The Ultimates: The 21st Century Avengers

The Ultimate series of Marvel comics has sold amazingly well in recent years. The idea behind it is brilliant: take all of Marvel’s most famous and beloved characters and update their stories for a modern audience. This includes retooling certain characters, but it is done tastefully and inventively, appealing to both newcomers and veteran comic fans. One of the greatest titles to come out of this line is The Ultimates.

The Ultimates is a new approach to telling the story of The Avengers. After immerging in the 1960’s, The Avengers have become one of the most famous superhero teams. Over the years, almost every Marvel hero has either joined or helped The Avengers and almost every Marvel villain has attempted to destroy them at some point. However, like many other titles that have been around for decades, some characters have outlived their sell-by date. That is why The Ultimates is such a refreshing approach to the superhero genre.

All of the founding members of The Avengers are here, only their characterization (and sometimes, origin) have been made more approachable and realistic to 21st century readers. This lineup includes: Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Steve Rogers/Captain America, Hank Pym/Giant Man, Janet Pym/The Wasp, Tony Stark/Iron Man, and Thor. The genius reinvention of their alliance has Nick Fury (now a general, and right-hand man to the president where meta-humans are concerned) assembling the team to protect national security.

Each character has been retooled, except for Captain America. Much like the way The Avengers added him to their roster, The Ultimates find Cap frozen in suspended animation. He has been that way since a fateful battle with Baron Zemo in late World War II. Captain America’s patriotic sensibilities have been preserved in The Ultimates and it is interesting to see him adjust to life in a post- 9/11 world. Politics are sensitively handled in The Ultimates, without pandering to left-wing political correctness. They are, after all, handling national security- that includes alien invasion as well as international terrorism.

Those new to comic books will find the Ultimate Marvel series to be very accessible. Yes, it is fun to know what you are comparing this version to, but the stories are independent and don’t require previous knowledge of characters. They are just really great stories. As a graduate of English literature and somewhat of a newcomer to comic books, I am really surprised at how underrated graphic novels are in literary circles. If you are an intellectual snob, I defy you to read Volume 1 of The Ultimates and not be impressed.

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