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The Ultimates #13
writer: Mark Millar
artist: Bryan Hitch

The last issue of The Ultimates left us with a great heaping helping of cliffhanger as Bruce Banner was thrown out of a chopper towards the Chitauri forces below. Frikkin' awesome.

This nigh double-sized continues with the screaming Banner plummeting toward the Earth, hulking out just before impact and tearing through the ranks of the alien army. Spotting Captain America in the fray, Hulk immediately grabs him and prepares to SMASH, but Cap knows enough about the green guy's mindset now to direct his attention to Kleiser, the shape-changing Chitauri who's proven himself impervious to all Cap's attacks thus far.

Not having the ability to shape-shift into a pair of slacks, he is wandering around in the buff, so Cap points out to Hulk that this is because Kleiser was, apparently, giving Betty Ross a bit more than the time of day while Banner was in solitary confinement. Naturally, Hulk no like, and he proceeds to beat Kleiser into a fine paste.

Then we shift to Wasp and Black Widow trying to disarm the bomb that's about to turn Earth into a fine cloud of kitty litter in orbit around the moon. Widow finally realizes they need Tony Stark to quit flying around and use his computer genius to save the day, and Stark proves to be an even keener mind by suggesting they just have Thor teleport the thing into another reality. Widow, for some reason, still seems to doubt Thor's powers and gives us an earful, but, naturally, Thor saves the day, while Hulk finishes gnawing on Kleiser's bones just in time for Cap to tell him all the Chitauri ships floating overhead are piloted by a bunch of guys who called Hulk queer, and Hulk proceeds to create the world's largest scrapyard.

The plot finally wraps with a party at the White House, Wasp and Giant Man's relationship almost totally dissolved and Nick Fury grinning like a schmuck at the prospect of Cap finally getting laid.

I have to say they really ended Volume One with a whimper. Most people may disagree with that statement, especially when considering the slow pace and slow release schedule so much of the volume had, but it definitely feels like our big climactic moments came in the last issue. Is Thor going to be able to teleport the bomb away? Well, duh! Even if it IS Ultimate Thor, there are no doubts there. More so, since it's the end of Volume One and we know Volume Two's just around the corner (actually, a long long corner far away - Derek), it's obvious that they're going to win once Hulk crashes onto the scene, so most of the suspense relies on the action alone, which doesn't quite live up to the visceral pleasure of the last issue (though it's hard to think of much topping Thor's chain lightning raking through the Chitauri fleet).

Perhaps reading the entire volume as one story will give this issue more strength, but after the… my God… five month wait since the last issue, I wanted to see some serious, unrelenting beating of ass, not the constant back and forth chattering, heavy exposition, and endless hand-holding that makes the dialogue a chore to read (especially when you'd much rather absorb Bryan Hitch's art than Mark Millar's prattle). Maybe I'm still a tad bitter that he changed The Authority from the ultimate power fantasy into cheap shock theater, but Millar's approach to storytelling just can't compete with Hitch's eye-popping visuals.

And that's what it feels like, at times: a competition. Millar does a fine job in the world of soap-opera superhero comics, but, when combined with Hitch's widescreen aesthetics, there seems to be a constant struggle going on between word and image, rather than a collaboration. Millar's usually smarter than this, letting Hitch's artwork often stand unblemished in a number of issues of The Ultimates.

Here, however, Millar's incapable of going half a page without adding some superfluous dialogue (with the notable exceptions of the two page "Hulk-out" spread and the full page "end of battle" shot. Heck, I'll also throw in Hulk's pummeling of Kleiser, since he really doesn't say more than "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" for a full page). Flooding a panel with dialogue isn't necessarily a bad thing, but comics need to move past the days of characters fitting entire sonnets in between punches, and since The Ultimates has been touted as the next step in the action-packed superhero genre, I think it goes double here.

Then there's the general quality of the dialogue. A great writer who I can't remember enough to properly attribute a quote to, so I'll just say it was Bendis to make the fanboys happy… anyway, Bendis probably might have said that there are a lot of times, when writing, that you think of a perfect gag to put in a scene, and you often have to drop that gag because it kills the flow of the story. This is a lesson Millar could stand to learn, since so much of his writing seems based upon the notion of inserting random and, usually, raunchy jokes and gags into the middle of a scene. When it works, it's hysterical ("Hulk want Freddie Prinze Junior!" and "You think this letter on my head stands for FRANCE?" readily come to mind), but the constant babbling and desperate grabs for a laugh such writing entails drag the whole book down.

Then there are Millar's penchants for occasional toilet humor and hyper-sexualizing female characters. I'm not saying that Betty Ross getting turned on by the fact that Bruce Banner ate another man while he was Hulk is too offensive for comics, but how can you look at that character without cringing from now on? And all for a gag? Bad choice, Mark.

Overall, the issue wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't the big ending I was hoping for. Killing off an Ultimate could have been fun, or just letting Hitch go completely wild with the Hulk rampage might have sated my hunger for sweet, delicious violence, but this wrap-up was just a bit too much like the way Millar closed his run on Ultimate X-Men: a "favorite son" has left the team, they have a big party, a previously dismissed romance seems to be heating up, Nick Fury's strutting around like he owns the place and we find the team's nemesis sealed in an inescapable plastic prison (though one significantly different from Magneto's hanging cube).

Not a horrible ending, but not the "frikkin' awesome" of the last issue.


Jason Schachat

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