Ultimates

Hey Marvelites and non-Marvelites! For the next few weeks, we’re putting a spotlight on some of our favorite lesser known Marvel comic books and letting you know why you should be reading them! This week’s pick is THE ULTIMATES by Al Ewing, Kenneth Rocafort, Travel Foreman, and Dan Brown. 


The comic medium is an amazing thing. It mixes pictures and words together so beautifully, and it allows for a story to really express itself. There are some creators who simply use this medium to tell stories, but there are others who take it to the next level and really utilize the full potential. One of those creators is Al Ewing, a British comic book writer responsible for one of my personal favorite books, THE ULTIMATES. In this book, Ewing gathers a diverse cast with one mission: start with the impossible and solve the ultimate problems.

It should be noted that after CIVIL WAR II, the series was relaunched as THE ULTIMATES II. For the purpose of clarity, both series will be treated as one due to Ewing being the sole writer. 

A Diverse Cast

In THE ULTIMATES, the cast is not only diverse, but each character is completely relevant to the story. They’re there with a purpose. Four of the characters are people of color, and the one white hero is a woman. In an interview with Comics Alliance, Ewing stated the following when asked about the diverse cast:

I think it’s important in the way that a roof is important. If you’re moving into a building and the landlord says “oh, and we have — get this — a roof! And four walls! We’re not just a hole someone dug in the street!, you don’t start giving out medals for that. That’s just a basic thing that ought to be standard. It’s just fiction reflecting reality — there are all kinds of people in the world, and we should reflect that properly and try not to screw up. To be honest, I think there’s a long way to go in a lot of ways, both on the page and off.

It makes no sense to have so many superhero teams where white is the majority. It isn’t reflective of the world. Plus, in a book like THE ULTIMATES, where the team is doing the impossible, different perspectives are a must. And that’s what we get. There’s America Chavez, a Latin-American woman from the Utopian Parallel. We have Captain Marvel, an experienced air pilot and Avenger. Black Panther is also on the team, the ruler of Wakanda. Blue Marvel, a scientist superhero from the fictional sixties, is also on the team. And, last but not least, rounding out the team, is Spectrum, a woman who has been on numerous teams throughout Marvel’s publication history.

Ultimates
In ULTIMATES II, America often took charge.

We not only receive different ethnic perspectives with this team, but we receive different ideas because of the origins, occupations, and ages of the team. Black Panther rules a country in Africa; America is a gay teen from a different reality; Blue Marvel and Spectrum are relatively older and wiser; Captain Marvel has military experience. Three of these heroes have a scientific background, while the other two have dabbled with space from their experience on the Avengers. They jive and they clash; there’s really no set leader. It’s like a family with a mission. For all the crazy space shenanigans that take place, the core of this book revolves around the character dynamic — a dynamic that’s fascinating because it’s reflective of the diverse world we truly live in.

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And, honestly, it’s refreshing just to see the roles these characters are playing. All the scientists on the team are black. The heavy hitter is a white woman. America is shown as a strong, loud, and independent woman, who knows what is right and doesn’t wait to listen to the men around her. Ewing shatters a lot of stereotypes in this book, and it’s awesome to see.

Lasting Effects on the Marvel Universe

Do you remember CIVIL WAR II? Remember how Thanos sort of started it all? His first post-SECRET WARS appearance occurred in THE ULTIMATES. The same goes for the Molecule Man, who was the catalyst of SECRET WARS. Eternity, another character that appears at the end of CIVIL WAR II, is also a major plot device in THE ULTIMATES. Why does this matter? Well, the series set up major events in the Marvel Universe. It introduced characters and concepts that eventually made their way into more mainstream books.

Without spoiling, there are other major characters and events that take place in the book, events that will undoubtedly be referenced again later down the line in other Marvel comic books. This series is a lot like Dan Abnett’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a book that mainstreamed the Guardians and created characters who are now as relevant as Thor and Iron Man. Even though ULTIMATES has ended, there’s still a golden Galactus roaming around healing planets; there’s still the lasting friendship of the five Ultimates; there are still stories to be told from the reverberating decisions that have taken place in this story.

