What an entertaining, high-concept comic book “The Ultimates” has become.
Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort are creating a series with a unique point of view on the concept of metafiction. It’s a smart book, full of intelligent characters who think outside of violence to solve problems that affect the entire universe — problem solving instead of problem causing; acting instead of reacting. Blue Marvel and Black Panther have become outstanding leaders, men of self-worth who lead through example. When I put this book down, I want to rocket off to the edges of known time and space to help. In “The Ultimates” #5, Ewing starts showing us his bigger plans for the series. We see clues of a larger cosmic threat, something that irks even the life-bringer Galactus. We also get the return of a familiar villain, which is a huge moment for Marvel overall, though the impact is lessened by the length of time since his disappearance.
A lot of high-level conversing happens in this series, more so in this issue than others, while the action is restricted to flashback and vehicle destruction. If you’re looking for another Carol Danvers Binary moment, you’ll have to keep waiting. Here, we sit in the blackness of nothing as Neil deGrasse Galactus breaks down how time works for meager human brains. The difference in perspective on this mission is funny; the Ultimates believe they’re being thoughtful and cautious, but Galactus thinks they’re leaping into these scenarios. This leaves the Big Guy space-mansplaining to the team, which leads to some baseline theories about the Marvel Universe itself, where Ewing concocts the best explanation for retcons and future-cons I’ve read in a comic. Even if it isn’t really true, it’s a solid premise around which to build the temporal problems Marvel heroes have been talking about for the last several years.
Pseudo-science series like this can be difficult to maneuver. If you lean too hard into fictional science facts, you may lose the reader through lack of empathy. If you stray from those specifics, then there’s no point in them even being in the story. Ewing balances the two as well as any great “Star Trek” episode.
I think “Star Trek” is the most apt comparison for this series. This is a group of science explorers, headed into the unknown to make the universe a better place. They have some of the best minds Earth has to offer, from tactical to science to political. Their unilateral decision-making might irk the rank-and-file bureaucracy back home, but everything they do is in the best interest of the galaxy at large. It’s a shame, though, that their efforts unknowingly bring back one of the universe’s worst threats. Oops.
When Rocafort was announced as the artist on this series, I was confused; he has a style that is suited to hot men and women doing flips while kicking swords into ninja’s heads and shooting weapons at flying robots. However, he’s done a great job of converting his craftsmanship and finding new ways to make these pages pop despite a lot of on-page discussion. His layouts are open and a bit more European and experimental; some pages — like the one where Galactus explains how time works — have little to draw, but what’s there is powerful and displays scale. Other pages, like Galactus’s rescue, are filled with cool detail and strong perspective choices. There’s a vibe of early Image Comics going on, with sparse backgrounds and tight close-ups, but this allows the dialogue more opportunity to occupy the page. Additionally, his character work makes everyone feel powerful without looking exploitative.
I like hanging out with the characters in this series. They’re all incredibly smart and make me feel smarter for having read them as they look beyond the violence and work towards a greater goal. There will be fights in this series and large scale threats that will force more than words, but ultimately it’s a series about solving problems. It’s about looking up instead of down and thinking about the bigger picture. You won’t find Daredevil and Luke Cage punching out crooked landlords here, but you will find a diverse cast of highly intelligent heroes looking to make the universe a better place. Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort are building some grand mysteries with “The Ultimates,” a series well worth your time if you are a fan of intellectual science fiction.