Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I don’t get this whole Ultimatum thing. It just doesn’t strike me as some epic story that some writer had brewing in the recesses of their creativity for a long time, and has finally been given the chance to put it down on paper. It strikes me more as…economics. This isn’t the first time Marvel has done this. That is, launched a line of sort of touched-up, revamped, modernized version of their characters, only to bag it later. I think I heard Mark Millar describe the ultimate line of comics as “fan friendly,” and I think it was- not because everything was dumbed down and oversimplified, but because the titles showcased these very classic incarnations of the characters. It seemed that the Ultimate characters really represented superheroes and villains the way you always picture them in your mind's eye- without whatever the most recent retooling that such and such writer has done in just the last few issues. You know, Spider-man isn’t wearing Stark Industries battle armor, the Punisher hasn’t been granted divine power that lets him teleport and spontaneously create any weapon he needs (WORST STORYLINE EVER), etc. Well, at least most of the characters are how you think of them. The other half are kind of out-of-nowhere recreations. I think most of the X-Men characters got it the worst- I don’t recognize Gambit or Longshot…and Cable and Bishop? Don’t even get me started. Oh, and Dr. Doom’s got hooves. Real, honest to God hooves. Actually, I think that last bit was a nice touch. Anyway, the whole thing is a good idea, really. I mean think about the leeway it gives the writers on the main continuity line- it’s okay to kill off Captain America or have Spider-man settle down and have kids. Because if you're just a “casual” comic reader and you want to pick up an issue of Spider-man as you remember him- single, young, and very embattled in his personal life- that’s still out there. And frankly, I felt like the whole thing had finally hit its stride. I thought the whole Ultimate Galactus trilogy kicked ass, the Ultimate version of Nick Fury is now a fan, Samuel L. Jackson-inspired favorite, and I think Ultimate Thor is totally brilliant. (That last bit- no one believes Thor is really Thor. Even Captain America. Whenever he starts talking about Asgard and monsters, everybody rolls their eyes and acts like ‘okay, crazy man’. I love it because Thor’s presence in the Marvel Universe really is kind of ridiculous and unbelievable.) But now? It’s gone. It’s over. Guess stuff wasn’t selling. Beats me. Apparentely they’re going to keep some of the books going- but do you really want to read a universe with just Spider-man? I mean, not that Spider-man isn’t great, but…when I said Marvel had tried this before, I was referring to that whole Heroes Reborn fiasco in the nineties. At the time, if you weren’t reading X-Men you weren’t reading anything. So Marvel stuck every superhero they had into this alternate universe. Just them alone, without any mutants. It flopped. And made for some pretty bizarre storytelling in the process, what with writing all those characters into, and out of, various worlds. So alas. Maybe things will come around again, and the Ultimate titles will get restocked. But I have to say, I’m disappointed. Of course, DC has picked up the ball and is trying the same thing. So far, it’s only two comics- All-Star Batman and Robin and All-Star Superman. And these both exist in their own continuities, I think. This is probably a good thing. Because All-Star B & R is on crack. Seriously. Even though it’s penned by legendary comic, and Batman, writer Frank Miller…it has to be the weirdest interpretation of the character I have ever seen in my life. Apparently, it exists in the continuity of Dark Knight Returns (which, to Mr. Miller’s credit, has to be in the top five greatest comics I’ve ever read), and it has some of that flavor. But it almost defies description. If you really want to see Miller cut lose in a testosterone infused over-the-top orgy of superhero violence and sex- I mean this is it. This isn’t exactly the most ethical version of the character I’ve ever seen. In fact, Batman in this comic is almost…juvenile. Like he’s got Anti-Social personality disorder with sado-masochistic tendancies. On top of that, pretty much every other superhero in the world is a complete idiot. Wonder Woman is a moody, man-hating Xena-knock-off, Green Lantern looks like a dope compared to the dynamic duo, and Superman…well, I think we’ve all gotten a sense of how Miller feels about Superman. I’m not one to question Miller. I love almost everything he’s written. But something about this book is just a little too off the beaten path for me. And while I’m on the subject- what is it with him and the whole “keep the mask on during sex” thing, anyway? From the Spirit, to Batman and Black Canary shacking up on a river dock directly following them beating the crap out of some very under-performing criminals…I don’t know. Somehow it just conjures an image of oh-so-many con-going comic fans living out their adolescent fantasies together. Oohh. Hurts to think. If I have to give it up for something redeemable about this interpretation though- I really love Robin here. Batman would be locked up by Children and Youth Services or some other government agency for the way he treats him...but the point is, Robin isn’t just any other kid. He’s a childhood prodigy- it’s like he could be the head of MENSA or something. He thinks like an adult, acts like an adult, fights like an adult. In fact, Batman is even a little scared of the kid’s potential. Which of course brings in this whole unsettling the-father-is-scared-of-his-son thing. So again, with the creepiness. I’ve never read a Batman series that made me feel so dirty I wanted to stand in the shower after reading an issue before. But there’s a first time for everything, I suppose. Still, reading it is a little bit like watching reality TV. You just have to, because everyone else is. It’s so out there, that I’m not actually telling you to not go buy it and read it. When else will you ever see Batman portrayed this way? Or hear the line “I’m the god-damn Batman!” uttered out of Bruce Wayne’s mouth? Seriously, he says this. Frequently. One last note- All-Star Superman? Surprisingly cool! Morrison does Luthor proud, and rewrites a couple of really cool ideas. And I have to say, the man writes a surprisingly sensitive and moving death scene for Jonathan Kent. I really love it. The whole thing gives the Superman mythology a very cool, very modern feel and reminds you of what made it such a great comic to begin with. Worth checking out.