Sunday, January 16, 2011

Missed Opportunity: Ultimate Comics

Ooooh, rant, rant, ranty-rant.  I feel a RANTING comin' on!  Nevertheless, I'm going to try to keep this cogent.

Jeph Loeb's Ultimatum and its lead-in, Ultimates 3, absolutely destroyed any hope of the Ultimate universe ever having any relevance ever ever ever again.  I finally read the two of them this evening.  But let me start at the beginning...

I read comics from worst-to-best, generally speaking.  In the old days when I bought single issues, this meant that every Wednesday night crescendoed into comics glee.  However, there have always been exceptions to my worst-to-best rule.  As the two of you who actually still read this know, I am/used-to-be a huge Spidey fan, so the week's Spidey books went on top because they needed to be read.  Honestly, for many years, this was more of an honorary position than anything else, as the Spidey books have sucked pretty consistently since... 1987 (an exaggeration, but not by much).  However, for several years in the last decade, the so-good-it-just-cannot-wait book was Ultimate Spider-Man.  There was a smaller period where that title was given to anything with "Ultimate" in the title.  And you know what?  For a year or two in there, say, 2000-2002, the books pretty much deserved it.*  The Ultimate line was about getting back to basics with Marvel heroes, something that the 616/standard universe wasn't doing well at all.  Even with Ultimate X-Men quickly devolving into a weak point, even with Ultimate FF being a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," even with the universe becoming more and more mired down with pointless mini-series, the darned thing held together so well for so long that I honestly spent the first half of that decade readjusting my mind to believe that the Ultimate universe was the "real" Marvel.

Now, there are lots of things that went wrong.  Letting Mark Millar have free reign in any long-term super-hero universe is chief among them.  The guy writes high-octane, fast-paced stuff that is somehow always universe-spanning.  Read just about any single arc of his, and you're going to be entertained along the way.  But he breaks the toys.  He turned Captain America into someone who "hates France."  What?  Just look at the way Ultimate X-Men treated characters.  You can't sustain a "brand-name" universe with that kind of writing.  You can't.

But if letting Millar anywhere near the Ultimate universe was a mistake, letting Jeph Loeb even think about the damned thing was like actually planning to fight like Custer at the Little Big Horn.

Look, Magneto reverses the magnetic poles of the Earth.  He... he alters the fundamental flow of energy for the entire planet.  One guy.  That's like having Storm freeze... the Earth... with snow.  And why does Magneto do this?  Because his daughter, who is basically a human cosmic cube (just like she was retconned to be in 616), is killed by Doctor Doom-boy.  Hey, look!  Let's have a couple of characters behave in randomly out-of-character ways (Ultimate Thor suddenly talks like a Shakespeare festival's village idiot, for example), and have Magneto gain a power-level that is just insane.  And I'm not using that word lightly, folks.  Magneto has been over-powered for decades, now, but this takes the magnetic cake.

And what happens?  Loeb breaks the toys.  Characters are killed left-and-right.  The Wasp is eaten by the all-new, all-disgusting Blob, who is then orally decapitated by Hank Pym.  And the worst part is, this sort of thing is actually the logical conclusion of the tone set by Millar, especially in Ultimates.  In the interest of being cool, of being edgy, of being "logical" with characters' powers and psychoses, toys are broken.  And when it's done on this large of a scale for no real reason, all it does is desensitize.

Ugh, it's late, I'm tired.  Maybe I'll come back to this, maybe not.  In the end, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be on some kind of track, but Ultimate Avengers was just rot, and the other books are destroyed.  You don't make a universe "cool" by killing everything, by corrupting everything, by destroying story engines that can work.  You make a universe "cool" through good stories, and that's something that Loeb and Millar have failed to do here.  I wish I had more mental energy to explain this, but... it's late, and I have school tomorrow.

Thanks for ruining something that could have been so much more, guys.  Way to go.

*There never was a book called Ultimate Adventures, BTW.  No universe created by a loving god could support such an abomination.

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