HIVE OF SCUM PRESENTS: Mark Millar & Ultimate Avengers 2: A Study In Awful.

Max: Hey, so usually Thursdays mean new comic reviews. But a host of factors kind of made that undoable this week, so instead I’ve decided I’m going to shake things up alittle.

I just read Ultimate Avengers Volume 2: Crime and Punishment. It’s bad. It’s REAL bad. And we’re going to talk about just how bad it is. Helping me do this is Internet Friend and known Twitterer, Chris Chance!

Chris: Yeah, this is basically….remember the Will Ferrell sketch where he’s satan and Garth Brooks is the regular dude who’s trying to sell his soul? Basically Ultimate Comics: Avengers is Will Ferrell. Mark Millar likes doing big dumb action comics for people that like big dumb action comics. I like big, dumb action comics. I freely admit to it. But the problem is that, instead of playing a crazy awesome demon guitar, Mark Millar is giving us a Fender. He doesn’t know the make or model, or how to even play it.

And at the end of the day, Jesus. Jeeeeesus. You get Ultimate Comics: Avengers 1 and 2.
That’s probably the most complicated metaphor I could use, but it’s really damn accurate.

Max: I dug it. The metaphor, I mean. Not this comic. Never this comic.

Chris: It’s pretty bad.

Max: So I think the best way to do this is I’m going to throw an image here and we’re going to talk about it
Chris: That’s probably for the best.
Max: It should say something profound that the only way to review this book is to treat it like a psyche evaluation.

Max: For our readers who haven’t read the arc, here’s the important details courtesy of WIKIPEDIA:

Captain America goes undercover as a Russian crime lord in order to capture the Punisher. Instead of executing Castle, however, Nick Fury and the Black Widow secretly offer him a place on their new Avengers team. Meanwhile, War Machine is sent to South America to find a gangster who goes by the name Tyrone Cash. A former partner of Bruce Banner, Cash also possesses Hulk-like strength and invulnerability while retaining his intelligence. He is eventually blackmailed by War Machine to join the new Avengers team. After this team is fully assembled Nick Fury informs them of their current target, Ghost Rider. It is revealed that the Ghost Rider, as Johnny Blaze, made a pact with the demon Satan in seeking revenge on a biker gang, who killed Blaze and his girlfriend Roxanne Simpson as part of a satanic ritual in bartering their souls with Satan in exchange for wealth and power. The leader of the bikers Michael Blackthorne is the Vice-President, who made an executive order to the Avengers to stop the Ghost Rider from killing him.

Max: Whew. For a 6 issue story with no real character and long-form plot development, this thing is COMPLICATED.

Chris: Bear in mind that, before this, The story for Ultimate Comics: Avengers was literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. so, building on it was like chucking another adagio on the symphony. Okay, where do you want to start?

Max: Lets talk about Ultimate Punisher. Who is just kind of FASCINATING.
Chris: I kind of just wanted to give ‘Ol Frank a big hug, because what the hell was even going on there.
Max: I mean, I’ll give Millar credit in that he largely resembles the Punisher except for a line of dialogue that he utters in the last issue that just completely baffles me but more on that later.
Chris: Let’s talk about his costume, because man, there is a lot of ammo (PUN!) that that costume gives us.
Max: Oh yes. The Ultimate Avengers force The Punisher to be in their little Suicide Squad
but since they don’t want the public to know they’re working with a serial killer they put him in a faux Captain America get up. This isn’t a terribly idea except THEN YOU REALIZE THE COSTUME HAS A GIANT PUNISHER SKULL ON IT.
Chris: THAT was my favorite part of the entire goddamned thing.
Max: It makes absolutely no sense.
Chris: “We’re giving you a new costume so people can’t recognize you. BOOM. Here’s your giant trademark that’s been all over the news.” It’d be cool if he just like, spraypainted it on, but no, it was on there before. Someone thought about that shit. The crazy R&D department that Ultimate S.H.I.E.L.D. has which is basically Tony Stark’s David Bowie-esque brother. Seriously, look at that guy. Like he’s informing Bret of a party in space, which he’s late for.
Max: It actually would’ve been kinda interesting if they’d just put Castle in a regular Cap suit, literally making become something else. Alright, lets talk about TYRONE CASH aka BLACK HULK AKA YIKES HULK.
Chris: The First Hulk. Yeah, the ramifications of what Millar is trying to tell us about race are staggering.
Max: Tyrone Cash (which is a name that would’ve probably not even made it into a 70’s era issue of Power Man and Iron Fist, btw) teaches Bruce Banner everything he knows, tests out his experimental serum on himself, then becomes a literal gigantic black stereotype. Oh, and he’s got a cockney accent for some reason.
Chris: Well, he’s TOTALLY ENGLISH. Which, I’m really glad that a) Millar gets a chance to rip on the Black UK population, because he’s from there. I’m not really glad about that. At all.

