Friday, September 29, 2006

comics! Ultimates!

I've got a plea for all of you, involving Ultimates #12:

Please let this be the last Mark Millar comic you ever buy.

That's not just failed anticipation talking, although I WAS looking forward to this issue. No, it's a broader indictment: 'comics these days' only get that way if we LET them.

Some of you are familiar with the storyline so far: angered by the Bush administration's war-mongering and meddling in the Middle East, the 'axis of evil' (aided and abetted by Loki for reasons of his own) developes Middle Eastern equivalents of the Ultimates. These equivalents (wonder if that's their team name?) lead an army of huge machines and goons in power-suits on a full-out invasion of America. At the end of the last issue, the Ultimates' cause seemed hopeless, until the last-panel appearance of the Hulk.

OK, flash forward the year it took for this issue to come out, and here we are, Hulk smashing big machines like they were Dixie cups, while the rest of the team faces off with their foreign (= evil) counterparts.

The centerpiece duel is between Captain America and Abdul al-Rahman, but it doesn't amount to much because in the first second of the fight, Hawkeye, who has infallible aim and two sharp shards of glass, AND who's out of Abdul's line of sight, sends one shard into his left ear and one into his right Achilles tendon, crippling him and taking him out of the fight.

Oh wait ... that doesn't happen! Instead, Hawkeye tries to JUMP ON Abdul and gets picked off by the foreign (=evil) version of Quicksilver. So Captain America and Abdul fight.

Meanwhile, the foreign (=evil) version of the Hulk is kicking the crap out of the Ultimates version, crowing the whole time that the key to his ability to do so is that he retains his super-genius intellect, whereas the Hulk has the mind of a brutish thug.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye's bacon is saved by the real Quicksilver, who grabs onto his foreign (= evil) counterpart and runs so fast the poor SOB is torn apart by the speed. Right before he's torn apart, he pleads for his life. Right after he's torn apart, Quicksilver triumphantly says 'That's what happens when you threaten my friends' even though he and Hawkeye hate each other.

Meanwhile, in one of the worst-drawn fight-sequences since Herb Trimpe was still alive, Captain America and Abdul continue to duke it out. Abdul yells at Cap to 'Stop talking! Stop talking!' and then talks a bluestreak himself.

Cut to the real Hulk/foreign (= evil) Hulk fight, which is going poorly for the bad guy. We stay just long enough to see that he, too, is begging for his life.

We look away long enough to see Iron Man return to the fight, drunk, blasting away at the bad guys from the middle of his very own stash of WMDs. We know the tide has turned.

Then we return to the Hulk fight, just in time to see the foreign (= evil) Hulk get both his arms ripped off by our hero. The villain whines, "I ... I don't understand. How could you do it, Banner? How could you beat me? When I'm so much smarter? It doesn't make sense..."

To which our hero replies, "You know your problem, ugly scientist guy? YOU THINK TOO MUCH!' The last said while Hulk punches his fist clean through the head of his foe.

Meanwhile, Abdul is clearly losing his fight with Captain America, who urges him to give up. To which suggestion Abdul says "And why should I give up? So you can humiliate me and execute me before your fellow officers?" To which Cap replies, "Don't be ridiculous. That's not the way we do things in this country."

Just then a handy crowd of power-suited goons pile on top of Captain America, and Abdul, saying he takes no pleasure in it, prepares to cut his head off. At the last second, the Hulk grabs Captain America's shield, forgets that he hates the Ultimates, forgets also that Cap's shield has no sharp edges, and throws it at Abdul, severing both his hands (in a clever bit of scripting, Cap then throws off his goons by saying 'Hands off, creeps!')

When Abdul says 'My God, do you even appreciate why we did this thing?' Captain America impales him through the heart with his own weapon. You know, the guy who doesn't have any HANDS anymore? Yeah, that one - that's the guy Captain America IMPALES.

At one point in the issue, some of our heroes rescue President Bush from the wreckage of Air Force One. As they're bringing him to safety, he tells them he ain't gettin' outta Dodge until he knows the Vice President is safe. You get used to that sort of thing - the President is often portrayed in Ultimates as a dimwitted boob.

But don't be deceived. This comic comes to you straight from the middle of a GOP wetdream.

I'm not talking about the fact that our heroes not only kill their foes by the bushel when they could just as easily capture. I'm not even talking about the fact that lots of the foes killed are killed in the act of begging for mercy.

I'm talking about the culture of distrust the Bush administration has created in this country. The president is just an ordinary joe, and he actively distrusts 'eggheads' of any kind - a fact so beautifully brocheted by Steven Colbert to the President's face. He believes in simple, dead-or-alive frontier justice, without any nuance or ethic whatsoever.

And he's found his super-team at last.

Millar wants the dumb, bloodthirsty 13-year-old boys in his audience (regardless of their chronological age) to look at each successive panel in this issue and yell 'Hell yeah!' He doesn't care what he has to have these characters do, as long as he gets that reaction.

But you can't snort your coke and have it too. If this team is a bunch of fascist stooges who consider morality or thought to be excess baggage, that's Millar's choice as a writer. But readers have choices too.

Readers have choices too. When I saw that panel where the Hulk punches his enemy's head off yelling 'YOU THINK TOO MUCH!' (when what's clearly meant is just 'YOU THINK!'), I stopped reading Ultimates. Oh, I limped along to the end of the issue (yet another cliffhanger, and one I've longed to see). But at that point I was done with Mark Millar.

I urge you all to be so as well. The world doesn't need any more of this kind of thinking - it needs a whole lot less. You can't do anything about what's said at the U.N. ... but you can skip buying Ultimates #13.


Kevin Caron said...

Love the review - Herb Trimpe references and all. I've felt this way about Millar for a while (I heard somewhere, couple years ago, that he used to be a right wing speach writer in the UK before his current stint as a comic book writer), and hence stopped reading any of his books after that crappy Wolverine run w/JRJR.

I couldn't agree more, though - we really shouln't feed this elephant. And now I don't have to even thumb through it at the comic book store - the actual comic couldn't live up to the review. Bwa-ha ha! I've had a bad vibe about most Marvel books for a while now, for exaclty this kind of low-brow anti hero 'ooo, I can't believe they did that' crap - hence the apparent lack of cape 'n' tights books on my reading list (though that was just a sampling!).

Justie said...

Yeah, and Millar also writes Civil War, which is basically the same exact imagination-starved story: "super-heroes" are puerile, horny idiots that bicker non-stop until you have a civil war, and then, oops, who the fuck's cleaning this bloated, irreversible mess up, think I'll go write that pedophile Uncle Ben "What-If?"