Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Alternate universes are a long standing comic book tradition. DC had so many parallel stories going that it launched the Crisis on Infinite Earths to reconcile them and have a universe. Apparently DC couldn't keep away from alternates since they launched the Elseworld line, which allows for things like Batman fighting Dracula and Superman landing in Soviet Russia, instead of the American Midwest.

Marvel off and on publishes What if?, which like Elseworlds, allowed for changes in the assumed history. Each issue asked a question like, "What if Loki found the Hammer of Thor?" Because the comics were one-offs and dead ends, the writers could be as dramatic as they like, killing whoever the liked.

In 2000, Marvel launched Ultimate Marvel, which had classic Marvel stories like Spiderman and the X-Men starting today, instead of the 60s. This universe is considered separate from the main Marvel universe, which allows the writers to go in different directions. Some changes are merely updating topics, as Spiderman is bitten by a gene-engineered rather than radioactive spider and some of the stories are a bit darker.

Set in the Marvel Universe and updating the Avengers, the Ultimates is one of the best graphic novels I have read in years. The Ultimates are a homeland security (via S.H.I.E.L.D.) team assembled to deal with major threats. Initially they are perceived as PR and bureaucratic politics play, but nasty things eventually show themselves. The book is excellent, because the characters are interesting, the violence has repercussions and the book balances action, drama and humor.

The book has many of the classic Avengers, but they have changed. Captain America is a true fish out of water, revived in 2001 from 1945. Thor is an anti-globalization activist (He's European you know.) The Hulk is pure murderous rage. When Hulk goes crazy, people die and the death and destruction is made much more clear. These sad moments, and others which include spouse abuse and alcohol addiction make the book a bit much for younger readers.

There is a weird fixation with pop culture in the book, which will make the book odd reading in ten years or so. Will people, for example, recall Shannon Elizabeth who makes an appearance? Hulk also expresses an urge to kill Freddie Prinze Jr. And Nick Fury looks exactly like Mace Windu. A small complaint which distracts but doesn't reduce the enjoyment.

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