The Ultimates are a fictional team of government-sponsored superheroes in the Ultimate Marvel Universe, appearing primarily in their self-titled comic book limited series The Ultimates and The Ultimates 2, published by Marvel Comics, written by Mark Millar, and drawn by Bryan Hitch. The series began as a monthly publication in January 2002, but due to the amount of time required by Millar and Hitch to complete each issue, the series has been released on an irregular schedule. Each thirteen-issue miniseries is regarded as a "season" of the same title. The team is a re-imagining of the Marvel%20UNIVERSE%20'>Marvel UNIVERSE superhero team, the Avengers.
The first series, The Ultimates, ended in April 2004. The current series, The Ultimates 2, began in December 2004. Twelve of the thirteen issues have been published as of January 2007. A third series, The Ultimates 3, is planned after the conclusion of The Ultimates 2, and will feature a new creative team in the form of Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira. It has recently been confirmed that The Ultimates 4 is also currently in the works, with a creative team of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has even stated there is a creative team in mind for an eventual The Ultimates 5.
The tone of the story is widely considered to be darker, more cynical, and more cinematic than most traditional comic books. The Ultimates fight under government authority, often alongside conventional land, sea, and air forces. A prominent theme is the scope and legitimacy of state power, with superheroes - or "persons of mass destruction" as they are described in the series - acting as metaphors for the immense military resources of a modern superpower. In this respect, it resembles The Authority, a comic book series that both Hitch and Millar have worked on, though at different times.
In 2001, the Ultimates was the third comic to appear in the Ultimate Marvel line, preceded by its sister titles Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. The creators were writer Mark Millar, who was also writing Ultimate X-Men at that time, and artist Bryan Hitch. When asked about the impetus for the collaboration, Hitch commented in an interview with Silver Bullet Comics that "Joe Quesada called and said 'Hey, the lunatics are running the asylum over here, want to join the party?' The project came from Millar, and it was perfect. Joe put us together, and after three hours on the phone, we had started the journey that was to develop into The Ultimates."
The characters are written as edgier and darker than their mainstream Marvel counterparts. Captain America is more violent and pragmatic; Nick Fury is a tough boss who often circumvents normal checks and balances; Hank and Janet Pym both have long histories of domestic violence; and Tony Stark is a womanizing drunk with a flamboyantly gay butler. The Hulk and Betty Ross are written with nasty streaks as well. Fury and Janet both have their races changed to give the team a more multi-cultural character.
Hitch commented: "We just set out with the basic idea: What would we do if we had to make The Avengers as a movie? (...) You have to approach it as though nothing has happened before and tell the story fresh from the start, find the current day relevance and the best actors. We had to get to the core of who these people were and build outwards, so Cap was a soldier, Thor is either a nut case or a messiah (maybe both, today we would treat them same way: a cult following and a spell in the loony house), Banner an insecure genius, and Fury the king of cool."
Although the comic consistently sold well and received favorable notice from critics (see "Awards" section), it soon became notorious for its erratic scheduling. Originally planned as a monthly comic, the publication dates were constantly shifted further back, so that the twelfth issue of Ultimates only came out in April 2004, almost three years after issue #1. The thirteenth issue of Ultimates 2 has been delayed for over 6 months from its originally scheduled release date.
In a December 2004 interview with PopCultureShock, Millar talked about his comic, stating the Ultimates were indeed different from the Avengers (its mainstream Marvel sister title): "The idea behind The Avengers is that the Marvel Universe's biggest players all get together and fight all the biggest supervillains they can't defeat individually, whereas Ultimates 2 is an exploration of what happens when a bunch of ordinary people are turned into super-soldiers and being groomed to fight the real-life war on terror." He also defended the concept of putting controversial "indie" topics into a big mainstream comic like Ultimates, denying he had "sold out". He said: "There's a funny snobbery from people as regards the worthiness of indie books (...) The nice thing about hitting your thirties is realizing it's often all pose and 90% of indie books are as shit as 90% of mainstream books. There's good and bad on both sides and no inner-dignity to not selling well."
