The Ultimates had a huge impact on superhero storytelling in both comics and movies, and this relaunch of the series looks like it’s intended to bring this title back to its former status as the centerpiece of the Ultimate Universe. Jonathan Hickman, one of Marvel’s Architects and a writer with something of a meteoric rise, has taken on the scripting duties, and Esad Ribic is the artist who’s tasked with filling Bryan Hitch’s Giant Man-sized shoes. While I don’t think this comic is as good as Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s original run on The Ultimates, I still think it’s an enjoyable read if you like widescreen comics.
This issue opens on Thor entering “The City” of this series’s antagonists “The Children of Tomorrow”. Thor is looking for revenge because the Children of Tomorrow destroyed Asgard and all of his godly brethren. I was immediately struck by the quality of Esad Ribic’s art. He has a highly detailed style and he illustrates the futuristic architecture of The City as this expansive, hyper-advanced skyline of streamlined buildings. Part of what made the first volume of The Ultimates so successful was Bryan Hitch’s art that emphasized intense attention to detail and an almost photo realistic style. It seems like Ribic is a good choice to work on this series that was so defined by Hitch’s style. Ribic’s style is not to ape the original artist on The Ultimates, but rather he has his own artistic approach that captures the detail and realistic portrayal of superheroes that arguably made the series so appealing.
If there’s one thing that Jonathan Hickman writes very well, it’s super-science. His vision of The City as a metropolitan pinnacle of ultra-technology is a pretty cool concept. He has Thor, a man of mysticism, magic, and fantasy, exploring The City to find a room in which new Children of Tomorrow are grown in glass wombs. The caretaker woman of this fetus factory tells Thor not to disturb the developing Children because “In vitro mathematics requires complete concentration”. The idea that The Children are so advanced that they learn high level mathematics while they’re in the womb was a fun, hyperbolic bit of pseudoscience. Although I’m unclear if this was Hickman or Ribic’s idea, I was also impressed with the detail of the caretaker woman having a stylized image of a sperm cell reaching an egg on her dress.
Thor discovers the captured Captain Britain about to be vivisected and incinerated like the rest of the European super soldiers. Thor rescues Captain Britain only to be confronted by The Maker, the leader and creator of The Children of Tomorrow, and a team of his superscience goons. This action sequence is a showcase for Ribic’s art as we see the God of Thunder versus a team of hyper-advanced science soldiers. It’s the power of magic and fantasy up against the power of unimaginably sophisticated science, and since any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, there is promise for this to be a compelling match up. However, The Maker’s blade equipped servant “First Knife” takes out Thor with what looked like barely any effort, which made the fight slightly disappointing to me. Even though the battle was a little on the short side, Ribic’s portrayal of Ultimate Thor unleashing his lightning-tinged rage on The Children of Tomorrow was fun and well illustrated. The Maker ends up sending a humiliated and beaten Thor back to Nick Fury with a message basically amounting to “back off and nobody gets hurt”, a proposed truce as long as Fury allows the Children of Tomorrow to do whatever they want, and the reveal of who he really is under that mask.
Overall, this is an enjoyable widescreen comic with good art and an interesting superscience antagonist. The Children of Tomorrow are an opportunity for Hickman to write the superscience he’s so good at and it also gives Ribic room to run with his extremely detailed images of futuristic cityscapes. While this series doesn’t quite recapture the lightning in a bottle that made the original run on The Ultimates so influential, it’s a fun read with good writing and art.