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The Ultimates Return - Part 2

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In the second part of our look at the history of The Ultimates (part 1 can be read here) David Press examines the events of volume 2 of the popular Marvel series.

The second volume of the team’s adventures entitled The Ultimates 2, began in December 2004 and ended in May 2007. Millar stated that this volume would delve into contemporary issues more than the previous volume. The first run had focused on such issues as pre-emptive strikes, rogue nation classification, and especially the rising worldwide anti-American sentiment. Millar applied all of these themes into his and Hitch’s final volume of the series, wrapped within a super-hero context.

The second run examines the breakdown of the Ultimates as their individual personal issues pull the team apart. The first factor is the leaking of Bruce Banner’s alter ego being the Hulk. Public outcry calls for a trial and Banner is held responsible for the deaths of New Yorkers during the Hulk’s rampage.

The trial is a short one with Banner being sentenced to death by nuclear bomb. However, Hank Pym, in charge of the execution, sedates Banner so that he will wake up just before the bomb goes off and transform into the Hulk, thus surviving. Banner then drops off the grid until the final issue of The Ultimates 2.

The next plotline mirrors real world accusations of American expansionism. The Ultimates come under fire for exercising U.S. Foreign Policy in an incident in a Middle East country when they disarm its nuclear program. This draws massive criticism that America is establishing an empire similar to Rome and forces Thor to resign.

Following this, a videotape surfaces of Thor fighting with Italian riot police during an anti-war protest. Gunnar Golmen of the Norwegian branch of the European Defense Initiative comes forward and informs S.H.I.E.L.D that Thor is exactly what Black Widow said he was in the "Homeland Security," arc: an escaped mental patient who stole government weapons that give him his power.

Faced with a rogue hero, the Ultimates must apprehend him. During a fierce battle in the Norwegian wilderness with the Ultimates, Thor attests that his half brother Loki is the one responsible and is manufacturing evidence to tear the team apart. They ignore him and subsequently defeat him, imprisoning him in Banner’s former cell in the Triskelion, resulting in mass protests from Thor’s followers outside.

Gunnar Golmen comes in to treat Thor, but instead taunts him and reveals his true existence as Loki. In Millar and Hitch’s final arc on The Ultimates 2, entitled "Grand Theft America," the systematic breakdown continues with Thor informing Tony Stark there is a traitor in their midst.

Hank Pym, who in the previous volume had beaten and severely injured his wife Jan (The Wasp), has been thrown off the team as a result. Now moonlighting with a hapless vigilante group called the Defenders, Pym is also trying to market his Ultron robots to the highest bidder. Nick Fury turns him down, not wanting to have anything to do with him. Pym then comes to work for the mysterious traitor in the Ultimates’ ranks.

Following dinner one night with Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and The Wasp, Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and his wife settle down to clean up just as a strike team invades their home. Hawkeye’s wife and children are brutally murdered and he is captured. Video evidence that turns up shows it is Captain America who attacked the Bartons. He is arrested and imprisoned on the Triskelion.

Immediately after, a massive invasion force takes over the Triskelion, New York and Washington D.C. Despite their best efforts the Ultimates’ ranks are massively depleted because of the onslaught and are quickly overwhelmed.

This force, declaring themselves the Liberators, preaches they were created against the expansionist movement the Ultimates represent on behalf of U.S. Foreign Policy. The member countries (including Syria, North Korea, China, Russia and Iran) have created doppelganger versions of Ultimate teammates. Black Widow is revealed as the traitor in the Ultimates team. She had tortured Hawkeye to get the insider codes to break into the Ultimates infrastructure.

Members of the other American super teams are rounded up for execution just as Captain America, The Wasp, Hawkeye and Iron Man escape their captors. During the ensuing battle, a Super Soldier taskforce from the European Union appears on American soil dispatching Hank Pym’s Ultron robots and freeing Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. The Liberators are gradually picked off. On the verge of a win, Loki reveals his true self and threatens to bring the end of the world.

The Scarlet Witch teleports Thor from prison and into the midst of the events. Loki, in reaction, summons many beasts of Norse mythology to fight against the heroes. Thor calls in his own reinforcements in the form of Asgardian warriors and, as the battle rages, eventually gets the upper hand. Loki is defeated and Thor lets him be dealt with by their father, Odin.

Following the battle, Captain America informs Nick Fury that the Ultimates will thereafter be independent from the U.S. government to prevent such a confrontation occurring again. Hawkeye visits the injured Black Widow in a hospital bed and kills her to exact revenge for the death of his family.

With the latest issue that dropped into shops on Wednesday we get a new creative team onboard, establishing new looks and members (Black Panther and Valkyrie). Jeph Loeb with his new deal at Marvel, dips his fingers into the Ultimates pool and brings Joe Madureira back for a five-part arc. The revamped team finds new members Black Panther and Valkyrie.

Valkyrie’s first appearance was during Giant Man’s stint with the Defenders. She has now joined the team, and her super hero fetish established in that issue, has blossomed into a relationship with Thor. The upcoming arc, according to advance interviews centers on the Ultimates tackling the Brotherhood of Mutants and will bring in Wolverine and Spider-Man.

Some of the many themes established in Millar and Hitch’s run still resonate in this new issue. Captain America’s 1940s’ mentality inhibits the chemistry of the team, Giant Man’s abuse of Prozac takes a dangerous turn and Iron Man continues to drink even more heavily since an intimate video of himself and the Black Widow surfaced. Hawkeye is still dealing with the death of his family and is accused of having a death wish by the Wasp, who is now the team leader.

With this new and quite significantly different creative team it remains to be seen what issues will be dealt with in this series.

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