Back when I started reading comics, All-New, All-Different Marvel was just starting up. There were a ton of Avengers books, only one of which I read, and a book called Ultimates that looked weird and impenetrable to my newbie brain. As I entered spaces where people talked about comics, there was a lot of discussion on the writer of this series, Al Ewing — he apparently constantly had his books canceled and relaunched. Everyone agreed he was a talented writer, but it was a shame that he couldn’t get his books to sell well. That all changed fairly recently with the universally acclaimed Immortal Hulk, which gave Ewing pretty much all the respect that we all knew he deserved. The best part of all of this is that Marvel now knows that his name will sell books, so they’re reprinting and recollecting his older, lower-selling series for people to dig into. And let me tell you, Ultimates and Ultimates^2 are absolutely worth digging into now.
When the book gets to focus on the story it lays out early on, it’s arguably one of the greatest Marvel comics of all time. Black Panther, Captain Marvel, America Chavez, Monica Rambeau, and Blue Marvel band together to serve as the Multiverse’s paramedics — finding the ultimate solutions for the ultimate problems. And the book immediately sells you on the legitimacy of this quest by solving what may be the Marvel Universe’s greatest problem: Galactus. It’s one of the coolest moments I’ve read in any comic, and it happens in the second issue of this 22-issue run. As the story progresses, the stakes get higher and higher…or they would, if Ewing didn’t keep getting bogged down by Marvel’s penchant for line-wide crossovers in this era.
I feel like it’s not a hot take or shocking opinion to say that Civil War II was a bad event, and it was especially bad for Ultimates. Carol Danvers, one of the main characters of the book, is basically character assassinated in Civil War II by a writer who thinks that “we should arrest and persecute people before they’ve done anything wrong” is a reasonable side of a debate over precognition. And because Carol’s intended to be a hero through the whole thing, the Ultimates are basically forced to go along with it. And when the dam breaks, when Black Panther finally says he’s had enough, the rest of the Ultimates remain bland, milquetoast centrists. Blue Marvel and America both express their frustration and discomfort with Carol’s stance, but they both end the original run of Ultimates remaining friends with her and agreeing with her that Black Panther stepped out of line. It’s really frustrating to read, especially in a world where real people face persecution based on profiling. I think it puts a sour taste on pretty much the entire rest of the book, at least every page where Carol appears.
In spite of this very glaring problem though, Ultimates (and Ultimates^2) are a fantastic pair of series, and pretty much every creator in the collection does a great job. The first time I read the series I felt that Christian Ward and Travel Foreman were downgrades from Rocafort, but on this reread I can see every artist’s strengths and what they bring to the title. The art shifts are a little jarring, but at no point is the art not great. Kenneth Rocafort, Djibril Morrissette-Phan, Christian Ward, Travel Foreman, Aud Koch, and Filipe Andrade all bring unique styles and flairs to the table, and complete Ewing’s work in a way that I don’t know could be replicated by anyone else.
In general, the terms “underrated” and “overrated” are meaningless, but these two series were canceled before their primes and Ewing still managed to weave together some fantastic stories. They’re the definition of underrated. But the good news is they’re more accessible than ever, with this Complete Collection, and you have no excuse not to read them. None.
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