Nine years after it launched with "Ultimate Spider-Man," Marvel's Ultimate universe is undergoing its first relaunch/revamp, and the cynic in me wants to say "What took them so long?" but, at least, Marvel is doing it right by making its first two relaunched titles a Spider-Man book and an Avengers title with "Ultimates" writer Mark Millar on board. No doubt, "Ultimate Spider-Man" and "The Ultimates" are the two Ultimate Marvel titles that stand out from the line as the gems and are natural titles to lead the charge. However, the real question is if the Ultimate universe (and line) can recover from "Ultimatum," the much-panned mini-series that slaughtered a large amount of the Ultimate characters established over the past nine years.
"Ultimate Comics Avengers" #1 kicks things off strongly by setting up the new status quo quickly: after being in a different universe for a while, Nick Fury is no longer in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Ultimates program has taken a big hit, Tony Stark is still a drunken debaucher, Hawkeye and Captain America are pretty much all they've got left, and Captain America has gone rogue. I think Fury's statement on the first page sums it all up nicely . Things do not look good.
Most of the issue sets up the circumstances by which Captain America goes rogue as he and Hawkeye try to prevent an AIM robbery of the Baxter Building. The action is fast and fun as the duo makes short work of one half of the terrorists before encountering their secret weapon, the Red Skull. The fight between Cap and Hawkeye and AIM is well choreographed, Carlos Pacheco doing some excellent work, and Millar's dialogue hitting all the right notes, including a callback to "The Ultimates" #1 that's not just a funny one-off line -- it plays a large part in the story.
Pacheco's first work for Marvel under his new exclusive is exactly what he - and the Ultimate line - needs. Acting as the successor to Bryan Hitch is a tough gig, but Pacheco is a dynamic, highly skilled superhero artist, and shows off just how skilled with pages of difficult helicopter fight scenes. He imbues these scenes with a real sense of danger and excitement. As well, his Red Skull looks scary and threatening, something essential to the plot.
Now, Mark Millar revealed the identity of this version of the Red Skull this weekend in Chicago, but that doesn't entirely spoil the last page reveal, particularly Cap's reaction to the news. It's surprising enough that it practically dares you to not come back next issue and see how the Red Skull came to be. The only negative of this issue is that there isn't a whole lot going on except for the extended helicopter fight scene. While it's a fantastic action sequence and high energy way to kick off things off, it is limiting somewhat.
Along with "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," "Ultimate Comics Avengers" marks the renewal of the Ultimate line at Marvel and this issue is a very good start to things. Quick-paced, gorgeous art, and a cliffhanger that will have you coming back for more.