Also, it implies that Bruce Banner stole the experimental serum and claimed it as his own in the original Ultimates.
Max: Millar’s retconning a story he himself wrote like 7 years ago. The mind boggles.
Chris: That’s not even the only time he does that in this story!
Max: Any time I ever hear someone say that the whole “Millar is racist” thing is overblown, I just want to show them pictures of this guy.
Chris: He’s just all “Yeah, I’m the hulk. I’m gonna rise to power.” “Power” meaning basically a rap video. Tyrone Cash lives in a perpetual rap video.
Max:  They really should’ve just called him “Tyrone Power“.
Chris: I’m really surprised that Millar didn’t go for the racist gold in the conflict between War Machine and Cash.
Max:  Yeah, lets talk about War Machine for a second. Having never read an Ultimate Iron Man I or II before, he comes off like a total blank slate that says enough to advance the plot. Why is this dude even here?
Chris: I can fill you in on Ultimate War Machine. Basically, at one point, his armor was a Mecedes M-Class convertible with thumping bass and it transformed into what you see here.

There you go, buddy, you are up to speed. He fought Ultimate Captain America. And now he does this.
Max: Oh right, he was in the previous arc. Does this character have like…goals? Aspirations? I have NO IDEA WHAT HE’S DOING HERE other than being a Transformer.
Chris: Beepbeepbeepboop. He’s basically there to tell Cash that he’s a bad father. That’s his role. “You want to join our team? We won’t let these people down if you do! eh? eh?”
Max: Yeah this scene is like Goofus and Gallant but with awful racial stereotypes. Oh, and before I forget. War Machine using the trump card of “WE WILL TELL THE FAMILY YOU ABANDONED TO BECOME CRIME HULK THAT YOU DIDN’T DIE BOOM” is hilarious.
Chris: Would that EVEN matter at this point? Oh yeah, his wife will seek him out for child support payments. She won’t be successful, probably, but even so? His life is pretty great.
He obviously doesn’t give a damn, or he’d be back there doing things.
Max: Millar totally wanted this to be some big moment and it completely falls on its face. Because you can’t throw something like that in a story where everyone is just an enormous douchebag.
Chris: YES. because everyone in this story is just so insanely Douche-y. Do you want to move on to Hawkeye, because Hawkeye, brother. Hawkeye got problems.
Max: Haha yeah lets do that.
Chris: Ultimate Hawkeye is basically Bullseye.They gave him arrows, but it didn’t stick, so now he uses all sorts of “gun” with which to go on government funded suicidal killing sprees. So, they slapped him in a vagina-neck sweater, chucked him on a black ops team.
Max: With a woman who has the same codename as the person who murdered his family!
Chris: Oh yeah and he’s really goddamn cordial about it.  I want to focus on another high point in this series: When Hawkeye attempts to connect on a personal level with The Punisher.  And, well, it goes about as well as it probably could, when you mention someone’s main motivation for killing MILLIONS OF PEOPLE as being “not that bad” and giving him the old “I’m Here For You, Buddy”.
Max: This was like the one story element that really interested me and Millar just fumbles it. Hawkeye just WALKS up to the Punisher and starts talking about how they both have dead families.
Chris: “Hey, we’re waiting for this shit to go down. Allow me to get emotional on you for no good fucking reason”. They are literally out there waiting for Ghost Rider. Which, if that’s what Ultimate Hawkeye did ALL THE TIME, he’d be my favorite comic character ever. “I know we’re about to fight Doctor Doom, but, hey isn’t it weird that in Pushing Dasies, you never see the dude’s mom?”
Max: I would’ve done a complete 360 on this arc if the Ghost Rider thing was just a smokescreen and Millar was REALLY writing about a blossoming gay romance between The Punisher and Hawkeye.
Chris: That would be the best thing EVER.
Max: I think the problem with these comics is that they’re SO RIDICULOUS but Millar doesn’t go that extra bit to make it the comedy it was born to be.
Chris: That’s the catch 22 of it. He’s like 90% there on making the best mainstream parody comic of all time. I don’t know if he knows it, but if he does, that is GENIUS.
Max: There’s a definite air of parody here, I think. But its like Millar’s just putting out the stupidest, most pandering comic in existence.
Chris: Okay, let’s knock out the last bit of the team here.
Max:  Black Widow?
Chris: What purpose does Black Widow serve?
Max:  The team needed  a woman?
Chris: Ok, because I’m pretty sure Black Widow is there because Nick Fury likes complaining about his marriage. That seems to be all he does whenever she’s brought up.
Max:  Yep. Again, just a total blank slate that parrots Millar Talk.
Chris: “You don’t have to tell me how terrible she is, I married her!”. I just want Punisher to bust out “Yeah, why DID you marry her, Nick? she seems like a total bitch!”
Chris: YES.
Max: The dramatic moment where Black Widow reveals that Nick Fury slept with all of her friends and family FOR NO APPARENT REASON. Just to fuck with her.
Chris: I can’t even put a finger as to why it doesn’t work, but it just doesn’t. It doesn’t work and is completely off putting. In fact, I think it makes me care even less about Nick Fury.
