When Marvel Comics first unveiled its “Ultimate” line of superhero comics, which essentially jettisoned the prior 40 years of comic “continuity” and rebooted the storylines for a contemporary audience, many fans considered it little more than a publicity stunt – and probably a lousy one at that. But a funny thing happened: the Ultimate line, with its often edgy, revamped characters, was actually pretty good, and in many instances started outselling Marvel’s longstanding titles (those set in the “Original Universe,” as it were) . First Spidey got the Ultimate treatment, and then the X-Men; subsequently, Marvel introduced what was in many respects the best reboot of them all: the recreation of the Avengers, “America’s Mightiest Superheroes,” now called The Ultimates.
This new line of comics offered characters often quite similar in many respects to the old ones (for example, Captain America still got his start during WWII and Thor still carries a hammer and controls the weather, although now he’s a militant environmental activist and near-anarchist). But by ditching the accumulated “back stories” of the characters, the writers were free to develop dynamic new relationships between them.
The Ultimates can be legitimately criticized for its overemphasis on pop culture references (having a character go out with Freddie Prinze Jr., for example, just seems far too cute for the rougher, edgy storyline Marvel was otherwise creating), but the title manages a remarkable transformation in characters such as Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man. The creators also authored a minor miracle when they made the contentious relationship between “Giant Man” and his wife, the Wasp, more than a dull afterthought of the overall comic.
In any event, The Ultimates is one of Marvel’s more popular lines, and as such it is hardly surprising that they would try to capitalize upon its popularity with the release of an animated version. Released at the end of February, Ultimate Avengers intriguingly returns with the old title (“Avengers”), probably in an effort to reach out to fans who might not be aware of the new version. I had hoped that the animated version would do a good job of capturing the gritty edge of the new title, which I have long considered to be one of the best superhero comics currently available. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
Despite its frequent (and at times annoying) pop culture allusions, the dialogue of the original book is Shakespeare next to the trite, hackneyed dialogue offered up here. The animation is slow and jerky, symbolized by the image of a WWII transport plane flying into a Nazi-infested valley in which the only things really “moving” are the propellers on the plane; the plane itself is dragged in static fashion across the screen, like a picture in a pop-up book pulled along a straight-line path.
Instead of the more nuanced narrative of the original, the video offers a jumbled heap of clichés, often inserting excessively patriotic observations delivered with a painfully dry sense of humorlessness. The video also largely eviscerates both the intriguingly anti-establishment Thor and the hyperactive Hulk (the latter of whom in the comic became a metaphor for the raging id, freed from all moorings and restraint – this Hulk could talk as well as rage, and all he wanted was to satisfy whatever urges came to mind).
The storyline here cannibalizes elements of the first few issues of The Ultimates, in which Captain America’s 1940s fight against Nazis is revealed to have actually been against a sinister race of aliens who now, 60 years later, plan on finishing the job. In both versions, the Hulk is instrumental in the final battle, but it is only in the comic that there is any real suspense to the struggle. The animated version also ditches any semblance of identity for the alien invaders, and jettisons the intriguingly tactical aspect of Captain America’s combat skills.
While the video is oddly rated PG-13, it a tame, uninspiring doppelganger, mirroring the true self only at the edges and not as concerns the essentials. The only intriguing or original elements on the disc can be found in the special features, including one called “Assembling the Avengers” that has interviews with such creators as George Perez and Kurt Busiek. Otherwise, for anyone interested in The Ultimates, stick to the colored paper of the comic book. You’ll find it a far more enjoyable experience.Powered by Sidelines