Super Human (Ultimates #1-6)
S.H.I.E.L.D. general Nick Fury, the right hand-man of U.S. President George W. Bush, is entrusted with establishing a strike force of government-sponsored superheroes. Fury first recruits scientist couple Henry and Janet Pym (GiAnt-Man and Wasp) who are tasked with developing a super-soldier serum based on Hank's GiAnt-Man formula. Additional recruits include Bruce Banner (The Hulk) and billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Iron Man). Attempts at wooing over anti-establishment ICON and self-proclaimed Norse god Thor fall through, amidst his criticism of the United States' foreign policy. The team is almost complete when they discover the perfectly-preserved body of Steve Rogers (Captain America) missing since World War II when he successfully diverted a Nazi-launched rocket into the Arctic Ocean. He is successfully revived, giving the Ultimates their new leader and the United States its new strike force.
Criticism of the team builds gradually, beginning with the inflated billion-dollar budget of the Triskelion, the Ultimates' base of operations situated off the coast of Manhattan. Further strain is placed on Banner, who was invited because of his work on the super-soldier serum that gave Captain America his defining super Powers. Shamed by his inability to deliver workable results and by Hank Pym's strides forward in his own super-soldier serum, and amidst taunting by several of his teammates, Bruce Banner injects himself with a modified Hulk formula. He transforms into the sociopathic and ultraviolent Ultimate Hulk, whose subsequent rampage through Manhattan kills 857 people. After an extensive and devastating battle, the Hulk is finally subdued by his teammates. The Ultimates conceal Banner's secret identity and reap the benefits of their heroic efforts in stopping a rampaging monster.
Homeland Security (Ultimates #7-12)
The Ultimates discover the continued presence of the shapeshifting Chitauri, an alien race wishing to enslave and colonize the entire solar system. Their existence has been known since World War II, when they aided the Nazis. Captain America personally fought against their ground commander, "Herr Kleiser." As a result of this grave threat, S.H.I.E.L.D. black operatives Hawkeye (Clint Barton) and Black Widow (Natasha Romanova) and the mutant siblings Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) and Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff) are integrated into the Ultimates. With the possibility of a full-scale alien invasion, the Ultimates invade the Chitauri's base of operations in Micronesia. A Chitauri trap kills the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. strike force and presumably the entire Ultimates team. Back in America, the Chitauri infiltrate the Triskellion and prepare to initiate a covert conquest of the world when the skies are suddenly filled with thousands of ships, all of the Chitauri high command, who are ordering the entire solar system destroyed. During their evacuation, the Chitauri discover that the Ultimates and a large contingent of the S.H.I.E.L.D. strike force survived the blast, courtesy of Iron Man's experimental force field generator and Thor's teleportation Powers. The survivors arrive at the Triskellion and immediately engage the Chitauri ground forces in fierce combat.
Despite the Ultimates' best efforts, the situation is slowly disintegrating. The bomb cannot be defused. The skies are choked with enemy spaceships. And Herr Kleiser proves to be too formidable an opponent for even Captain America to kill. Iron Man is summoned into the Triskellion and drags the enormous bomb out of the base. Thor, with the aid of his mythical hammer, teleports it away to another dimension, far beyond the reaches of the solar system. The US Air Force arrives and takes on the fight against the Chitauri spaceships. Finally, Captain America authorizes the weapon of last resort: thousands of feet above the battle, Banner is thrown out of a helicopter. His rage triggers a Hulk transformation. Captain America successfully redirects the Hulk against the Chitauri, who are destroyed by the Hulk's sheer rage and devastating force. Hawkeye shoots him with a dose of the cure, reverting him to an unconscious Bruce Banner. Standing amidst the ruins of the Chitauri and an intact world, Janet Pym remarks, "I think this means we're superheroes."
The world celebrates the Ultimates, who celebrate in turn at the White House. Nick Fury walks past the Oval Office to the balcony overlooking Washington and notes to the nearby honor guards that "it's not every day that you save the world."
Gods and Monsters (Ultimates 2 # 1-6)
The second Millar/Hitch run, Ultimates 2, began in December 2004 and has published twelve of thirteen issues as of December 2006. In the first six issues, the Ultimates again fight overseas, invading and forcefully disarming rogue nations and causing worldwide concern that the United States is gradually establishing an expansionist empire akin to that of ancient Rome. The truth of the Ultimates' actual involvement with the second Hulk rampage is revealed, causing a massive PR disaster and a death sentence for Bruce Banner.
