Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ultimate confessions

From Strange Horizons comes Tony Keen's articulate review of the Marvel trade editions of The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2. The Ultimates, for those of you playing at home, are an alt-universe, more "realistic" take on the Avengers. The series as published is less like an episodic comic, and has more the cumulative structure of a movie. Keen's review resonated with me even though I couldn't honestly say whether I agreed with it or not.

The reason I can't is that I haven't really kept up with the Ultimateverse. I did buy an issue once, where Henry Pym tries to rejoin the Ultimates, and, failing that, looks to a new group called the Defenders. Like the main Marvel Universe's Pym, this one is a wifebeater. Unlike that one, he's never been able to redeem himself. For this and other reasons, his former teammates either despise him or regard him with "keep it away from me" detached pity. As for the Defenders, they're poseurs with costumes (sort of) and essentially nothing else. Pym's one adventure with them nearly gets him killed by workady warehouse thieves.

Reading this, I knew three things about The Ultimates.

  1. The creative team was very gifted. (And in fact I think Bryan Hitch worked as a visual consultant on the revived Doctor Who.)

  2. This storyline would be hugely popular with contemporary comics readers.

  3. I wanted nothing to do with it.

Since then I've done some flipping through without buying (don't worry, the stores get their cut from me.) Seeing Captain America spear the big bad, and hearing that Hawkeye killed Black Widow in revenge, the third point still stands. By some criteria, this reimagined team may well prove themselves heroic. But for me they were a little too much like Blackwater employees of the month.

The appeal of the superhero genre for me is not really the powers. The very fact that Hollywood studios can now reproduce cosmic feats onscreen makes them somewhat mundane. And I don't necessarily want pure good versus absolute evil. What I do appreciate is the sight of people I like getting what victories they can while remaining decent. That might sound subjective, and maybe it is. But as Potter Stewart said of obscenity, I know it when I see it.

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