Hey everybody, welcome back to Comic Book’s new ongoing column Required Reading. In case you missed the first installment, which can be found here, Required Reading is simply us here at Comic Booked trying to highlight some of the books you may not have read that we think are a cut above the rest. Last time I took a look at the first volume of Brian Michael Bendis’s and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers. Powers is a little known book that I fell everyone should read. This week however, I decided to talk about something a little different. With tonight being the midnight release of The Avengers, one of the most anticipated movies of the year, or possibly ever, I decided to take a look at one of the lesser known Avengers books, The Ultimates. The first volume of The Ultimates was written by the amazing Mark Millar with the art duties covered by Bryan Hitch. The first volume of The Ultimates was 13 issues plus one annual and ran from March of 2002 until April of 2003.
The Ultimates is what the Avengers team looks like in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. For fans who may be ignorant of the Ultimate universe or just not fans of Marvel, the Ultimate universe is a series of books that Marvel runs that contains many of the same characters as the regular 616 continuity but is quite different in many other ways. Plots unfold differently in the Ultimate universe, beloved heroes die far more frequently and realistically, and many of the standing explanations of events are drastically different (The Wasp is a Mutant for example and does not get her powers from Pym Particles). This line of comics is actually one of the biggest source materials for the various Avengers related movies, in fact in one of the first issues Nick Fury actually says “Samuel L. Jackson” when asked who would play him in a movie.
The Ultimates in this universe are put together by S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury. The core of the early team are Tony Stark A.K.A. Iron Man, Hank and Janet Pym A.K.A. Giant Man and The Wasp and is rounded out by a recently thawed out Steve Rogers. A.K.A. Captain America. Hank Pym along with Bruce Banner are tasked with using science to help develop a legion of super powered heroes to defend America against he rise in super powered crime and super powered terrorism. Pym does this by developing the technology that allows him to grow to massive size and that which allows him to control ants. Banner is instead tasked with cracking the secret to the original super solider formula. The first several issues follow the different logistical issues of putting a team such as this together, lay out the back story of several of the characters, and show Fury’s initial failed attempts at recruiting Thor for the team. The every day monotony of putting the team together comes when Bruce Banner’s personal life reaches a boiling point and he makes the fateful decision to inject himself with both the Hulk Serum and his version of the Super Solider Serum. Banner tries to justify his actions as a way to give The Ultimates credibility by letting them defeat a super powered threat but his actions have dire consequences. Not long after his horrible lapse of judgement, however long enough to have killed dozens of people and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property, the Hulk is engaged by The Utimates. While the threat of the Hulk is eventually quelled, this story doesn’t have a typically happy story book ending, but I’m not going to ruin that for those of you who haven’t read it.
While The Ultimates features many of the Marvel characters we have known and loved for decades, it shows them in very different ways and in far different circumstances then we are used to. That being said, I firmly believe this particular story line will be the closest source material to the Avengers movie which debuts at midnight tonight in North America. While I enjoy the books written about nearly every team with the Avengers name attached to them, it is always refreshing to come back to such a straight forward book without the convoluted back stories and and years of history to take into account. Beyond the simplicity of the storyline, The Ultimates is written rather well, has amazing artwork and a gripping storyline. So when you go to see the Avengers this summer and emerge from the theater with an urge to buy Avengers Comics, I urge you to pick up the trades of the first volume of The Ultimates. It is required reading after all.