During a search for a mole within the Ultimates, Thor is suspected and later incarcerated, based on evidence fabricated by what is later revealed to be the trickster god Loki, Thor's half-brother. The series had a sizeable Hank Pym subplot, showing him attempting to redeem himself to the Ultimates (with prototype designs for Ultron Robots) and try a humiliating superhero comeback by joining a hapless vigilante group, the Defenders.
Millar stated in Pop Culture Shock that this arc reflected contemporary issues, ranging from hyper-powered countries like the USA, preemptive strikes, the rising world-wide anti-American sentiment in the wake of the neoconservative Bush Doctrine, and the "rogue nation" classification and the fear of backlash in form of nuclear armageddon. Millar said: "In the name of oil, this administration is stirring up a hornet's nest (...). My own belief is that there'll be a couple of nuclear attacks in the States, the multinationals will move elsewhere, the American economy will completely collapse and make the 30s look like the 80s and the Middle East will be occupied by drafted teenagers from your home town. (...) I hope I'm completely and utterly wrong."
The second story arc of Ultimates 2 (issues #7-12), which also suffered major publishing delays, sees the Ultimates neutralized one by one, thanks to the still-unrevealed traitor. Thor is framed as an insane mental patient wielding stolen technology; Hawkeye is captured; and the murder of his wife and children are blamed on Captain America, who is apprehended and imprisoned in the Triskelion. The traitor is later revealed as Black Widow. Her true allegiance is to the Liberators, a supervillain alliance consisting of recruits and funding from past and present enemy countries of the United States: Syria, North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran, with help from France. Thanks to information culled from the captured and drugged Hawkeye, and the elimination of key members of the Ultimates, the Liberators' invasion is blindingly effective, and they seize control of the United States.
Shortly after, Captain America is freed and fights his way out of the Triskelion holding cell with Wasp. Hawkeye escapes his captors, and the three converge onto the White House, freeing other Ultimates, who begin organizing a massive counter-offensive against the occupying invaders. The Liberators, many of whom were engineered doppelgangers of the existing Ultimates, are gradually dispatched one-by-one.
Quicksilver defeats Hurricane by using her as a windshield until her body dissolves. Captain America defeats Colonel Abdul al-Rahman. Wasp defeats Swarm, and the Hulk defeats the Abomination. A supersoldier task force from the European Union appears on American soil and frees Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, all of whom resist the Liberator occupation in New York City. Hank Pym orders his Ultron robots to turn against the Liberators. As the Ultimates approach victory, Loki reveals his true self and threatens retaliation. Scarlet Witch changes the probability that someone will appear to face Loki. With lightning inflaming the skies, Thor appears, now fully healed, poised to battle his half-brother.
Members of the Ultimates include Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Wasp, GiAnt-Man, General Nick Fury, the Black Widow, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.
General Nick Fury is the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the fictional branch of the U.S. military devoted to meta-human threats. In this version, he is black and occasionally joins the team on field missions, employing advanced spy technology (e.g. invisibility) to stay alive. He also makes various cameos throughout the Ultimate Marvel Universe, more so than the other Ultimates. In an interview for Fanboy Radio Bryan Hitch explains the origins of their version of the character: If a government-sanction superteam existed, it would be run by someone who had had both a military and political background and arrived at Colin Powell. Since the original Nick Fury had been based on the 1960s definition of cool, Dean Martin, the 21st-century version would be based on the durrent definition of cool, Samuel L Jackson.
According to Bryan Hitch's Fanboy Radio interview, Samuel L Jackson's wife purchased original artwork of Nick Fury and has it hanging in his home.
Captain America, real name Steve Rogers, is the only known successful recipient of the so-called "super-soldier serum", which gave him enhanced strength and durability. After his last mission, he was frozen in the Arctic Ocean for over 50 years, and only recently was found and revived. He is patriotic, jingoistic, and deeply conservative (unlike his more liberal 616 counterpart). A tactical genius, he is the Ultimates' field leader and maintains a stereotypical 1940s attitude in the modern post-2000 world.
