– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
This week, we’re looking at the modern retelling of the Avengers’ origin, and the first appearance of ‘Samuel L. Jackson’ Nick Fury.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Mark Millar
Art by: Bryan Hitch
Real Name: Robert Bruce Banner
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)
Dr Robert Bruce Banner was one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear physics, with his vast knowledge and prowess in his field taking him into the employ of the United States military, in the hopes he would gain funding for his other, more humanitarian projects, in turn. There, Banner was stationed under Airforce General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, who had him work on an experimental Gamma Bomb. During this time, Bruce met and fell in love with Ross’ daughter, Betty Ross, starting a relationship that would endure despite Bruce’s dark future.
When the day came about to test his new bomb, Banner was horrified to see a young man, Rick Jones, had broken onto the testing grounds. Sacrificing himself to save Rick, Banner rushed onto the grounds and pushed Rick into cover, but was caught in the explosion. His cells irradiated by the Gamma radiation, Bruce was cursed with a monstrous, dim-witted alter-ego with God-like strength; becoming an anti-hero of sorts, ‘the strongest one there is’… the ‘Incredible’ Hulk!
WHAT’s THE STORY?
Way back during Spider-Man week, we covered much of the ‘Ultimate Marvel’ story. But here’s a recap:
The ‘Ultimate Comics’ line was pitched by lawyer-turned-publisher Bill Jemas (who has a writing credit for this volume of Ult. Spider-Man), who figured that the then-current slate of Marvel Comics was unaffordable and impenetrable for any new potential fans. He suggested that a new imprint be created, one that took old Marvel heroes and reinvigorated them; updating them for the 21st century and returning them to their original premise.
In the years following the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man, other core titles were added to the Ultimate Comics line-up, including Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates. The line-up would also be bulked up by the occasional mini-series, such as Daredevil & Elektra and Wolverine vs. the Hulk. Unfortunately, while getting off to a strong start, the Ultimate line began to waver after numerous attempts to shake things up, and as of now, is no longer published – though its legacy lives on in a few of Marvel’s mainstream titles.
More specifically, with The Ultimates, the book was meant to be a more cinematic take on the superhero genre and features more adult themes and story-lines. The comic also heavily inspired the 2012 movie Avengers Assemble – it introduced the black, Samuel L. Jackson-lookalike Nick Fury, the Avengers’ role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. strike-team and even smaller details such as the Hulk’s prison-cell and other background details.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
To prepare for the growing number of super-human conflicts, such as the X-Men‘s face-off against Magneto and Spider-Man‘s tussle with the Hulk, Nick Fury, the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to pull together a small, super-human strike-force consisting of Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp, in the hopes that others, such as the supposed God of Thunder Thor, will also join up.
When his team retrieve the frozen body of Captain America, things seem to be looking up. But with this clash of egos beginning to make S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist and former Hulk, Bruce Banner, feel inadequate, the Ultimates may have to come together to bring down a threat from within.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
Similar to Ultimate Spider-Man, the first arc of The Ultimates is the perfect jumping-on point for potential Avengers fans. It has a contained cast, more ‘cinematic’ art and a more serious tone that people would probably prefer over the goofiness of the Avengers early 60s origin.
Furthermore, with the success of the movies, many non-comic-book readers would also probably already think of some of these characters as looking more like their Ultimate variants than their mainstream ones (ie. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury).
With it not being the first story-line from the Ultimate Universe, readers may get some more enjoyment if they’ve previously read other ‘Ultimate Comics’, specifically the ones featuring Spider-Man taking on the Hulk, or the X-Men duking it out with Magneto, but overall, they’re inconsequential to the plot.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
There are some reservations I have about this comic-book, but overall it’s a pretty solid read.
My issues mainly come from the writer, Mark Millar, himself. The man has written some great and highly popular comics, such as Kick-Ass, Wanted and Civil War (which we’ll be looking at later) amongst other things. Problem is, you read enough of his comics and you start to notice trends. Not good ones either. The same can be said for Brian Bendis, who was writing the Ultimate Spider-Man series (although his problems are far more numerous). With Millar, the issue is the characterisation.
For the most part, it’s good, but every character he writes has an air of being a condescending prick. They talk down to each other, they boast way too much, they’re constantly asking questions that highlight how much more intelligent they are. It’s meant to be realistic dialogue, and half the time, it’s pretty much there, but the other half makes you think that if you had to interact with these people on a daily basis, they’d be insufferable.
And you could argue that the intention of this comic is to take these superheroes and give them real, human flaws. But pretty much all his characters in all his books sound like this, so that can’t 100% be the case.
Anyway, on to the good.
The art, as Bryan Hitch intended, is pretty cinematic. It’s vast, detailed and realistic, to a degree. Likewise, beneath the layer of condescension, Millar’s characters are pretty enjoyable. Tony Stark, Thor and Captain America in particular, because Millar’s dialogue works for these three, due to their own unique twists (being an eccentric billionaire, a godly activist and a super-soldier unhinged from time, respectively).
Similarly, bringing the story of the Avengers into the modern-day makes for a very interesting read. The U.S. Government making a private army of super-heroes makes so much sense, and also works with the power-sets we’ve got on show. The fact that these people would also become celebrities is also such an obvious but well-executed move. And as a result, the addition of actual celebrities like Freddie Prinze Jr., and references to Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and even, coincidentally, Robert Downey Jr., just works so well.
Furthermore, the way they set the Hulk up as the adversary is superb. He’s a ‘villain’ you can relate to, because you kind of feel sorry for the guy, and if you were a pseudo-super-hero in his position you’d probably want to beat the crap out of all these guys too. Plus, when it comes down to it, the fight isn’t just your standard good guy punches bad guy; you witness the various skill-sets, powers and fears that each of our protagonists has. You see the toll it takes on their lives (which is, at one point used to re-imagine the domestic violence witnessed between Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne) and so even if you don’t always like them, they seem more human as a result.