In ‘Grand Theft America’, the final volume of the seminal Millar/Hitch run on Ultimates, the chips are down one last time. America has been overrun by super-powered terrorists and the Ultimates, the first line of defense seem down for the count. With Captain America and Thor incarcerated, Hawkeye tortured, and Black Widow revealed as a traitor, the odds seem stacked against the cadre of superheroes.
Unexpectedly, it is Tony Stark’s Iron Man, drunk and held at gunpoint by the Black Widow, who is first to turn the tide in America’s favor. Escaping capture he dons the earliest model of the Iron Man armor. In another twist, he does not engage the enemy directly; instead he flies towards Stark Space Station, there to activate the most advanced Iron Man to date.
With the theme of self-rescue, Millar provides a cogent argument for the superhero genre being a thematic successor to the western. In westerns the cavalry arriving was a sign of heroes being reintegrated into society, coming home from the frontier. But what happens when society is everywhere, and society itself is being threatened? In this way, superheroes always perform a self-rescue before rescuing others.
Millar’s genius however is to associate the theme of self-rescue with exhilaration of spaceflight. As the view of the Manhattan skyline recedes, eventually replaced with a view of the Eastern Seaboard from the troposphere, Millar and Hitch present their audience with a clear and concise logic. That performing a superhero-style self-rescue for our entire species, is as simple as entering into orbit.