Iron Man, real name Tony Stark, is a billionaire industrialist, unrepentant playboy, and inventive genius. Stark has an inoperable brain tumor, and as a result, decides to do something of worth before he dies: instead of putting the Iron Man powered armor he invented onto the open market, he keeps it for himself and uses it to take a personal hand in righting the world's wrongs. In addition to being a shameless womanizer, Stark is portrayed as an alcoholic, as he was for a time in the original comics. During the second series, Stark becomes engaged to Black Widow, giving her a suit of black armor as an engagement present. It is shown in his limited series that Tony is particularly susceptible to alcohol due to the fact that his brain tissue extends into much of his body (which in turn explains his hyper-intelligence). Furthermore, due to an accident with his mother whilst he was in the womb (the same accident which granted him his unusually high intelligence), he has the ability to regenerate from even grievous wounds. A downside, however, is that he is in constant pain and may also drink to excess to dull this pain.
Thor claims to be a true deity, the exiled Son of Odin. He maintains a cult of personality around himself with his preachings of political conspiracies orchestrated by the New World Order. According to his dossier, he is Thorleif Golman, an ex-nurse who suffered a nervous breakdown and spent 18 months in a mental institution. He appears to have super-Powers which include flight, the ability to manipulate the weather, super-strength and also exhibits a degree of clairvoyance. He also wields the allegedly magical hammer Mjolnir, which can teleport objects into other dimensions. One of the mysteries behind Thor is whether or not he really is the Thor of Norse mythology. The later appearance of Loki, who mysteriously appears to taunt Thor and subsequently appears with an opposing supervillain team, appears to give credence to Thor's claims. He refuses to be an official member of the team, which he considers pawns of the military-industrial complex, but offers to be on call anytime there is a "genuine emergency" that requires his help.
The Hulk, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner. He is a scientific genius who created the Hulk during a botched scientific experiment amid his resentment and inability to recreate Captain America's super-soldier serum, tired of being treated as a milquetoast by his teammates and for being cuckolded by his ex-girlfriend, Betty Ross. As in the mainstream version, Banner is a Jekyll-and-Hyde character. However, in the Ultimate universe, he is divided between his insecure, neurotic human form and a monstrous, cannibalistic, and sexually aggressive Hulk form. After Hulk killed 852 people, Banner was sentenced to death by nuclear explosion, but transformed into the Hulk at the last second and escaped through the blast. After the events of Ultimate Hulk vs. Ultimate Wolverine, Banner "embraced his inner sociopath" and returned in Ultimates vol. 2, to fight alongside the Ultimates.
GiAnt-Man and the Wasp, are husband and wife Henry and Janet Pym. Henry has the ability to turn himself into a giant, whereas Janet can transform into a wasp-sized version of herself, with wings and the ability to "sting." Their strained marraige includes emotional, verbal and physical abuse by both of them, leading Janet to begin a relationship with Captain America after divorcing Henry. The relationship with Captain America also faces strain, largely from the inherent generational differences and Janet's attempts to re-establish a friendship with Henry.
The Black Widow and Hawkeye, are Natasha Romanova, a former KGB spy and expert assassin and Clint Barton, an archer with almost superhuman accuracy. They were originally part of the Ultimates' covert operations "Black Ops" team, but were subsequently moved to public status after their backgrounds were falsified for public consumption.
Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, are Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, a pair of mutant siblings. Pietro has the power of super speed, and Wanda can affect probabilities with her Powers. Unlike the original mainstream versions of these characters, they have not abandoned their ties to Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy or their belief in mutant supremacy. Because of their mutant status, they remain a part of the black ops section. They are often depicted touching and relating to each other intimately. They sometimes claim to have saved their fellow team members' lives "off panel" without their knowledge.
Phase two of the super-soldier program. These soldiers are slated to join the Ultimates, which would decidedly add a much more straightforward military aspect to the team, as these characters are all military personnel.
The Reserves.Rocketmen, wearing customized armor suits based on early Iron Man designs. Four are members of the Ultimate Reserves, while the others serve actively as general super-soldiers.
Giant-Men, seven men injected with a modified version of Hank Pym's "Giant Man" Formula, allowing them to grow to just under 200 feet in height. In issue #9 of Ultimates 2, all the giant-men were seemingly killed by the Liberators' foot soldiers.
In recent issues of Ultimates 2, certain foot soldiers have been equipped with light blue enhancement suits that bestow flight and super-strength upon the wearer. Based on panel illustrations, it can be inferred there are at least 100 troops with these suits.
The following characters have yet to assist the Ultimates.
