A mere two issues in, it’s very clear that “Ultimate Avengers” isn’t just the next chapter in Millar’s “Ultimates” -- it’s already developed a distinct identity, worthy of its name change. It still has the same confidence as Millar’s earlier work, but the cinematic tone has been reined right the way in, leaving a book that seems less like the pitch for an Avengers movie and more like. . . well, the Ultimate Avengers book.
Part of the is the introduction of the Ultimate Red Skull, a character massively distinct from his Marvel Universe incarnation, but at the same time a compelling and worthy foil for Captain America. Where the MU Skull is a holdover from simpler times, representing the political antithesis of Captain America, this Ultimate Skull is the anti-Cap in a different way -- a composite of the US Government’s failures, rather than its successes. His origin is as compelling and iconic as his father’s, and there’s even room for some of Millar’s trademark shock-tactics too.
Although Millar has repeatedly stated that he enjoyed Loeb’s version of the Ultimates, it’s fair to say that this volume pays the same amount of acknowledgment to its predecessor as Loeb’s did -- which is to say, a fleeting, almost imperceptible nod. Cap, in particular, has received the majority of the focus in this arc, and under Millar becomes a three-dimensional and conflicted hero instead of the rather one-note, man-out-of-time that Loeb cast him as.
Of course, we know Millar has never been as comfortable on a series as he is on the Ultimates, so the real congratulations here should go to Carlos Pacheco, who is turning in some career-defining work. Pacheco successfully mixes his own style with the real-world design aesthetics that Bryan Hitch established, creating some fantastic superheroics. The choreography on every page is nothing short of astonishing. The reinvention of Pacheco’s style is so complete that one suspects inker Danny Miki may be partially responsible, but if that is the case, then all I can do is hope that the pair work together in the future.
It’s gratifying to see the Ultimate line’s relaunch going this well, and even the last page shocker -- one that no-one will have seen coming -- suggests that the Ultimate comics are ready to re-establish their identity. Between this and “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” the line is firmly back in must-read territory -- let’s hope it stays that way.