Monday, February 11, 2013

Ultimate Comics “New Ultimates: Thor Reborn” (Marvel)

UC-NewUltimates-ThorRebornWriter: Jeph Loeb | Artist: Frank Cho | Colorist: Jason Keith, w. Brad Anderson & Matt Millla

The devastating events of Ultimatum robbed the world of some of its most courageous heroes. Now, it’s up to Iron Man to gather those that survived to become the New Ultimates.

With the Odinson trapped in Valhalla, the team stand little chance when Loki unleashed the worst of Asgard upon the Earth. Their only hope of survival lies with Thor. But in order to escape from the land of the dead, he must be prepared to make a deal with the darkest of forces.

Collects: Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates #1-5

Another book in Marvel’s “Ultimate” line, this tells of an alternative timeline to Marvel’s “main” titles. The Ultimate initiative was basically that “anything goes”. Characters that die, will not come back in this setting. Which makes a nice change. This book, while beautifully rendered (if in an exaggerated manner), did not live up to my expectations. There’s certainly some very good content, but the story was let down by some flaws that I hadn’t expected form veteran writer Loeb.

Set shortly after the mega-Event, Ultimatum, only a few super heroes have survived Magneto’s rampage. In an attempt to pick up the pieces, Iron Man assembles some of the last remaining, living heroes to form a new team of Ultimates – those who will face the largest threats to Earth.

One of the fatalities of Ultimatum was Thor. With the Odinson gone, Loki takes his revenge unleashing the worst of Asgard on Earth. Iron Man must gather the heroes for their biggest Ultimates adventure yet. But who has made the final cut? And who can't be trusted? The Ultimates face evil once again and you'll never guess the new enemies they'll find...or should we say old friends?

To be honest, I was a little bit confused about what was going on (I will clearly have to read Ultimatum, I suppose...). Each of the five chapters that make up this book is told from a different perspective: Iron Man, Captain America, Valkyrie, Loki and Thor.

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For most of the first chapter, Tony Stark looks back on what’s happened in the wake of Ultimatum. He also thinks about the cancer he developed, and how it has gone into remission. He does all of this while fighting some bad guys going by “The Defenders” (though they look and act far more like “The Attackers”...). It interesting to learn about some of the different allegiances in this setting – for example, in the Ultimate Universe, Black Widow has been a very naughty agent double-crosser:

“She killed Jarvis, slaughtered Hawkeye’s family. Kids. Sold us all out. And pinned it neatly on Captain America. The cancer may have gone after my brain… But the Black Widow broke my heart.”

Something that stood out from each of these chapters was the “emo” quality they all had. Stark is a bit too sorry for himself. In the second chapter, Captain America is also rather mopey, too. He takes out his frustrations on Valkyrie (he’s actually quite a dick to her).

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Captain America? More like Captain Asshole.
Also? That painting of Thor makes this room rather creepy… (See below.)

After Loki launches his attack, Captain America helps the remaining Ultimates hold back the beasts the Trickster has unleashed on New York. He does it with the worst rallying cry ever:

“This is where we hold the line. And kick them all the way back up the rainbow bridge.”

Helping Loki is another god-like being, Amora, who is going around the Avengers headquarters and brainwashing all the womenfolk. This makes them despise and turn on all the menfolk. I had hoped this might give the characters a way to come out from under the shadows of the “mightier” and more-famous male characters, but no.

The third chapter, told from the perspective of Barbara “Valkyrie” Norris was quite strange. I haven’t come across the character before (not that I’m aware of, at any rate), so I don’t know how she’s portrayed in other comics or series. But here Loeb paints a rather pathetic picture of a stalker groupie, who is willing to sleep her way into the presence of the man she’s obsessed with (Thor, of course). Added to the treatment she gets from Captain America, she takes an absolute beating, and really doesn’t come across well at all. I’m not really sure what the point of the chapter was, except to paint her in an incredibly bad, pathetic light.

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That is a very ill-thought-through outfit, Valkyrie…

Chapter Four is from Loki’s perspective, and he… spends most of the time whining about his father loving his brother more. Again. Still. Whatever. The narrative tone was becoming a bit of a distraction by this point. But, Thor is a complete badass when we see him again…

UC-NewUltimates-04-Interior3And finally, the fifth chapter, is narrated by a very angry Thor: “My ANGER will not be quelled – You will know my WRATH!” There’s a lot of that sort of thing. Lots of thunder and lightning, very, very frightening.

I should bring up Thor’s part in rest of the story, actually. For much of the book, he’s in the underworld, serving (and also, um, servicing) Hela – she wants an heir, Thor’s the strongest male in her domain, so she decides he needs to fulfill her needs in exchange for perhaps being allowed to go back to the real world.

The artwork is pretty great. It’s Frank Cho, after all: clear, sharp lines, little ambiguity and huge set-pieces. It is, however, all a bit typical-comics (all of them, men and women, have the most exquisitely sculpted, athletic bodies – eight-packs all around! – not to mention substantial bosoms and hourglass figures for the women). The women, while distractingly fantasy-esque, are at least muscled as well – so they actually have the appearance of highly-trained athletes as opposed to super-models with super-powers… If that makes sense. (Zarda looks a little like WWE wrestler Chyna – below.) Sadly, there are also a lot of provocative poses from the women, or unnecessarily revealing ‘camera-angles’, often in situations when I’m pretty sure the last thing that would be on their minds would be “looking sexy”. Given everything else, I’m not entirely convinced this comic would pass the Bechdel Test.

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Oh, and a pregnant hell goddess really should not wear a thong… It looks decidedly uncomfortable…

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This is better than Mark Millar’s very-disappointing The Ultimates, which I thought was a rather “meh”. But this is still a bit lackluster. I think Loeb did a much better job with Ultimate Comics: X-Origins, so I'm actually going to soon be reading Ultimate Comics: X-Men (written by Nick Spencer, but growing out of Loeb’s five-part mini-series nevertheless). I’m not sure what to make of this story. It was silly, but in a slightly redeeming way. Valkyrie was unfairly portrayed, perhaps, and I don’t know why we were shown such an unflattering picture of her. It was a bit too teenage-angst-like. Perhaps it’s because I’m missing much of the back-story, but the Ultimate Comics setting has been a bit hit-and-miss thus-far. I really liked Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and the aforementioned X-Origins, but The Ultimates wasn’t too great, and neither was this. A real pity.

It hasn’t put me off Loeb’s work, by any means – I’ll be reading his Daredevil Legends: Yellow in the very near future, and I would certainly like to read his critically-acclaimed Batman arcs (The Long Halloween, Haunted Knight, and Dark Victory).

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Original Issue Covers

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