The Ultimates² is an incredible book. From writing, to art, ink, and colors, every single aspect of the book is working to tell an inventive, surprising, and gratifying superhero story. To really delve into what makes this new incarnation of Ultimates so great some words should be said about the several previous series with the same title. The original Ultimates was a fresh, edgy, and highly successful spin on a classic Avengers story. Its sequel was also quite good, and while the third series was a dud, the name Ultimates still carries weight. It implies a certain amount of shiny newness, a rejiggering of the status quo. While the original comic helped shift the Ultimate Marvel landscape into dark and gritty territory, this new book seems to be attempting something similar with the cosmic side of Marvel. While such an idea will likely turn some readers off, to those who are excited by the idea it feels like a return to the glory days of cosmic Marvel, when Annihilus invaded the Negative Zone, the Guardians of the Galaxy were just a plucky reboot, and Quasar still appeared in comic books.
Any good team book is going to start with an issue where the team comes together, and The Ultimates² is no different. Blue Marvel and Spectrum begin the book in a lab at Kadesh Base, billed at the top of the page as an “Underwater Science Fortress,” a phrase that is so comic book it needed to be singled out. Already this is a promising set of superheroes. Spectrum, or Monica Rambeau to her friends, is a great character who hasn’t had much to do since the excellent comedy series Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. To see her again and in such a well written and adventurous book is beyond exciting. Blue Marvel is another underused character with lots of potential, as is Anti-Man, who appears in the beginning of the book in a costume that can only be described as sci-fi-comic-fan catnip. By the time the more popular heroes, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Ms. America show up, The Ultimates² has already established itself as a fresh take on the spacey team ups of the past.
Having a dynamite cast and concept is great, but plenty of comics have failed even though they had all the right pieces. Ultimately, a book will sink or swim based on the capability of its writers, which is where Al Ewing comes in. The Ultimates² begins with a sort of poem “Everything is screaming. / Eternity. / The Multiverse. / Everything that is known. / Shackled and helpless. / Held in chains in the endless void. / Screaming.” What might sound like the brooding words of a high school loner when taken out of context becomes cosmically sublime narration at the front of comic book. To show the Multiverse itself, in chains and crying out in pain, is a brave introductory choice, but one that perfectly sets the tone for what kind of book The Ultimates² is trying to be. That’s not to say that the book isn’t ever funny though. In a brief but effective moment of levity, Black Panther references Stranger Things using his American accent much to the dismay of Carol Danvers. Slight deviations in tone help keep the book grounded, as well as entertaining when so much of the first issue is devoted to exposition.
The central idea of the book is that Galactus has been turned good. Now gold instead of his sinister purple, the Eater of Worlds has become the Seeder of Worlds, a rhyme so perfect it must have been made before. Yellow Galactus wants this new team of Ultimates to be his new heralds, a notion that should make any cosmic Marvel fan giddy, but before things get too fun Ms. America shows up to establish herself as the team leader. The immense promise of the first issue of The Ultimates² would be hard to follow. Thankfully the first arc of the series, and possibly only arc if sales numbers are as bad as they look, maintains an excellent pace, phenomenal art, and a great story that keeps the reader desperate for the next issue to release.
Along with Thanos, The Ultimates² shows an exciting reinterest in the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe from the suits in charge. Hopefully readers catch on to what is happening outside of Guardians of the Galaxy and delve into the insane, vibrant, mind bending world of the superhero cosmos.