The Four Seasons, four Marines who derive their Powers from their uniforms. Their costume designs and abilities follow the season motif.
Lieberman (deceased), the only Reserve member (besides Giant Men) whose Powers were not costume-based. He was injected with the Super-Soldier serum and, as a result, exhibited enhanced speed and strength, as well as nearly indestructible skin. He also possessed an innate connection to the S.H.I.E.L.D. supercomputer. He was intended to replace Captain America in case he was killed or went rogue. However, his central nervous system collapsed after he saved 57 people from a fire in New York City; the strain of the super-soldier serum killed him. It is suggested that there have been several other soldiers like him who died the same way.
The Human Sentinels, Sixty of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top agents in Sentinel battle armor that has enough hardware to take on a fleet of the old Sentinel models. Special polychrome coatings prevent magnetic fields from harming them in any way. They also have helmets to deter telepathy.
Other reserves are mentioned, Thunderbolt and Intangi-girl, but they were not yet operational in their original appearance, and have not yet reappeared.
All the other Ultimate Universe title characters (Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four) have interacted with the Ultimates at various times; however, characters who have thus far only appeared in conjunction with the Ultimates are:
Falcon, Samuel Wilson, an explorer, adventurer, and scientist who utilizes a backpack with high-tech folding wings to fly. Wilson first appeared in Ultimate Nightmare, then worked on the Vision, demonstrating a high level of technological understanding. He is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than an official member of the Ultimates or Reserves.
Captains Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, of the European Defense Initative, are the European Union's super-soldiers. Their suits allow them to exhibit superhuman strength, endurance, flight, and are immune to drowning. They assisted in the capture of Thor and rebuilding of America following the Liberators' attack.
Mahr Vehl, Pluskommander Geheneris Halason Mahr Vehl, human name Dr. Phillip Lawson, first appeared in Ultimate Secret, as the head scientist of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s space program. He is a Kree alien who underwent surgery to appear human. When necessary, Lawson can activate a cybernetic battlesuit from his wrist watch to gain superhuman strength, flight, endurance, shielding, invisibility, and an arm-mounted cannon. He has yet to reappear.
Vision, discovered in a Siberian military base during Ultimate Nightmare, the Vision was held for research at the Triskelion. After the defeat of Gah Lak Tus, the Vision is dispatched to herald its arrival on other worlds, along with the warning that "humans can kick the Hell out of anyone." Dr. Pym created a robot based on the Vision midway through Ultimates 2, dubbed Vision II.
Carol Danvers, a United States Air Force Captain, former director of security at S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Aerospace Development Station 9, transferred to personal aide to General Fury. First appearing in Ultimate Secret, it is she that incarcerates Mahr Vehl and is then assigned to watch him at all times. Because of this, Sue Storm teases her about having an alien boyfriend. Captain Danvers makes her reappearance in Ultimate Power.
Aside from the Hulk, the Ultimates have fought and encountered several super powered foes, including Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy, the Ultimate Six and the product of an abandoned Russian supersoldier program. They have also fought the X-Men twice, though it was not until recently that Fury declared the X-Men enemies of the state. They also tangled with the villain Deathlok, whom they defeated with the assistance of Spider-Man.
The Chitauri and their leader, Captain America's wartime nemesis, Herr Kleiser, have proven to be formidable enemies of The Ultimates, a reptilian alien race based on the mainstream Marvel Skrulls.
The Ultimates have over the years defeated or killed a number of super-villains; most are detained in the Triskelion. A list of imprisoned supercriminals include:
Mystique (Posing as Magneto)
Herr Kleiser (Dead, remains kept imprisoned to prevent him from regenerating)
Deathstrike (Status Unknown: neck snapped by Longshot although she possesses a healing factor)
Green Goblin (Kept in cryogenic suspension)
Doctor Octopus (Shown working for the government in USM #103)
Sandman (Scattered into several isolated jars)
Elijah Stern (Created Vulture's suit, now forced to work for Fury)
The latest enemies of the Ultimates are the Liberators, the superhuman strike force of an international coalition that invades the United States out of retaliation for the incursion of The Ultimates on foreign soil. They seemed to have been influencing most of the events which transpired during the majority of The Ultimates 2 series. During the final battle in New York, the entire team was killed by their Ultimates counterparts with the exception of Perun and the Liberators' Asgardian ally, Loki.
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