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Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand – Spider-Man (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

I have to admit, I am very surprised that Marvel have yet to start issuing oversized hardcovers of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ latest Ultimate Spider-Man run. The author has been writing the writing the series since the first issue appeared on stands in October 2000. The series has been re-launched twice, for three volumes as part of the same story. The first two runs are collected in their entirety, but only bits and pieces of the third run have been collected so far. The prelude Fallout was collected with Bendis’ The Death of Spider-Man omnibus, and the crossover with the main universe has been collected in Spider-Men, and then there’s these issues here, collected as part of Divided We Fall.

However, despite the high profile decision to create a new Spider-Man, generating considerable press coverage, Marvel has yet to begin collecting nice oversized hardcovers of Bendis’ latest run. As a result, the issues collected here give a rather scattershot coverage of Bendis’ run on the iconic web-crawler, which is a bit of a shame. As with the Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men comics tying into this big event, context is a vital part of this gigantic crossover, with Bendis’ story only really resonating as part of an on-going story featuring the development of a new version of Spider-Man, Bendis’ own creation.

Who says there's no such thing as bad publicity?

Who says there’s no such thing as bad publicity?

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Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (Review/Retrospective)

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up occupies a strange place in Marvel canon. Written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by a rake of top-tier talent, it was essentially a series designed to showcase these impressive artists while adding a bit of depth and breadth to the then-fledgeling Ultimate Marvel Universe. Essentially a continuity that had been launched from scratch, with the goal of attracting new fans put off by decades of back story in the regular shared universe, Brian Michael Bendis had pioneered the line with his superb Ultimate Spider-Man, a book that he is still writing today (albeit in a slightly different form). Due to its nature, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a somewhat disjointed effort, where quality varies almost from issue-to-issue, but it’s still worth a look for anybody with any interest in Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man work.

Who says there aren’t crocodiles in the sewer?

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Ultimate Comics: Doomsday (Hardcover) (Review)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Comics: Doomsday is a bit of a weird beast. After the events of Ultimatum, Mark Millar’s Ultimates was relaunched both as Ultimate Comics: Avengers and the clunkily-titled (and written) Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates, while Ultimate Spider-Man became Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men spun off into Ultimate Comics: X. That meant that the only on-going series that hadn’t fed into a relaunched series was Ultimate Fantastic Four. Perhaps it’s understandable, since the series was arguably the weakest of Marvel’s Ultimate reimaginings of popular heroes, suffering from adapting Marvel’s most innocent scientific heroes in a grim and hyper-modern context. Ultimate Comics: Doomsday collects three miniseries (Ultimate Comics: Enemy, Ultimate Comics: Mystery and Ultimate Comics: Doom), which tell a gigantic crossover crisis set in the shared universe that the “ultimate” characters inhabit, but it’s really just a vehicle to allow Brian Michael Bendis to play with the left-over bits and pieces from Ultimate Fantastic Four.

This little Spider...

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Mike Carey’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 4-6 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Fantastic Four was never really the crown jewel of the Ultimate line. It wasn’t ever as consistent as Brian Michael Bendis’ 100+ issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, nor as zeitgeist-y as Ultimate X-Men (which had the success of the X-Men trilogy to back it up at least). Instead, like Fox’s Fantastic Four movies, Ultimate Fantastic Four was just… well, just kinda there, really. To be fair, I dug Mark Millar’s twelve-issue run on the title. Hell, I even enjoyed elements of the opening arc by Millar and Bendis, and the year-long run by Warren Ellis that followed. However, Mike Carey’s run is somewhat disappointing. This was the run which essentially saw the series through to the big Ultimatum event, and perhaps it justified the decision to clean the slate when it came to Marvel’s Ultimate line. Because, whatever Carey’s run was, it certainly wasn’t consistently fantastic.

That surfer dude looks spaced...

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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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Warren Ellis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1-2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

I have to admit that I’m quite surprised to see Warren Ellis writing for a year on Ultimate Fantastic Four. You could make the case for Ellis – an avowed technophile – as perhaps the perfect author for a high-concept series like the Fantastic Four. It was Mark Waid who dubbed the family “Imaginauts” – explorers of the imagination, rather than superheroes or guys in costumes. In a way, given how skilfully Ellis handled Tony Stark’s technological transformation in Extremis, you might not have been unreasonable in expecting he’d prove a deft hand with Marvel’s first family. However, reading the twelve issues he wrote for the title, it’s hard to get a sense that Ellis was ever really giving it his all – although he does play around a bit, it never feels like he’s genuinely pushing things to the limit and playing with all the associated toys. In fact, quite a lot of his run feels like it’s playing it safe.

See, the Thing is...

Note: Ellis’ run on the title picks up after the initial six issues written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, and so is split over the second half of the first hardcover and the first half of the second. The second hardcover is rounded off by a two-part Think Tank story from Mike Carey (who would take over as regular writer after Mark Millar) and an annual written by Millar. So this review/retrospective just covers the issues written by Ellis.

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Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1 (Hardcover)

The Fantastic Four, as originally imagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were an instant overnight success for Marvel. Although perhaps Spider-Man would go on to surpass them as the most recognisable creation from the comic book publisher, the four were intrinsically linked with the spirit of newness and pop science that defined comic books in the sixties – the run was so iconic that I’m even considering placing an order for the two volumes of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four Omnibus, even though I find Silver Age comic books tough to read. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the characters were among the last to be coopted into Marvel’s Ultimate line, an experiment designed to essentially start their characters from scratch again to attract a new audience. However, depite the late arrival of Ultimate Fantastic Four – four years after Ultimate Spider-Man and three years after Ultimate X-Men – the talent involed in the launch of the series suggests that Marvel was trying to get this version of the family off to the same flying start as their mainstream counterpart.

That's gonna put a dent in local real estate prices...

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