26
Aug
2011
Chris' Comics Corner
Reviews: The Ultimates and Teen Titans
Chris
The Ultimates #1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic

After years of lagging sales, and one already failed effort to reboot and breath new life into the imprint, Marvel is try, trying again to make the Ultimate Universe viable, and vital. Their plan (which was developed way before DC) is to condense the line back to just four books a month, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, the Ultimates, and one miniseries, and relaunch these books with new number #1s, and three of Marvel's hottest writers at the helm.

The Ultimate Universe has become a real problem for Marvel. At its inception it told the kind of stories that Marvel wanted to be telling. Modern, exciting, unpredictable, clean of continuity, easy to push towards a developing movie audience. But over time Marvel figured out how to tell these kinds of stories within their main universe. And the Marvel Universe Proper became the more exciting place to read about these characters because not only were chances being taken and huge changes being enacted but these stories "mattered."

The launch of a new Ultimates #1 with Johnathan Hickman, one of Marvel's most meticulous planners and most epic story tellers, and Esad Ribic, a dynamic and fluid story teller, is Marvel's best faith effort to date of recapturing the same excitement and creativity that launched the line, while assuring the fans that what's to come will not be yet another cover of the same old hits.

The issue focuses on Nick Fury deploying his few remaining Ultimates to deal with world crises that are quickly increasing in number and severity. Hickman has stated that this volume will continue the Ultimates tradition of reflecting real world political and military conditions, to that end, we see S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Ultimates stretched thin, trying to hold together a world that is becoming increasingly dangerous. Hickman does a great job of establishing this scary new world by escalating each crisis faster than Fury and the Ultimates can respond to them, and I see a lot of potential in a book that deals with the hard decisions these heroes are going to have to make to safeguard a world with very limited resources.

This issue is not perfect however. If anything, I think it suffers from Hickman not quite finding the right balance between the gritty realism that we expect from the Ultimates, and the high concept science fiction that Hickman is known for and peppers throughout this debut issue. It's entirely possible that he will smooth this out in future issues or that I will become more comfortable with the change, just at the start, something felt a little odd tonally. I also think that Hickman has so far been a little bit too tame with Tony Stark. Seeing as Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis have cemented the Robert Downey Jr. portrayal of Stark as the mainstream Marvel Universe portrayal of the character, it's more important than ever for writers in the Ultimate Universe to go over the top with their version of the character. The Mark Millar Tony Stark needed to get wasted just to have the courage to climb in the Iron Man suit, and took Black Widow into the men's room for a quickie right before going to war with an invading alien race. Hickman's Tony dreams about red heads and controls the Iron Man by remote. We are going to need much, much more from Tony if he is to distinguish himself from his MU counterpart and shock us on occasion.

Esad Ribic is not Brian Hitch. No one is, but their styles aren't even similar. And I think that's a great thing. While Hitch's work was more gritty, detailed, realistic, iconic, and big, celebrating the huge moments and the comic equivalent of never forget sound bites, Ribic has a much softer but eerily beautiful style to his work. His panels are smaller, and there are far less moments that can be turned into splash pages and pin ups, but the pages are gorgeous, the characters are emotive, and the line work is distinctly unique and captivating. Ribic is a masterful storyteller as seen through the silent pages where Hickman lets his artistic partner tell the story without the aid of dialogue or narration. This sequence is particularly effective because even while it portrays action, the lack of words allows for a nice stylistic break from the rest of the issue, and escalates the tension.

A promising debut issue, but this creative team is going to need to top it next issue, and the issue after that. It may not be fair, as this was a great opening issue. However if the Ultimate Universe is going to survive, the newly assembled team for the relaunch is going to have to swing for the fences every single time at bat.

Grade: B+

Teen Titans #100
Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Nicola Scott

This is probably the last non-bat, non-green lantern title of the current DC Continuity I will read before the relaunch. And as such it will have to serve as a farewell to the old continuity I loved so much as well as one of this particular portrayal of one of my favorite franchises within that continuity.

The issue is an imperfect finale, and a bittersweet farewell. J.T. Krul started off so strong on this title, I'd like to think that the reason he didn't stick the landing was the need to amend his plans for the title and for this particular arc to finish up his story lines before the inevitable relaunch. Unfortunately some cringe worthy dialogue here and there and some uninspired fight match ups suggest otherwise, but I will still choose to give Mr. Krul the benefit of the doubt and believe that if given more issues we would have seen a much stronger finale.

Last issue saw Superboy-Prime and a number of Titans' villains putting the current team on the ropes. The tide was turned when the entire roster of everyone who has ever been a Titan arrived to lend a hand. While I normally hate that particular cliffhanger, all the Titans showing up to join the battle, because it's been used at least 4 or 5 times within this particular volume, it worked in this instance, because it would not have been a proper send off without the entire family showing up to make an appearance. The issue ends with some really solid character beats that showcase all that potential that Krul had to offer this title. While the issue long brawl isn't the best I've seen, it does have some good moments, and the ending beats offer a nice if not perfect epilogue to these characters.

Nicola Scott continues to impress. Her line work is clean, her fight scenes are well choreographed, and her figures are a joy to watch in motion. She portrays the brutal super strength match up between Wonder Girl and Superboy-Prime just as well as the super speed duel between Kid Flash and Inertia. Mark my words, give it a few years, and she will be the artistic headliner on a DC event book. The artistic pin up gallery in the back is less impressive. The work looks rushed, and fails to highlight the changes and evolution of the team the way editorial was intending.

Grade: B-
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