I love a story that surprises me with compassion. One of the reasons I fell in love with Doctor Who back in the Ninth Doctor’s day was because of the Doctor’s dedication to peaceful solutions—his eagerness to rejoice when he’s able to navigate a problem so that everyone survives it. So it was with surprise and joy that I discovered that a new Marvel series that I had picked up entirely for its lineup, which consisted of many of my favorite characters, was serving up these sorts of storylines.
Spoilers for The Ultimates after the jump.
To understand why the current The Ultimates comic series is a thing, we have to go back in time a bit. There used to be a side universe to the main Marvel 616 universe, given the designation 1610 by the people who number these things, from whence the Ultimates comics stories originated. While aspects of this alternative reality (like Black Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Triskelion, among others) were folded into the MCU, its storylines were also often a hot mess, from the aww-isn’t-it-romantic incest to President Captain America. Comics fans of taste typically agree that the only really good thing to come out of the Ultimates universe was Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino Spider-man.
Last summer, Marvel decided all these alternate realities were getting a bit messy, and in the Secret Wars event (also a hot mess), decided to eliminate all of them by crashing them all together. This allowed them to cherry-pick the cool parts out of the alternate timelines while scrapping the parts that weren’t doing well or making sense.
In the post-Secret Wars aftermath, a new team of Avengers came together. Under the series title All-New, All-Different Avengers, Marvel seemed to be reaching out to its younger audience by giving the flagship Avengers team the roster of Iron Man (Tony Stark), Thor (Jane Foster), Vision (…Vision), Captain America (Sam Wilson), Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Nova (Sam Alexander), giving the team several intersections of diversity (including that the majority of the characters are characters of color). I’m loving that book too, but people who weren’t interested in the teen drama side of things found solace in another post-Secret Wars book, The Ultimates, written by Al Ewing of The Mighty Avengers. Ultimates calls out to the fans of the more serious and gritty 1610 universe without sacrificing the diversity of the new Avengers team.
The lineup of the comic was the thing that first grabbed me. A team made up of Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Ms. America (America Chavez), Spectrum (Monica Rambeau), Black Panther (T’Challa), and Blue Marvel (Adam Brashear) is not only made up of some of my favorite Marvel characters, it’s also mostly characters of color and mostly female. Their founding purpose is “to find and fix problems beyond the limits of the infinite”; basically, they’re the heaviest hitters in the Marvel Universe, and they’re teaming up to deal with the stuff no one else has the power to.
That directive is kind of vague, though, so despite eagerly subscribing to the series, I had no idea what the plot was going to look like. The first arc has them taking on Galactus, and it seemed like a no-brainer that they were going to try to destroy or entrap him such that he would no longer be a threat to the universe. Boy, was I wrong. Instead, they are able to change his essence from that of a destroyer to that of a lifebringer. Galactus goes from a creature who eats planets to sustain himself to one who instead can seed barren planets and bring them life.
This theme follows the team into further arcs, as they continue to combine the strength that they’ve otherwise never had in order to re-frame threats instead of taking them out. It’s a bold statement to make: it takes greater strength to forgive, heal, and offer a chance to change, than it does to bring someone low through violence.
Even through the current Civil War II arc, in which Captain Marvel is one of the main antagonists, this theme is brought in deftly. The Civil War II event follows a split between Captain Marvel and Iron Man after an Inhuman with the power to predict crime is discovered. Carol wants to use his powers to help prevent crimes before they happen, and Tony thinks that that infringes on personal rights in frighteningly extrajudicial ways. Even though Carol is on the Ultimates team, the Civil War storyline doesn’t overwhelm the book or show her to be an out-of-control harridan—rather, it takes the time to spotlight how complex the issue really is. On one hand, these premonitions may target people who haven’t committed crimes yet, but on the other hand, they also give the Ultimates the chance to once again rescue and reframe a threat rather than hurting him.
I’ve already mentioned the diversity of the lineup, but I want to reiterate how cool it is. I especially appreciate the effort taken to include aspects of the characters’ outside lives rather than just their superheroing, as it makes the characters feel more like rounded people. We see more of Blue Marvel’s relationship with his children and how that affects him as an important Black paternal presence (also worth noting is that Brashear, a Black man, is one of the smartest characters in the 616). We also see Ms. America in her downtime, going out to eat with her girlfriend or messaging her for comfort when a mission goes awry. The friendships between women, especially Monica and America, are also strong and supportive.
The regular art throughout the series by Kenneth Rocafort is fantastic, but I was particularly blown away by issue #6 where Christian Ward stepped in as guest artist. Ward, who is currently the regular artist on the also highly-recommended ODY-C, has an immediately recognizable, beautifully psychedelic style that was perfect for the expansive subject matter.
I can’t stress enough how awesome this comic is, so you’re going to have to see it for yourself. With eleven issues out as of today, there’s plenty of good storytelling to sink your teeth into, and I recommend catching up immediately.