of Cap ready to kick ass. I am not sure if it is because of the distance we are given in the previous pages to the relationships of the characters, or if I was expecting something else. Maybe itís because we have similar close ups in previous issues. Either way it leaves us waiting for the next issue with baited breath!
Iím beginning to think I might have to reassess my approach to the SBC scoring system, because each issue of this second volume of the Ultimates seems to go one better than the issue which preceded it, and at this rate Iím going to run out of bullets soon. This issue gives us a neat opening rundown of exactly whatís going on with all the soap-opera storylines involving other team members before picking up the threads of Thorís libertarian stance on international politics and blending them with the official introduction of Europeís team of Super-soldiers: chief among them, Captain Britain, Captain Americaís opposite number. Itís a fairly fast-moving issue, packing in character revelations (a breathtakingly beautiful moment between Black Widow and Iron Man; a possible explanation for Thorís godlike powers) as well as political upheaval (European protests against the usage of super-soldiers as weapons of mass destruction) and building towards a fantastic climax which makes me so eager to read the next issue and see what Millar comes up with.
As ever, itís the real-world political setting which draws me in to this series, and it was great to see the acknowledgement of Britainís ďspecial relationshipĒ with the US this issue. Whilst we get a quick glimpse of other nationalities (the surly Captain Italy gets a nice scene thatís his to steal), thereís not really time to develop any of them as individual personalities. Only Captain Britain makes much of a mark, reflecting the status of Britain as a can-do lieutenant to America, in a smart comment on international relations (Hey, I might not like it, but itís a canny mirroring of the way Britain relates to the US in the current climate). However, writer Mark Millar also creates a more disturbing sense of intrigue this issue with his masterful handling of the Thor is-he-or-isnít-he insanity plot, offering up a plausible backstory for the character, which suggests a level of power and insanity which mark the character as one hell of a threat to those around him. Whilst it keeps the reader guessing as to whoís really telling the truth here, there are just a couple too many (albeit subtle) telltale signs that point to Thor being in the right to make you really fear for his sanity. Nevertheless, Iíll be interested to see how the Loki subplot plays out, and to just what extent the Ultimates themselves have been manipulated by his plotting.
Art-wise, Bryan Hitch simply hits this issue out of the park with yet another stellar performance on penciling duties. His drawings are a joy to look at, with every panel worthy of examination and throwing up ever more layered subtleties on a second or third read, reinforced by Paul Nearyís painstakingly faithful inks. Standout details include the exaggerated size of Capís training dumbbells; Clintís kidsí archery toys in Hawkeyeís front garden; the background detail during the Italian protests and over Brusselsí skyline; or the classically Nordic twisting trees in the sinister wooded environment that is the setting for the final scene. These climactic few pages are some of the most exciting in the titleís history, with a fantastic takedown of Quicksilver and a heartfelt plea to the Ultimatesí spy satellites to keep civilians out of the fight leading up to a throwdown which closes the book. The writing, art, and perfectly-judged colouring (especially during that final snow-covered scene) come together this issue to form something really special, and itís a joy to read.
My only (tiny) criticism would be that the European super-soldiers costume designs are fairly uninspired, with all of them wearing hi-tech jumpsuits in their national colours. But it only makes for an even more chilling visual towards the end of the issue, as a silent army emerges from the dark forest to take on the possibly insane thunder God in a fight to the end. The stage is set for a belter of a fight next issue: and if current form is anything to go by, Ultimates 2 #5 is likely to rocket off the SBC scoring scale.
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