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The Ultimates 2 #5

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The Ultimates 2 #5

Credits

  • Words: Mark Millar
  • Art: Bryan Hitch
  • Inks: Paul Neary
  • Colors: Larry Molinar & Laura Martin
  • Story Title: ?The Passion?
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Apr 13, 2005

The Ultimates vs. Thor. Either the gods must indeed be crazy, or the crazy must indeed be gods.

Once again, the Ultimates take on a tougher job than saving the world from an outside threat—taking out one of their own. As when they fought the Hulk, down to the Wasp trying to do damage inside of Thor’s head, the fight is no holds barred, with even Hawkeye offering to put him down with a kill shot from his laser-guided bow. His belt confiscated, powerless, and bound in a straitjacket inside the same cell that one held Bruce Banner, Thor(lief) comes face to face with his brother, suspiciously resembling the man passing by as Thor conversed with Volstagg back in The Ultimates 2 #1. Gunnar, whom Thor(lief) believes is his evil brother Loki, taunts him, then drops a revelation that will either destroy the Ultimates or make Thor(lief) more paranoid than he already seems to be. Is Thorlief insane, or is Thor the only one who knows the real score? Perhaps one of his predictions ominously coming to pass provides a clue.

In another review I wrote about something very peculiar in Mark Millar’s work—that he’s a much better writer of characters that don’t belong to him than of characters that do. His work thus far on The Ultimates 2 proves it. With aspects of the writer’s craft—such as subtlety, depth of theme, and high stakes on both personal and global levels—that are absent from Millarworld titles like Wanted and Chosen, he’s cranking out the best superhero story to be found on the comics shelf and already has my early vote for Writer of the Year.

The reasons are all there in The Ultimates 2 #5. First, the Ultimates vs. Thor fight scene is played just right, not only filled with adrenaline, but pathos as well, since we finally see Thor’s emotional core right at the time of his greatest tribulation. Second, we also get glimpses of the "real" Black Widow, as well as hints at the true nature of the relationship between the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Third, not one, but two curveballs towards the end. Loved it, and I can’t wait to see how each will play off the other. Next, the Christ stuff. There have been parallels between the Son of Odin and the Son of God from the beginning, but I haven’t seen it played so well as it is in this issue. Millar, whose capacity for cheeky irreverence is unrivaled in comics, turns Thor into a Christ figure with no evidence of sentimentality, of overdoing it, or of a tongue lodged firmly in his cheek. Playing it straight but without bombast makes Thor’s struggle gut-wrenching, moving even, and has converted me into a fan of the character after finding him so annoying in the first "season" of The Ultimates. The answer to the "Is Thor nuts or not" question will probably be somewhere in the middle, but by bringing the reader on board with the character, I want, no, need to read issues 6 to 12 right now.

And lastly, as if all this weren’t enough, there’s what Millar is up to in The Ultimates. He’s breaking away from the two poles between which superhero comics have so easily been stuck—the power fantasy and the soap opera. Both are entertaining, and when done well both easily earn our three bucks every month. Their drama is only momentary, however, the kind that hardly lasts longer than the moments of high intensity without which there would be no story at all. But by crafting, powerful, gripping, and mature stories where events and tensions have lasting effects on both the reader and characters, Millar is elevating the form.

First page to last, Bryan Hitch’s artwork matches the scope and strength of Millar’s story. An artist could hardly be more in synch with a writer. His pencil work has those cinematic qualities—single, widescreen panels that do the work of multiple panels, for instance—that lift the story right off the page. His images are fluid and sublime, yet balanced by stark detail and a dark realism. Every close-up has emotional depth. Every panel plays its part in pushing the narrative forward. And Hitch’s depiction of Thor’s "Passion," from the fire that engulfs a god to the bruises and singed scalp of a mere man, will be memorable to fans, and just might already be classic.

Millar and Hitch have raised the bar on superhero comics, which will make it even more enjoyable to watch them top themselves. If The Ultimates 2 #5 is any indication, I’m sure they will.

-Dexter K. Flowers

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