About the Author:
Mark Millar is from Glasgow, Scotland.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
3.1 out of 5
(Art by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Mark Morales, John Dell and Tim Townsend)
When the mistake of a group of young superheroes leads the deaths of six hundred innocent people, events are set in motion that lead to Marvel's most ambitious 'event' storyline yet. With the U.S government calling for the registration and control of all superhumans the Marvel Universe is split in two. Many choose to back Iron Man in his support of the governmental measures, but some, led by Captain America, refuse to surrender their freedom, becoming fugitives.
I really enjoyed the fact that Millar uses our favourite heroes to illustrate a problem in the America of the real world; the constant war between security and civil rights. I very much saw Captain America's Secret Avengers as the good guys here, whilst Iron Man's group seem to me to be oppressive and fascistic.
I enjoyed seeing which heroes chose which side and why, particularly in the cases of the Punisher and the Invisible Woman. Comics very often use the phrase 'no holds barred' to highlight clashes between characters, but here it's very true as both sides use their knowledge of their former friends on the other side.
Perhaps the most interesting story thread is that of Spider-Man. At first he supports Iron Man, even going so far as to unmask himself as Peter Parker on TV. However, the death of a friend in one of the battles and the creation of a Guantanamo Bay-style superhero internment camp lead him to reconsider his position and join the rebels.
The most poignant element of this book (look away now if you don't like spoilers), is that in the end the good guys lose.
5 out of 5
(Art by John Romita Jr. and Tom Palmer)
Comic book fanboy Dave Lizewski decides to don a mask and emulate his comic book idols by fighting crime as Kick-Ass. However, he soon discovers that crimefighting is far tougher and more violent than he'd imagined and things only become more complicated when he encounters the mysterious Big Daddy and his pyschopathic daughter Hit-Girl.
A very post-modern take on superheroes, this book takes the novel approach of having its heroes be ordinary people who have, perhaps, read one-too-many comic books. In this respect Dave is actually a fairly believable central character, struggling with all the anxieties, frustrations and hormones of a sixteen year old boy whilst, impossibly, deciding to gain a release from them by becoming Kick-Ass.
However, it is the gleefully ultra-violent Hit-Girl who is the standout character here, slaughtering criminals left, right and centre whilst sporting her Hello Kitty backpack. She's a brilliant cross between anti-heroes like the Punisher or Deadpool and a ten year-old girl.
I have to say that I read this book after already having seen the movie version. The problem is that the screen version is so faithful an adaption overall that, having seen it, there actually wasn't a huge amount in the book that was new for me (the exception being Big Daddy's past). I definitely wished I'd experienced it the other way around and if you get the chance, you should do so.
4 out of 5
The Ultimates Vol. 1: Super-Human
(Art by Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie)
General Nick Fury of SHIELD decides to put together a super-powered military unit, gathering together a group of scientists and soldiers tasked with guarding against super-villain attacks. But things do not go entirely smoothly and tensions within the Ultimates will lead one of them to break down and become the very thing the team was assembled to fight.
In case you're unfamiliar, Marvel's Ultimate universe was an alternate reality from the mainstream canon which allowed Marvel to modernise and reinvent their key characters without having to incorporate forty years of backstory. So, here we get a brand new origin for the Avengers, except of course they're not called the Avengers any more. All of the main characters get tweaked and updated, including Nick Fury, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp, Giant Man and the Hulk.
The problems begin when you realise that Millar's premise for reinventing these characters was to propose "What if all the Avengers were horrible people?". What we then get is a book focused on characters we know and love but who behave in ways that make them entirely unlikable (the possible exception being Tony Stark, but whilst likable, he's still an alcoholic womaniser). Don't get me wrong, the negative elements on display here aren't necessarily new aspects to the characters, but Millar turns them up to eleven and we end up with a things like a Hank Pym who bullies coworkers and terrorises his wife, a Captain America who gets on really well with George W. Bush and a Hulk who sets out to angrily rape Betty Ross. Instead of feeling like a deconstruction of the characters, it just feels like Millar sees the world through cynicism-tinted spectacles.
The other big problem I had with this book was the endless early 2000s pop culture references and name drops. Barely a page goes by without something like Betty dating Freddie Prinze Jr. or Tony Stark taking Shannon Elizabeth into space or something equally pointless and cringe-worthy. I suppose these moments are partially redeemed by references to Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson several years before those actors would eventually kick off the MCU in 'Iron Man'.
2 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Avengers - Blade Versus The Avengers
(Art by Steve Dillon)
Book 3. When a number of costumed heroes are mysteriously killed Nick Fury assembles the Avengers to investigate. However, the arrival of vampire hunter Blade reveals that the threat is much more dire than Fury imagined.
There is a very weird tone to this book. Millar has gone to great lengths up to this point to make his interpretation of the Marvel heroes edgy, realistic and mean, which continues here for the main Avengers, but then out of nowhere he drops in this strangely goofy story of Blade and the vampires. The two tones collide like a car crash and you spend the entire book trying to unpick the wreckage. Honestly it put me very much in mind of the bizarre horror/comedy tone of Robert Kirkman's 'Marvel Zombies'. Maybe that was the intention (was 'Marvel Zombies' making headlines when this was written maybe?).
