Friday, August 14, 2009

Heroes Reborn

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Carlos Pacheco
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Rating: 4 Stars

Earlier this decade, Marvel Comics was still recovering from bankruptcy and looking to find new readers in anyway they could. The problem was, despite having some of the most recognizable characters for older kids and adults, their readership had plateaued and the people buying comics were getting older. The culprit of the loss of new, young readers were video games and forty years of plotlines and continuity.

Marvel launched what they called "The Ultimate Universe". The first hero in this new universe was Spider-Man and the whole new imprint from Marvel was geared toward younger readers. From the start, the characters were taken back to their roots and made younger and more identifiable with the age group they were looking to attract.

Each book released under the Ultimate imprint retold the origins of the heroes, but kept with the bare basics of each character. Peter Parker was a high school kid again struggling with the everyday angst of teenage life before being bitten by a genetically altered spider. Bruce Banner was getting closer and closer to his accident that would turn him into the Hulk. Tony Stark was a drunk, Captain America was still frozen in ice and a younger, hipper, sexier Fantastic Four were on their way to gaining powers in an accident.

Gone was all that Spider-Clone stuff and the early 60's threat of chemical, atomic and biological weapons. Even the X-Men would more closely resemble a lineup from one of their movies. The Ultimate Universe now had the keys to a car that can re-write histories and re-introduce characters kids wouldn't likely know.

Characters in this new universe were no longer tied down with long standing feelings or hatred. Many were even given new ethnic backgrounds - Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp) was an asian girl, Nick Fury was a Samuel L. Jackson knock off, but still a total badass. Later, we find Thor, it's completely uncertain if he or anyone could prove his status as a God of Asgard, hooking up with a young, naive blond who called herself Valkyrie (a known character from the 70's in the regular Marvel U.). Scarlet With and Quicksilver were a little less secretive about their incestual attractions to one another.

After a year or two, The Ultimates came out as this universe's Avengers. One twist was that the Ultimates were actually employees of S.H.I.E.L.D. (this was long before the Superhero Registration Act was even a gleam in the regular Marvel U.'s eye.

The original run was written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch. A later arc was penned by Stan Lee. The art was almost cinematic and you can tell that Mark Millar is an Avengers fan. The Ultimates was action-packed and intelligent. Two of the greatest Avengers stories of all time were the first two arcs of Ultimates.

The Ultimate Universe did have a major problem though. As they were trying to gain those younger and newer comic book audiences, video games got better and even more attractive to the average pre-teen. It became harder for people jump into stories as the arcs got bigger and more convoluted. Before long, the great experiment, more or less, came apart at the seams.

Just recently, the mini-series Ultimatum changed the course of the Ultimate Universe forever. Magneto finally lost his marbles and wreaked havoc across the planet killing many heroes including Wolverine, The Wasp and Thor. This event reset the Ultimate Universe...

Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1 brings Mark Millar back to the same team he helped mold. The start of the issue takes place three weeks after Ultimatum. After a mission went south, Captain America went rogue. He's a bit pissed off after being beaten up by this universe's Red Skull. But he can take a beating like a man, what really got him pissed off is what the Red Skull told Cap - "I'm your son."

This first issue was pretty much all action so it was extremely quick read for a $3.99 book, but moving on from here, this Avengers book might be better than all the others combined. Mark Millar gets something that Brian Bendis doesn't - The Avengers are the world's best team for taking on big threats. Also, I'm beyond glad that there is no "Ultimate Hood" to come into this book and lame it up.

Thanks for reading. Throughout the weekend, I'll return with that long ago promised review of The Marvels Project #1 along with reviews for some books I got at the Chicago Comic-Con and Escape From Wonderland #1 (which will likely be as much of a guilty pleasure as the title it spun off from - Grimm Fairy Tales).

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