The Abstract World of Comics and Space

THE ULTIMATES is arguably genre defining. I say that with complete sincerity. It’s a space book that came out after SECRET WARS, a crossover event that literally shook that Marvel Universe and shuffled the playing field. The characters in this book explore the new Omniverse, working on abstract solutions for bizarre problems. An example of this is the reverse-engineering of Galactus.

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One of the first problems The Ultimates solve is the planet eater. We’re given his history, how he came to be, and we witness the device that turns Galactus into a life bringer. Instead of being purple and pink, he radiates with golden energy. The best part? Galactus becomes a hero in this series. He investigates what is wrong with Eternity, the abstract living entity that is the universe. He witnesses the corruption of Order and Chaos firsthand.

There’s even an instance where Galactus opens a floating door in the middle of space, only to find Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, sitting on a couch in a plain looking living room. This is the man who reconfigured the universe: even Galactus is frightened of him, yet we’re seeing them chatting on couches in space. It’s rather bizarre, but Ewing makes it seem so natural, and the artwork of Kenneth Rocafort helps paint it all beautifully.

ULTIMATES
In space, especially with Owen Reece, everything is figurative and metaphor.

If any of this seems confusing, just read the series. Galactus explains what is actually happening — literally and figuratively — in many of the scenes. At one point he even explains, “the Superflow is a conceptual space. At our level, combat is metaphor.” What does this mean? We’re seeing abstract thoughts. It’s rather meta, and it’s rather amazing. Experienced Marvel readers will recognize these space entities and ideas, while new readers will have a basic understanding that will encourage them to dig through the back issues at their local comic shop. The other cast members of the Ultimates also give relevant background information at the beginning of each issue. This catches up old readers while refreshing more experienced fans.

The Artwork of THE ULTIMATES

The artwork of THE ULTIMATES is breathtaking. Kenneth Rocafort’s drawing style compliments Ewing’s storytelling to an amazing degree. It’s very unique, but also seems very inspired by 80’s and early 90’s Marvel cosmic artwork. When I look at Rocafort’s depictions of space, I think of Jim Starlin’s THE INFINITY GAUNTLET and SILVER SURFER, where George Perez and Ron Lim showed comic fans the wonders of space.

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But Rocafort clearly has his own agenda. He focuses on the abstract instead of the literal. When a character is talking of the vastness of the cosmos, the dimensions of everything no longer matter. Rocafort appears more interested in the design of certain space clouds, or different galaxies, or the shape of planets and wormholes more so than how they’re properly separated amongst the stars. I like this a lot because it adds to Ewing’s idea that everything in this high level of space is metaphor.

Ultimates

Space is so incredibly empty when you think about it, so portraying it in this abstract way makes the book much more entertaining. It also helps that the artwork is absolutely stunning. Dan Brown’s colors are a big reason for this, where the smooth purple and pink hues he applies to Rocafort’s depictions of space really fit well. In THE ULTIMATES II, the story post-CIVIL WAR II, Travel Foreman took over most of the artwork. His depictions of space were a little more subtle than Rocafort’s, but his drawings of people were raw and real. There are many situations where characters like Spectrum and Blue Marvel are speaking to one another, and Foreman’s artwork paints the emotions exquisitely.

Final Thoughts on THE ULTIMATES

THE ULTIMATES is an important book. When we at ComicsVerse launched this weekly suggested reading series, THE ULTIMATES had not had its final issue. On August 16th, the series ended with wonder. Thankfully Ewing was able to tell his full story, but the sales for the book were relatively always questionable. And that’s sad for two reasons. The first reason is that this is a fun book that needs more fans to simply inspire. It’s certainly changed my way of thinking, causing me to Google countless space phenomenons. The second reason, and perhaps this is why the book couldn’t be canceled even if nobody bought the book, is that it provided groundwork for the Marvel Universe as a whole. It continuously referenced cosmic events that affected stories like SECRET WARS and CIVIL WAR II.

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THE ULTIMATES is an important book because it actually matters. It’s not just a book about space. It’s also a book that breaks boundaries and challenges the comic medium, something we need to see more of. Here’s to whatever next Marvel cosmic book comes out in the future.

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