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This article is part of a series of spotlight articles on the winners of the  Broken Frontier Awards 2005 .

I’d put The Utlimates 2 up against anything that appeared on the big screen in 2005. In fact, if I’m a filmmaker looking for tips on high-concept drama and action, with enough real-world subtext to rock my audience’s world long after the credits roll, then I pay as much attention to Millar and Hitch as I do to Jerry Bruckheimer, Peter Jackson, or The Wachowskis.

The Ultimates 2 is that good, and that’s why it won Broken Frontier’s Superhero Comic Of The Year Award.

A half-decade ago, Warren Ellis re-defined the super-team comic with The Authority, and while its influence will be felt for years to come, Mark Millar is redefining the genre again by turning the Authority formula on its head. Of course a global-threat level super-team in the real world would need funding and governmental legitimacy. Of course it would sell its soul to become the symbol of American hyper-power and hegemony. Of course the personal lives of the heroes involved would be more difficult to manage than any superhuman threat. And of course they wouldn’t be taken down from a frontal assault, but piece by piece, without any of its members knowing until it was (almost) too late.

For its scope and intricacy, Millar’s plotting and pacing through nine issues can’t be called anything other than brilliant. The “one year later” jump is rife with narrative possibilities, and Millar, smartly, opened this series up in media res with more consequences than backstory. We found The Ultimates literally on top of the world, having become sex symbols with that rare aura of celebrity only achieved by those who have saved New York City from The Hulk and the world from alien invasion. Theirs was the number dialed when no other heroes would do. And they would become the tip of the preemptive spear as post 9-11 America flexed its muscle and showed other nations who’s boss. But pride always comes before a fall, and soon The Ultimates began rotting from within. One piece at a time, one fallen hero at a time—starting with The Hulk, then Thor, then Hawkeye, then Captain America—an unseen enemy crippled them, and by the time Grand Theft America was in full effect, those left could barely fight back.

In scripting a season-long arc that has yet to play out, Millar found drama where it’s found best—in the blindspots of his major characters. Thor’s underestimation of his half-brother. Tony Stark’s misguided love for the traitorous Natasha. Steve Rogers clinging to an idealized America no one’s seen for 50 years, if ever. Hank Pym’s utter weakness as a man. And, worst of all, Nick Fury’s hubris. Any super-villain worth his weight can deliver a crushing blow. But more crushing to a hero’s psyche, more devastating to the notion of what a hero is, is when that blow is delivered by heroes upon themselves. Watching it all play out, hoping that those who could see what was happening would do something made for some suspenseful reading. And while Millar kept up the tension and kept us guessing along the way, he also injected rich characterization and stunning action into the mix. And don’t forget humor. Issue #6, spotlighting the most un-aptly named The Defenders, was the funniest comics read of 2005. Clicking on every cylinder wasn’t enough for Millar in 2005. He found an extra gear, one that made The Ultimates 2 the wildest ride of the year. 

Bryan Hitch won Broken Frontier’s Mainstream Artist of the Year award. Why? He’s the complete package, and the pages speak for themselves. Dig the realism he brings to bear no matter the scale. The New York skyline, the steely resolve in Captain America’s eyes, the lack of such in Janet’s, the Statue Of Liberty as she crashes, Jarvis taking one to the head. From the grand to the small, from the operatic to the intimate, Hitch continually locks us in to the story with exquisitely rendered images. His uncanny talent is apparent in every aspect of his work on The Ultimates 2. There’s depth and dead-on perspective, suspense filled mood and atmosphere, meticulous detail and emotional nuance. His tight close-ups can make us feel like voyeurs, while his long-shots can be breathtaking. He frames talking head sequences with multiple angles and body language so that the images tell as much story as the words, but can as easily throw the reader into the thick of things when he cranks up the summer blockbuster action. And he constructs panels as well as anyone in the business, his work brimming with richness and texture married to an economy of line. But most of all, he’s a consummate storyteller. Every panel tells a story of its own, and yet each is seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative. All of these skills and sensibilities vibe so perfectly with Millar’s scripting that Hitch often seems as much a cinematographer as a penciller.

That The Ultimates 2 is a superhero comic shouldn’t fool anyone. More than anything else in our culture, it distills the fascination, ambivalence, and animosity with America’s geopolitical role in the 21st century. But though very much of its time, The Ultimates 2 also has the chance to become timeless.

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