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Ultimate Human – Ultimate Hulk vs. Iron Man

Well, I guess the Ultimate line is supposed to be a vehicle for redefining old Marvel stories, so it seems appropriate that the Ultimate Hulk has been getting around knocking seven kinds of crap out of various heroes. He was the first opponent Mark Millar’s superteam faced in The Ultimates, he had this themed face-off with Iron Man last year and this year he squared off with Wolverine in the infamously delayed Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine series (in a fitting echo: Wolverine originated as a Hulk opponent). The book is an obvious attempt to cash in on Marvel’s two big summer blockbusters last year: The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Still, as cash-ins go, it’s reasonably diverting.

ultimatehulk

I quite like him when he's angry...

The series works primarily because it knows exactly what it is and exactly what it’s doing. It is a “widescreen comic” in the truest sense, with most action sequences featuring an A4 page divided into three horizontal panels, like a widescreen view. Artist Cary Nord manages to make the action sequences kenetic and vibrant, but also manages the smaller one-on-one scenes well, with a light touch were the final characters look almost like sketches.

Writer Warren Ellis handles both characters well, producing a version of Tony Stark which synchs up perfectly with the version of the character that Mark Millar gave us (and seems fairly disconnected from the version that Orson Scott Card produced in Ultimate Iron Man). Here Tony makes disinterested quips and downs martinis whle pretending to care a lot less than he does. Ellis manages to make the series work around the two characters by hitting upon their common theme, and one which plays into the underlying themes of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe: they are both the next evolution (in fact, both are thinking as far as putting men on other planets), but one relies on technology and the other on biology. The two are the old mad scientist trope flipped on its head: Stark through the use of his egomania-driven devices for the betterment of mankind and Banner through the sorrow and shame he feels for the damage he’s caused. they are both two sides of the same coin, after a fashion.

The series doesn’t really dwell on that fertile ground for discussion, instead launching pretty much straight into its meat-and-potatoes: a massive brawl between the two characters. And it is impressive: every bit as impressive as the choreographed combat scenes in the two Ultimates miniseries. Ellis has some fun turning the clichés on their head a bit: “I don’t think I like him when he’s angry,” one scientist remarks of Banner, while Stark assures him his pants are designed to be flexible during transformation.

 If the series runs into a problem it’s the fact that an all-out-battle can only run so far. And – when Stark claims to have cured Banner – we know that it can’t really last. The end of the Hulk – even just an alternate version – would be a bigger affair, surely? In fairness, the miniseries doesn’t pretend the transformation is final. It doesn’t hold us in false suspense. That’s part of the charm. It isn’t particularly grandiose or insightful: it does exactly what it says on the tin.

I’m not so sure about the introduction of the Ultimate Leader. It seems to muddy things up a bit. The series does – logically – need a third wheel to balance it, but I’m not sure that this is the way to introduce that character. A lengthy flashback sequence at the start of the third issue significantly disrupts the flow of proceedings to introduce the character. It is a nice look at the events of Millar’s second Ultimates miniseries from the perspective of the British Intelligence Service and adds texture (if nothing new) to the Ultimate Universe (and it’s nice to see English-isms like the use of the word “embuggered”), but it just seems like is being added to simply fill pages. If Tony Stark represents technology and Banner stands for biology, what does Peter Wisdom represent?

Still, such things are distractions. The miniseries promised a whole host of action and it delivered. it gave us some more of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, which is a winner of itself. It is an entertaining read which never really pretends to more than it is: light entertainment.

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