Al Ewing's Ultimates run came to an end, so how do you feel about the ending, the legacy of the title, and the future of this team?
Damn good finale, even if I’m pretty sure Ewing had to skip a step or three in getting there what with the time crunch, and that it wasn’t the event book it was clearly crying out to be. In that regard, it’s pretty perfectly symbolic of how badly Marvel’s fucked Ewing over in this phase of his career. And I know I harp on it endlessly, but they fucked him so bad. Dude is an A-lister in the making if ever there was one, and right after seeming to hand him the keys to the kingdom - letting him do a team book with Kenneth Rockafort with a popular title using two major characters, two he’d already been developing, and a fan-favorite on the rise - they didn’t push the thing for shit, kicked the rug out from under him making it impossible to build traction like he did with Mighty Avengers, gave it a weird new title that shouted right out to any prospective new readers “don’t start here”, made him cross over with Civil War II and Secret Empire even though the premise has everyone in space, and swapped out Rockafort at the height of his growing popularity for Travel Foreman (who actually worked out phenomenally, but as talented and respected as he’s been for awhile now, before this I don’t think he’d have been anyone’s first choice for “crazy abstract cosmic Marvel book starring a bunch of traditional superheroes”). Right around the same time they were demoting New Avengers to U.S.Avengers and presenting him with the ultimate indignity of doing an Inhumans spin-off title.
But for all that shit, boy was it a fun weird cosmic superhero book, exactly my jam in a way that shouldn’t be so uncommon with Big Two superheroes. High-concept philosophical adventure shit supported by a meaningful moral backbone, with cool-ass art in both volumes and a sizable if subtle impact on everything going forward. Definitely the best Justice League ongoing of the decade. And as it’s ending, I feel totally justified in bringing up my pet theory one last time: this was totally a Justice League book. It’s a guy whose own creator described him as a Superman analogue, a rich genius billionaire warrior in black whose definitive modern run under Christopher Priest directly compared him to Batman at one point, a star-spangled warrior from a utopia of women protected by magic whose writer in her breakout book described his usage of her as him riffing on Wonder Woman (Gillen also being the one who recommended using her to Ewing), a pilot turned space-cop, the one who’s defined in the very first issue as “the fast one,” and the alien last survivor of an extinct people who mostly hangs in the background but is actually the most powerful of all of them. And in the climax of their first volume they fight comics’ most prominent Darkseid ripoff in an issue that directly homages the New Gods’ most iconic fight with the JLA in Rock of Ages. It was absolutely in part Ewing doing the Justice League.
As for its legacy, it won’t be as a team; I don’t see Marvel signing off on their return anytime soon given how poorly I understand it sold, and honestly the team reestablished in #100 would I think themselves be far more likely to get a title of their own again. Other than its impact on Blue Marvel (expect him to show up wherever Ewing solidly plans his feet on the ground at Marvel), the biggest ramification is what it’s done to Marvel’s cosmology itself: not to spoil too much, but across this series Ewing defines time in the Marvel universe about as concretely as Morrison just defined the Multiverse over at DC, with a coherent explanation of how it works both on a cosmic scale of multiverses dying and reborn, and how it functions for individual characters in a way that redefines Marvel’s entire back catalog in relation to the present. I doubt any of it will play out right away, but sooner or later someone’s going to want to play on a Crisis scale again with these characters, and when that time comes it’s going to be pretty much impossible to disregard what Ewing did here.
Also, in terms of what legacy Ultimates leaves behind, this punch:
The final issue of The Ultimates, in that strange way that comics have taken to numbering themselves, as though this were the conclusion to the series Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch launched 15 years ago.
There have been several incarnations of the Ultimates, some better than others, and this non Ultimate Universe version has been one of the best (the fact that it’s set in the current Marvel Universe makes you wonder why the numbering trick is even seen as relevant, except that 100 is a nice number to conclude a series with). As though to underline the fact that the title is ending in a very different place to where it began, we have America Chavez replying to the ridiculously jingoistic ‘You think this letter on my head stands for France’ full page image from the very first volume of The Ultimates in her own inimitable style.
I could never decide if the line was Millar’s black humour, and/or a deliberate attempt to make the Ultimate Captain America come across as arrogant and insular. It would have been around the time that the French opposition to the Iraq invasion lead certain Americans to rebrand “French Fries” as “Freedom Fries” to avoid soiling their tongues with a word so representative of un-American values (like the French were likely to ever give a shit what some Americans called sliced and fried potatoes in a language that wasn’t French), so it certainly channelled this rather farcical model of ‘patriotism’, and the notion that if it wasn’t for American military strength all of the world would somehow be in chains (which always conveniently ignored their string of failed military actions).
Whatever the intended characterisation of that Captain America, the 2017 incarnation of the team is much more positive, protecting all of existence, not just one country, and America Chavez symbolises this perfectly- not just as all the things the straight white male Captain America is not, thus suggesting the newer strand of diversity that is beginning to emerge in the Marvel universe, but also as an ‘America’ that won’t just sit down and be railroaded by the ‘traditional’ power structure that the Ultimate Cap represents. If white military might and American patriotism is not what the universe needs (and it really isn’t), then this America won’t stand for it, because not standing for that shit is the only way to change things and keep the universe in balance for the benefit of everyone. And for that reason, I’d rather the fate of all of existence be in the hands of America Chavez than a xenophobic blowhard draped in the flag any day.
100, by Al Ewing, Travel Foreman, Filipe Andrade, Marco Lorenzana, Scott Hanna, Dan Brown & Matt Yackey