The problem for me was that I actually enjoyed the Blade versus the vampires stuff here, with the Daywalker being the only likeable character in the whole book. I particularly liked the fact that he spends most of his time telling the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. how stupid they are. Because they absolutely are. Liking that element proves to be a problem because it's very much a minor aspect of the story and instead the focus is on dumb ideas like 'What if Nerd Hulk were a vampire and not a dweeb anymore?'. As I say, tonally it's weird.
The book ends with a major character death that lands with absolutely no impact and that's like a microcosm of the book as a whole. I think I would've rather just read an Ultimate Blade book.
2 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Avengers - Crime & Punishment
(Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz, Edgar Tadeo and Jeff Huet)
Book 2. Nick Fury recruits a new team of black ops Avengers to take down a super-powered killer who is hunting down some of America's wealthiest and most influential men. However, the Avengers find themselves unprepared to face the supernatural power of the Ghost Rider.
Millar's Ultimate universe work tends to be characterised by unnecessary violence and characters who are such awful people that it's very hard to get behind them as protagonists. To begin with this book was very much following that mould, opening with no fewer than eight straight pages of the Punisher just brutally murdering people. It gets worse with the introduction of Tyrone Cash, who's not just a bad person, but it a terrible character in general. Seriously, we're supposed to buy the concept that not only did Bruce Banner have a British mentor who also became a Hulk but also that, despite being a scientific genius, he then became a psychotic Cockney gangster. The fact that he's a horrible homophobe didn't help matters either.
So, it felt like business as usual for Millar; introducing us to alternate versions of familiar character who are just all horrible and then have them going around being graphically violent for no reason. However, when Ghost Rider actually enters the story it actually suddenly becomes much better. Rather than simply senseless violence, the stories behind Ghost Rider and the Punisher actually twist the tone to righteous vengeance in the tail end of the book and it's a tone much more in keeping with those characters.
My biggest criticism of Millar has always been that he makes beloved heroes into something they shouldn't be, but here he finally seems to have found some heroes who fit his idiom and it makes for a better book as a result. Still not enough to redeem the front half of the book, but at least it shows potential.
3 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Avengers - Next Generation
(Art by Carlos Pacheco, Dexter Vines, Danny Miki, Allen Martinez, Victor Olazaba and Tom Palmer)
After the events of 'Ultimatum' the Red Skull steals a weapon of terrifying power from the Fantastic Four and subsequently Captain America goes rogue. Called back out of the shadows, Nick Fury puts together a black ops team, the Avengers, to solve both problems.
Somehow I always forget how mean-spirited the Ultimate universe is. It likes to pretend that it's Marvel Comics for adults, but in reality it's more Marvel Comics for sadists. The Ultimate universe's chief mean-spirited sadist Mark Millar was therefore brought on board to launch this new Avengers series. So, if what you want from your Avengers stories is rape, torture and a misogynistic xenophobic Captain America, then this is the book for you.
Now, I'm far from averse from brutal stories but here it seems to be violent for the sake of being violent or sweary for the sake of being sweary. The heightened brutality doesn't really add anything to the story itself. It could easily have been used to give the Red Skull some genuine darkness as a villain, since much of the truly horrific stuff is his handiwork, but in the final confrontation Millar decides to play the Skull's megalomania for laughs, totally undercutting what could've been a truly chilling antagonist.
All that said, there are hints of things I liked here. For one, I was intrigued by the idea of the Ultimates being the PR-friendly super-team, whilst Fury creates the Avengers specifically to do the dirty jobs. But honestly, if you want a dark version of the Avengers, you're far better off reading Brian Michael Bendis' 'Dark Avengers' set in the mainstream Marvel continuity.
2 out of 5
Ultimate Comics: Avengers Vs. New Ultimates - Death Of Spider-Man
(Art by Leinil Yu, Stephen Segovia, Gerry Alanguilan, Jason Paz and Jeff Huet)
Following directly on from 'Blade Versus The Avengers', this book sees the Avengers discovering a plot that suggests Carol Danvers is a traitor to the United States, whilst simultaneously the Ultimates uncover similar treason with Nick Fury implicated. The two teams are therefore set on the path towards all-out war between them.
The set-up for this book sounds a bit contrived but given the established tensions between just about every hero and every other one in the Ultimate Universe, it's actually pretty believable that their dislike and distrust would leave them open to being pitted against one another. This is particularly true of the Ultimates, the PR-friendly superheroes and the Avengers, who are the cold-blooded black ops killers of the Ultimate Universe.
I actually found this to be the most enjoyable of Millar's Avengers stories with the tensions between the two teams making a strong core concept and the larger machinations of the person behind it all actually fitting nicely in to what has previous been established. There's also an interesting exploration of the geopolitical ramifications of America hogging most of the super-people.
There are two significant criticisms I would make of this book however. The first is that the villain of the piece calling out his plans as being like what 'ridiculous supervillains' would do is supposed to be meta and satirical but totally fails in that regard. Just repeating cliches but pointing out that you're repeating them doesn't make you clever (I'm looking at you Scream). The other criticism I'd make is that, despite the title and him being all over the cover, Spider-Man and his death actually have very little to do with this book.
4 out of 5