So you’ve just walked out of the Avengers. Your mind is buzzing with the awesomeness of the action, and all you are craving is to get another fix. It’ll be at least a couple of years until the next movie so you are going to have to read a few comics. While there are many great Avengers stories out there, there is only one that will really do the trick, and was in fact the direct inspiration for much of the movie universe.
The Ultimates Volumes 1: Super-Human
Written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch
Published by Marvel comics
Launching in 2002 this is a re-imagining of the Marvel Universe for modern times, . There’s no question that this is a key source not just for the Avengers movie but the whole ‘Marvel’ series of films that lead up to it.
An outstanding collaboration from writer Mark Millar and artist Brian Hitch this book develops a super heroics in the real world with real consequences sensibility. Hitch’s art goes for wide-screen action and Millar aims to bring a gritty realism to the dialogue while still keeping a fun light-hearted tone.
Traditionally in Marvel comics Nick Fury is a gnarled old WWII vet with an eyepatch, these guys had the idea to turn him into a black guy who looks like Samuel L Jackson. Six movies and counting late… I hope he’s bought Millar and Hitch a few beers along the way.
The story kicks off in a plane full of Marines in 1945, Captain America is leading a mission to stop the Nazi’s last gasp effort of defeating the Allies with a nuclear weapon aimed at America. Cap leaps from a plane without a parachute to stop the threat, stomps some Nazi’s, has a few good lines, “What are you waiting for Ladies?! Christmas?” and jumps onboard the rocket just as it takes off. He manages to set it off early to save Washington but get’s blown into the Arctic for his trouble. We then cut to the current day where Billionaire Tony Stark is finishing a six-week fast on Mt Everest and preparing to make the world a better place.
Nick Fury and SHIELD are assembling a team to fight the growing menace of mutants and super villains and have a team of scientists to help create their own heroes. Dr Bruce Banner experimented with his own Captain American serum but instead turned into the Hulk and destroyed Harlem. Fury gives him a second chance under the supervision of Dr Hank Pym. He is developing his own potion to grow him 60 foot tall and playing with a helmet that allows him to talk to ants. Pym has already helped his wife Jan to become the Wasp, she can shrink down, grow wings and fire bio-electric blasts from her hands.
Nick Fury is attempting to recruit self claimed Norse God/possible mental patient Thor to the team but he is refusing unless the US changes its Foreign policy. He may or may not be crazy but he does appear to be able to control the weather, fly and swing a very big hammer.
They stumble upon Captain America frozen in a block of ice and thaw him out to lead the team. Of course he does first freak out at the news he has lost fifty years, escapes his hospital room, elbows Fury in the face and requires Giant Man to control him.
I won’t go into the rest of the plot but it involves an epic battle through Manhattan with everyone getting a chance to shine and Captain America dropping a tank on the Hulk.
I really enjoy this book. Hitch’s realistic, expressive yet explosive art suits the tone they are aiming for so well and while some of Millar’s pop culture references are dated (Freddie Prinze jr?) his characterisation of this team of strangers is great. Just like the film it takes a crisis for them to bond in battle and once they do, unlikely yet strong friendships form. It is perhaps best read along with volume 2* as they form one complete story but this is a great, compact Avengers tale to keep you going between multiple screenings of the film.
Should I read it? Yes, it’s the comic that inspired much of the movie, and if you are looking for more this is it.
Buy it? Again yes, maybe get it in the bigger edition that combines this and volume 2.
* Ultimates 2 by the same creative team is also rad and continues the story started here. Ultimate Thor by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco is where to go if you want more of Loki being the manipulative God of Lies and Mischief.