If it wasn’t clear in “New Avengers,” this volume makes it clear that Al Ewing has stepped up to take the mantle of Marvel’s “Big Ideas” guy after Jonathan Hickman left post-”Secret Wars.” While “Ultimates” may have been the name for the Ultimate Universe’s version of the Avengers (as well as a thoroughly mediocre teen team), their incarnation in the Marvel Universe proper has them being the group who tackles impossible problems. Problems like Galactus. Or, if that wasn’t big enough, trying to make sense of Bendis’ long-running (and apparently abandoned by him) “time is broken” subplot by heading outside the known universe to get the numbers they need to even get a handle on where to start with this problem.
This is a title that goes big with its ambition, but also has the necessary level of skill to pull it off. Yes, some might argue that “solving” the problem of Galactus in two issues may seem kind of rushed. Particularly when part of their plan involves hitting The Devourer so that he falls back into his old gestation chamber. Said plan also consists of stealing the necessary parts from a planetary warlord and using Monica “Spectrum” Rambeu’s energy-changing powers to channel enough ISO-8 — the new super-energy isotope that was created with the latest renewal of the Marvel Universe — to fuel the change. So there’s plenty of craziness here too in just the first arc. Then you get to the other four issues collected here, which involve the team’s jaunt outside the known universe, dealing with inter-dimensional creepy-crawlies and an old enemy along the way, new revelations about how time works in the Marvel Universe, “Eternity in Chains,” and the return of a certain mad titan and it’s clear that Ewing is just getting warmed up here.
He’s aided quite well in this by Kenneth Rocafort who tackles all of this over-the-top spectacle with admirable gusto. Rocafort has a clearly detailed style, which you’d think would suffer in trying to deliver big, epic, cosmic-level action, but he keeps things looking remarkably consistent throughout the five issues he does in this volume. Christian Ward handles the sixth issue, a series of psychedelic meetings between Galactus and other cosmic entities with impressive skill as well. He’s clearly grown much as an artist since the unfocused work he displayed in “The Infinite Vacation.”
If there’s one thing this volume could stand to work on, it would be its characters. No new ground is broken with the Black Panther’s role here, though it’s fun to see him do his “smartest man in the room” act on a cosmic level. Carol “Capt. Marvel” Danvers remains the usual vaguely militaristic blank slate she is in her team book appearances. While it’s also nice to see Monica Rambeau again, I can’t help but remember how much more interesting and fun she was back in “Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.” Adam “The Blue Marvel” Brashear is apparently a holdover from Ewing’s “Mighty Avengers” run and the insight we get into his complicated history, via the team’s run-in with the Anti-Man, makes a good case for the favoritism he’s shown here.
All this being said, the one character I was surprised to find myself liking here is someone that I’ve been lukewarm on in the past. I know that America Chavez has her fans, but I found Kieron Gillen’s take on her in “Young Avengers” to be disappointingly smug. She may be a super-strong lesbian who can kick holes into adjacent universes, but all of her successes usually felt like they were demanded by the plot and not her character. Ewing actually gives the character a sense of fun and showcases her own personal struggles here far better than I’ve seen in her previous appearances. Showing how she calls up her girlfriend so they can dance together and use the power of lover to heal a rift between universes, and later the physical toll opening the way outside the universe takes on her makes her a more endearing and interesting character. Score another one for Ewing in doing good work on characters previously defined by Gillen.
This first volume of “Ultimates” shows that big ideas about the Marvel Universe haven’t gone away just because Hickman left. Ewing lets us know that there’s plenty of interesting, epic things to be done with this universe so long as you’ve got the imagination for it. Also, anyone who appreciated his meta-commentary on the nature of how characters are defined by their stories from “Agent of Asgard” may want to check this out because it looks like he’s preparing to do the same thing with Galactus here. No, I don’t think the change undergone by The Devourer here is going to stick. I do think that his journey back to the status quo is going to be as important and interesting as anything else here.