Max: I think now is as good a time to talk about how fucking bizarrely sexist this whole exercise is.
Chris:  Well, beyond the entire women that aren’t even used on the team, there’s the thing I think you noticed. That women are basically things.
Max: Oh yeah. And Millar repeatedly has male characters call women “bitches” or “whores” in this arc. And then there’s the scene where Gregory Stark calls Carol Danvers dumb to her face and she just sits there and takes it!
Chris: “Yeah, it’s a pain to hear her make words. With her mouth. Let’s go somewhere else, Nick.”
Max: Like, this is just accepted.. The whole thing creeps me out. Mainly because Marvel, atleast back a few years ago, was pitching this line as The Future of Marvel Comics.
Chris: Yeah, it was marketed as the beginning of a new era in readability.
Max: And what we’re getting here is characters just spouting offensive “cool” nonsense.
Chris: Oh yeah. The Ultimates is where everything broke down. EVERYTHING in the ultimate universe.
Max: I mean, Bendis has somehow made Ultimate Spider-Man remain readable but we’re talking about the kind of continuous creative decisions that caused formerly high-selling Fantastic Four and X-Men books to get cancelled. We should talk about Ghost Rider, I guess, since he’s like the star of this thing.
Chris: Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this depiction of Mephisto may have had a small anime influence. Just a teeeeeeeensy one.
Max: I didn’t realize until the third act of the story that the dude with anime hair was supposed to be the Devil and not Johnny Blaze. Its sloppy storytelling. And why is he sitting in airports, vaguely menacing children?
Chris: Yeah, good job on that one devil.
Max: I like how Millar takes the basic Ghost Rider origin and just kind of messes it up in ways that don’t make sense. So these satanist bikers kill Johnny Blaze’s girlfriend.He gives his soul to Velsing Satan or whatever. Satan brings back his girlfriend, gives her a new life without him, and makes him into his fire-headed errand boy. Ghost Rider goes around killing all the people responsible. And even after Satan tries to kill him with another Ghost Rider, Blaze is just like “Ah well, as long as you keep my girlfriend alive, I’m happy!”
Chris: Yeah, he’s all hippy skippy about just murdering people for the devil all of a sudden.
Max: Like, the whole point of Ghost Rider is the dude is this insane wildcard you can throw into a comic who just fucks up everyone. Making him kowtow to Beelzebub and accept his lot in life is just such weak writing.
Chris: But let’s be honest here. This entire arc is about absolutely no repercussions for any of these people.
Max: None at all!
Chris: You know what could happen? This entire story could go into a moebius loop and it would still all make a strange sort of sense. Just Ultimate Comics: Avengers 2 in perpetuity. Forever.
Max:  I hope the last page of the last issue of Millar’s last Ultimates comic is Nick Fury fucking Captain America’s old 1940’s girlfriend.
Chris: You know what? it’s actually shaping up to be exactly that. That’s what Ultimatium was.
Max: We find out that the whole Ultimates line is just the story of a Ultimate Nick Fury’s sex addiction.
Chris: “Hey, you know what? Nick Fury is a sex addict.” and the last issue of anything ever is basically an STD pamphlet. Inform yourselves about herpes. Here’s Tyron Cash to show you how.”
Max: If Ellis had written Ultimate Extinction a few years later, he would’ve picked up the ball on this and just had Fury fuck the Gah Lak Tus wave into submission. Chris, do you have any kind of closing remarks you want to share here?
Chris:  I think what I miss most about Ultimate Comics: Avengers 2 is that, dear god, it could have been so much better. It could have been a comic about Something. instead, what we got was a giant, violent, nonsensical episode of Seinfeld that made you feel sorry about the comics industry in general.
Max: Yeah. It kills me that like…Morrison or Bendis or Jason Aaron or whoever could’ve made something pretty cool and fun out this story. What we get here is something that I felt less intelligent having read.
Chris: It’s something that shouldn’t have been made. Like I said before, it’s almost as if Marvel wanted Lenil Yu to draw something. They didn’t care what it was, and neither did he. Mark Millar just decided to, I don’t know, participate by slamming a story together.
Max: This thing feels like a first draft that Millar threw together in an afternoon.
Chris: Ultimate Comics: Avengers 2: Hey. you want to know how much your money is worth? this. This is what you are paying at least 3 dollars for. Here’s a middle finger, spin on it.
Max: Alright, I want to thank you for helping me wrap my head around this, Chris. But before we go, lets talk about this one last panel.
Chris: I want to thank you for giving me a shot at explaining my severe hatred of this thing.
Max: Frank Castle. Delivering a zinger about how he voted for Sarah Palin. …What the fuck?
Chris: I don’t know why Millar decided to reference Palin here, but I think it adds the only depth this story has to offer. Which is a lot like driving a million miles in the wrong direction.
Max: It makes absolutely no sense. It’s a completely gratuitous, deliberately inflammatory reference to pop culture. In other words, it is the perfect encapsulation of Millar and this book.
I’m going to go drink and lie down now.