That was yesterdaySo we headed over to one store to pick up a birthday present for me mum, and then stopped at Cold Stone Creamery for some ice cream, and then hit Half Price Books. I picked up a copy of SUPERMAN: THE DAILIES, reprinting the Superman newspaper strip from 1939 to 1942, none of which I've ever read. (They kind of thematically go with that BATMAN serial I picked up on DVD last week, though.) I also got a copy of THE ULTIMATES, collecting issues 1 - 13.
I swore I'd never pay for Ultimates nonsense, but I've heard too much about these stories (usually in tones of breathless, awestruck worship) and the library has the second volume but someone stole the first volume so I got tired of waiting for a chance to read them for free. (If there was any justice, someone would be paying me to read them; yes, Virginia, they really are that bad. But as all Larry Niven fans already know, There Ain't No Justice.)
So, anyway, I'm trudging through this stupid shit, and, honest to God, it really is stupid shit. Where to begin? Well...
Let's start with, why are people in the Ultimates timeline different ethnicities from their original versions in the Marvel mainstream universe? No matter how I angle it, I can't get this make any sense. In the mainstream Marvel universe, pretty much everyone is Caucasian. And yes, I understand that in the re-imagined, updated, streamlined, more realistic and modern and grim n gritty Ultimates universe, we're trying to be more politically correct and multicultural, but, still... why is Janet Van Dyne Asian in the Ultimates universe? Why is Nick Fury black? I don't get it.
The answer 'because it's cooler' isn't going to work for me, by the way.
Leaving all that aside, I'm about five issues into this thing now and, whoa, talk about moving things along at a glacial pace. We open with Captain America and Bucky leading thousands of Allied soldiers in an attack on a Nazi ICBM base, and that's pretty much all the excitement we get for the next five issues. (Bucky isn't a kid in the Ultimates universe and he doesn't wear a costume; he's an old buddy of Steve Rogers' and, apparently, a combat journalist/photographer. If perhaps you are starting to get the idea that one of the major imperatives of the entire Ultimates line is to suck everything fun out of all Marvel's Silver Age comics concepts, well, you'd be wrong, but only in scope. This is the major imperative of all 'realistic' superhero comics. 'Fun' is childish and we can't have that; superhero comics for the 21st Century must be deadly serious and in utter earnest at all times.)
Of course, there are no real heroes in a 'realistic' superhero universe. Everyone is flawed, everyone has issues, everyone is a little piss pot. It is probably this, more than anything else, that makes reading THE ULTIMATES such an exercise in masochism for me. I'm still old fashioned enough that I think superhero comics should have actual heroes in them. (I'm also old fashioned enough to think comics should have captions and thought balloons, but never mind, I'm a curmudgeon.)
Perhaps it's also curmudgeonly of me to wish that a British writer accepting an assignment to script American characters might take the time to learn how Americans speak. It's bad enough having to read page after page after page of pointless yet oh so hip and pop culture reference laden dialog about which actors should be cast as what character in an ULTIMATES movie, but when Millar occasionally has Hank Pym or Bruce Banner or, for the love of Christ, Steve Rogers, lapse into British vernacular it's just exasperating. If Millar's too lazy to do his job well (not that his lack of industry has anything to do with his lack of talent; Millar doesn't eschew captions and thought balloons just because it's trendy to do so; like nearly every other contemporary comics writer, he mostly does it because he's neither talented nor technically skilled enough to use either of them correctly).
Probably the biggest thing wrong with ULTIMATES, though (the biggest specific thing; the biggest general thing is the atmosphere of selfish, cynical meanspiritedness that permeates the book; it's like SEINFELD, if Jerry and Crew had superpowers) is the fact that the team has almost nothing to do for the first half dozen issues of its existence. Millar thinks he's clever, making an actual plot point of this, but in actuality, it simply underscores how bad the writing is. Absolutely nothing happens in the first four issues except yak yak yak yak yak yak yak -- we're supposed to believe that the Federal government is downsizing the conventional military and pouring billions into a superteam composed of four preening, posturing prima donnas, on the apparent off chance that at some undefined point in the very nebulous future, some kind of super powerful threat may manifest itself that will require these jackasses to successfully defeat it.
The first threat that does show up, naturally, is the Hulk. Bruce Banner gets tired of being treated like a second banana by Hank Pym (in the Ultimates Universe, Bruce isn't working on gamma bombs, he's trying to reinvent the Super Soldier serum that created Captain America), so he injects himself with the same flawed serum that turned him into the Hulk once already, just because, you know, he's a dickhead and Betty is ignoring him.
All told, ULTIMATES is unimpressive at best and revolting at worst... but I'm only halfway through it. Perhaps the infamous bit where the Wasp flashes the Hulk to distract him will make it all worthwhile.
I seriously doubt it, though.