The ‘Avengers’ Comic You Are Looking For
So you’ve seen The Avengers (what, you haven’t? Get off the damn internet and go see it!) and although you don’t normally read comics this movie certainly stoked your fire. You loved the characters and the way they interact with each other. The action was intense and, oddly enough, you actually cared about these people in their wacky outfits. In fact you liked it so much you want to read some damn Avengers comics. If you’ve never been into a comic shop you can expect multiple versions of each title covering a very, very long history of publication. You just want someone to give you a straight answer to the question: which one?
The answer isn’t ‘The Avengers’. It’s ‘The Ultimates’.
Let me explain. About a decade ago the Marvel company decided to reboot their main characters in a modern setting. Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men all got the treatment as Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men. The Avengers were included, rebranded simply as ‘The Ultimates’.
There’s a number of reasons why this is the Avengers comic you want to read. It does away with the long winded backstory attached to The Avengers and their characters, not relying on readers encyclopedic knowledge of each of the alternative histories to make sense of anything. Each character is taken back to the beginning, with them being introduced one by one. Captain America starts in WWII before being frozen, Iron Man has just gone public, Thor is leading an environmental movement and Bruce Banner is secretly working for shield. Also on the opening roster is Giant-Man and Wasp, a married couple who also work for Shield’s research and development division.
Written by Mark Millar, best known for Kick-Ass and Wanted among others. Millar does what he does best – the characters are every bit human as they are superheroes. Steve Rogers is out of place in the modern world but is still a figurehead for the nation. Whilst his followers view him as a god Thor is widely considered to be a mental case. Hank and Janet Pym (Giant-Man and Wasp) have what seems to be a strong relationship but it is later revealed that it has a darker under-current, something that the rest of the team struggle to deal with. Best of all is the friendship between Thor, Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, which is a lot of fun to follow.
The action ramps up very quickly when Bruce Banner sinks into a deep depression and lets the Hulk take over, forcing the Ultimates to step in. Capt. America’s approach to this combat is to be seen to be believed – awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. Later we get introduced to family man/assassin Hawkeye, deadly Black Widow and former terrorists (and children of Magneto) Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch who add a bit of edge to the team. When an alien invasion threatens the US the Ultimates step back into the fray for an epic battle.
After this very cool couple of issues you move straight onto the fantastic ‘The Ultimates 2’. Characters continue to develop as they are pushed to their limits both emotionally and in battle. Someone is manipulating The Ultimates and Shield, tricking them into turning against each other. Thor is convinced that his half-brother Loki is behind it all, but the Ultimates don’t heed his warnings. The chapter that depicts the Ultimates (including Black Widow in her funky new War Machine armour) and the European League of Superheroes (Capt. Britian and company) trying to take Thor out is downright outstanding. No further details of the plot will be revealed here, but the entire slow reveal of who and what is pulling the strings and why is a big as comics get.
The artwork by Bryan Hitch is absolutely top tier material. The characters look better than they have ever done before with fantastically designed costumes, gear and settings. If there’s a downside it’s that the characters won’t look quite as good after these two volumes.
Once you’re done being wowed by ‘The Ultimates’ and ‘The Ultimates 2’…do not read further. ‘The Ultimates 3’ (where Millar steps down in favour of Loeb) marks one of the quickest and furthest drops in quality in comic history. Don’t do it. Just reread The Ultimates 1 and 2 again. They’re better the second, third and fourth time. It’s now available as a collect set, so there’s no reason not to dive right in.