May 25, 2016

The 40 Years of Comics Project - The Weekly Graphic Novel: Week 8 - Ultimate Comics Thor, 2011

As much as I would consider myself a rabid fan of Jonathan Hickman's writing, there's a substantial chunk of it that I haven't read as yet. His work in Marvel's "Ultimate Universe" makes up a significant portion of that chunk, and this is mainly due to having heard that, in contrast to his Earth-616 Marvel work, it's not that good.

But let me back up a moment.

The other thing keeping me from exploring this series, and others in the Ultimate U that Hickman has written, is my lack of knowledge about, and my dislike for, this particular version of the Marvel Universe. I've railed on about the grittiness of the current crop of DC films, and Marvel's Ultimate U, though it's genesis in Ultimate Spider-Man was less so, emblematizes this proclivity for gritty superheroes. And, honestly, I thought we'd had enough of that in the 90s. I've never really understood why realism seems to have to equal darkness. And that's how I've long perceived the Ultimate U. I'm happy to be proven wrong, but I'm pretty sure I'm hitting the target dead center here.

That said, Ultimate Thor is actually pretty good. It's still dark, it's still bloody, but it also tells an interesting tale spanning millennia, establishing the place of Asgard and the Norse mythos in the Ultimate U, and, in a nice twist, linking Ragnarok with the Second World War. I especially enjoyed the notion of gods being reborn as mortals, and having to deal with losing the power they once understood as intrinsic. Carlos Pacheco's art in this book is lovely, and in the sections near the end where we're seeing a different perspective on the events of the first run of The Ultimates, his style nicely apes/meshes with the Hitch/Neary widescreen action of that series. But there's where I have to become a bit critical. I'm not sure how much the end of this series would have made sense had I not read The Ultimates all those years ago when it came out. The supposed impetus for the Ultimate Universe was to allow readers who had not followed 35-40 years of continuity to enjoy the stories of the Marvel characters they were beginning to see in the movies. I distinctly recall the rhetoric surrounding the project, claiming that someone with no knowledge of any of the Marvel characters could pick up an Ultimate comic and not feel lost.

I can't imagine that this would be the case with the Thor series. But that's a small thing, really, especially considering that this series came out about a decade after the inception of the Ultimate universe. And a fictional universe with a decade-long history is going to have to have some expectations of continuity.

In the end, though, it's true: this series is not nearly as good as Hickman's work in the regular Marvel universe. It seems to lack the grandeur that, I have to say, is present in pretty much all of his other work that I've read. And seeing as how this is a story about gods, it should be pretty grand.

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