As Jeph Loeb promises to systematically dismantle everything good about “The Ultimates”, it’s been a virtual godsend to see Ellis taking on some of the characters and demonstrating that there’s plenty of good stories that can be told with them. The premise for “Ultimate Human” — Tony Stark and Bruce Banner collaborating on a cure for the Hulk — is a strong idea that makes particular sense in the context of the Ultimate universe, where such things haven’t been tried before.
Ellis took the fairly unexpected step of making Ultimate Pete Wisdom into the Ultimate Leader, a British super-soldier reject. His goals are fairly similar to the regular Marvel Universe Leader, so it’s not entirely clear why Ellis felt the need to staple an existing character onto the concept, though I’d have to assume he’s just having a bit of a laugh with the very idea of an Ultimate Pete Wisdom.
This final issue of the series brings things to a conclusion, although after a strong opening double and a weak third issue, the fourth issue wraps itself up without fully delivering on the early promise. Two issues in, it genuinely seemed like “Ultimate Human” might actually alter the Ultimate Hulk’s status quo. After all, Marvel is quite sparing with the Ultimate titles they release, so each one has the potential to matter. As it happens, its main contribution to the Ultimate Universe was the examination of how the Hulk actually works on a physical level, which feels a bit like Ellis looking at the kind of future-pseudoscience one would expect from him. That aspect of the series, seen at its heaviest in the first two issues, was actually one of the more enjoyable elements.
This issue ends up resolving the story with a massive fight, which ends when the Hulk defeats the Leader and then leaves. It leaves the reader feeling as though the story is incomplete. Early in the issue, Stark disables the nanobots that have “cured” Banner, causing the Hulk to resurface again, and the two never speak afterwards. It would’ve been nice to see some emotional resolution to what happened. As presented, the book literally ends with the Hulk mid-jump and only a superficial apology directed at Banner by Stark, as the former disappears into the sky.
Nord puts in an amazing performance with a truly fantastic depiction of the Hulk, a figure so large he appears to take up entire pages. Nord’s cinematic style could really teach Hollywood a thing or two about how to present the Hulk, and combined with Ellis’ excellent dialogue, the brutish Ultimate Hulk is both hilarious and menacing.
Well-timed to deal with the “Iron Man” and “Hulk” movies this year, “Ultimate Human” stands as proof that Marvel still has some clue how to approach the Ultimate line of titles. Ellis, meanwhile, effortlessly demonstrates with his unique style why he’s one of the industry’s top writers, even when he lets some of his excesses get the better of him, because even if the plot doesn’t fully grab me, the characters are spot on. The smart thing for Marvel to do now would be to get him onto “Ultimates”, and prove that the title and characters do have legs beyond Millar and Hitch. Someone, make it happen please.