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Patriot Actions

  The Ultimates, Vol. 2: Homeland Security


Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch

Marvel, 2004

Rating: 4.2



Posted: May 20, 2004

By Kevin Forest Moreau

The character of Captain America has always operated off the back of a paradox. Although he presents himself as a symbol of America, the Captain isn't actually a sanctioned representative of, or even a paid operative of, the United States government. (Well, there's his participation in the government-sanctioned Avengers super-team, but we'll get to that momentarily.) So the suspension of disbelief required in Cap's exploits doesn't involve the super-soldier serum that gave him his powers; instead, it's that the U.S. government would ever allow a man who claimed to represent America's "ideals" rather than its policies to run around in public wearing an American flag and a giant A on his forehead.

In The Ultimates, Mark Millar's spin on this credibility-straining conceit is to make his Captain America a hard-headed throwback to a simpler era when most problems could be solved with fisticuffs. In the first volume to collect the series, Millar's Cap lets slip a hint of his aggressive machismo when he kicks a helpless Bruce Banner in the face for having become the Hulk and caused a fight resulting in the destruction of much property and the loss of many lives. In Homeland Security, which collects issues 7-13 of the ongoing series, the Captain displays a similar gung-ho attitude when he confronts his colleague Henry Pym, who's more or less on the lam after having almost killed his wife, the Wasp, during a super-powered domestic spat. Acting on his own with no authority from his government, he tracks Pym down to a bar in Chicago and goads him into an ass-kicking.

In short, this Ultimate Captain America is far more prone to rash behavior than his Marvel Universe counterpart -- a trait his government no doubt identifies with and appreciates. The Ultimate world, after all, is one that tracks much closer to our own, recasting the Marvel Universe in a thoroughly modern present without the excessive baggage of Marvel's decades of tangled continuity. And one can only imagine what our current administration would do with a super-powered fighting machine whose "kick butt first, ask questions later" approach seems in line with our president's penchant for cowboy diplomacy. (It'd make damn sure to keep such a volatile weapon under its jurisdiction in a government-sponsored superteam like the Ultimates -- the Ultimate line's Avengers -- for one thing.) It's not hard to catch a whiff of political observation on writer Millar's part when his Captain America, whose simple 1940s code doesn't have room for our moral relativism, bellows with jingoistic fury at an opponent: "Surrender??!! You think this letter on my head stands for France?"

That Millar's Captain America is the most intriguing part of Homeland Security isn't a slight to the rest of this collection, which concerns a sweeping alien invasion straight out of Independence Day. Except that Millar's Chitauri -- the Ultimate version of Marvel's shape-changing Skrulls, apparently -- aren't merely conquering invaders; they're agents of a higher universal order out to stamp out the pestilent virus of free will, a goal they almost achieved when they initiated World War II. This post-modern rationale is certainly more interesting than the Manifest Destiny such alien races usually rely on, but even here The Ultimates falls prey to a problem that's plagued Marvel Comics since its inception: With rare exceptions, antagonists are little more than cardboard constructs, in glaring contrast to the flawed, all-too human protagonists for which the company is so justly hailed.

The action unfurls in a wide-screen panorama familiar to followers of ambitious books like Grant Morrison's run on JLA or even Millar's work on The Authority. But a sense of fatigue -- call it epic creep -- soon sets in; this cinematic-scope approach to comics storytelling is no longer quite as new and inventive as it once was, even in the first Ultimates collection. In a way, Homeland Security is a victim of Millar's success.

But it's still an engaging read, filled with intriguing and amusing modern takes on classic Marvel characters like Thor and Iron Man (both fleshed out ever-so-slightly here), as well as newcomers Hawkeye, Black Widow, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. And none of it would work without Bryan Hitch's amazing, gorgeous artwork, which continues to set the standard for cinematic photo-realism; his eye for detail lends a compelling reality to sprawling cityscapes and burly action sequences alike. Millar's may be the mind that re-imagines these four-color icons and places them in spectacular situations, but it's Hitch, more than Millar or Captain America himself, who proves The Ultimates' most powerful weapon.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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