Thumbnail: Starting With The Impossible in Ewing and Rocafort’s Post-Ultimate ‘Ultimates’
How do you do an Ultimates series post-Secret Wars, without the Ultimate Universe? The original series by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch was supposed to be a reimagining of the Avengers concept for the 21st century, and had significant influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both narratively and visually.
After the events of Secret Wars, we no longer have an Ultimate Universe, but we do have a new Ultimates comic by Al Ewing, Kenneth Rocafort and Dan Brown. Four issues in, they’re re-imagining and redefining what a superhero team can be in the twenty-first century, just like the original volume did fourteen years ago.
The Ultimates has the tag-line, “The Impossible Is Where They Start”, and Ewing and Rocafort don’t mess around, as their first mission sets the team towards turning Galactus from a destructive devourer to a force for good. The line-up builds on what Ewing has been working towards with his run on Mighty Avengers with characters like The Blue Marvel and Spectrum, but the additions of Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Ms. America raise the stakes to the appropriate multiversal level.
In many ways, The Ultimates feels influenced by the early 2000s work of Warren Ellis, especially Planetary, which was published through Wildstorm, with art by John Cassaday. Planetary’s remit was about keeping the world weird, and the series celebrated the utter bizarreness of ongoing superhero fiction, featuring analogs of the Fantastic Four, Monster Island, Nick Fury and many more.
Just like Planetary, The Ultimates isn’t about weird science and voyages to new dimensions as much as it is about the relationship between individuals and how important our humanity is. The mission statement for the book came in an eight page story in Avengers #0, where America Chavez fixed a hole in the universe with dancing --- or as the title of the story refers to it as, the opposite of kicking.
Al Ewing has been sowing the seeds for a book like The Ultimates for a couple of years now, dating back to the earliest issues of his Mighty Avengers run, which brought another Ellis concept, Nextwave, officially into continuity after a decade of uncertainty. Within the pages of Mighty Avengers, Ewing reinvented Monica Rambeau as Spectrum, and has slowly been turning Adam Brashear, The Blue Marvel, into a lynchpin of the Marvel Universe, more vital than ever in a Reed Richards-less world.
Adam plays a similar role to Elijah Snow in Planetary, as a brilliant man who has experienced roughly a century’s worth of how weird superhuman universes can be, although he seems to be handling it slightly better than Snow at the start of Planetary. In the most recent issue, however, we’re reminded how human and occasionally petty Adam can still be, and it reveals a side of him that his teammates, and we as the readers, have yet to see.
In Adam and his nemesis, The Anti-Man, Ewing explores two sides of what you could call a “Doctor Manhattan” archetype, as both men were gifted with perhaps too much power, and they took very different paths from there. Anti-Man viewed humanity as being as small to him as ants, while it was Adam’s family that kept him grounded --- but is he a hypocrite for offering redemption to Galactus, and not to the man who murdered his wife?
Kenneth Rocafort’s art gels with the weirdness of Ewing’s stories, and it’s no surprise that his last Marvel work was a dimension hopping Mojoworld story written by Jonathan Hickman. Just like the story itself, Rocafort’s panels seem to exist outside traditional space and time, overlapping and criss-crossing while maintaining the crucial narrative flow from one to the next.
It feels like superhero comics have been waiting on the next big existential epic for at least a couple of years, and now we have several worthy contenders to the throne, including The Omega Men, Midnighter, and even The Ultimates' sister book, New Avengers (also by Ewing). With The Ultimates, the bar has already been set so high for what its team can accomplish that it’s going to be very exciting to see where Ewing and Rocafort can go from here.