[29 July 2013]
There was once a time when Ultimate comics were considered Marvel’s gold standard. It wasn’t just another series full of new iterations of well-known characters. It was a brand, not unlike Apple or Rolex, that denoted a certain level of quality. For years, that brand was very strong, introducing stories and concepts that would later find their way into Marvel’s 616 comics and the 2012 blockbuster the Avengers. However, in recent years that brand has deteriorated to a point where it keeps trying to be the next Apple iPod, but instead it has turned into the ill-fated Microsoft Zune.
Rather than being Marvel’s gold standard, Ultimate is now a line where quality has been sacrificed in favor of creative anarchy. Marvel now bills Ultimate as a series where anything can happen, even if it shouldn’t. This has led to stories built around shock value rather than an engaging plot. A very recent issue of Joshua Fialkov’s Ultimates had an evil Reed Richards performing brain surgery on a still-conscious Tony Stark. And the sad part is that’s not even close to the most shocking thing Ultimates has done. This is a series that has utilized cannibalism, incest, and sex tapes. And therein lies the problem that Hunger #1 faces before it even begins. It’s attempting to make a shocking change in a series where the audience has already been desensitized to shock tactics.
That’s not to say that Hunger #1 doesn’t have appeal. It definitely does and it delivers on that appeal to an extent. In many ways this issue and the concept of this series is less about the ongoing events in the Ultimate comics and more about the aftermath of Age of Ultron. This issue ties directly into the universal upheaval revealed in Age of Ultron #10, which showed Galactus tearing his way into the Ultimate universe. However, it takes a while for us to actually see that story.
Like going into a movie that has way too many bad previews, the first half of Hunger #1 follows the utterly unappealing story of Rick Jones. In the Ultimate universe, he was chosen by the Watchers to be the protector of the universe. And in this comic he approaches that responsibility the same way most teenagers would approach a part-time job at a McDonald’s. He spends most of this comic complaining endlessly about his responsibilities and carrying on like every juvenile stereotype ever portrayed in a John Hughes movie. He’s no Peter Parker or Miles Morales. He’s just a kid who whines incessantly about not getting his way.
It’s hard to really care about Rick Jones in a story that is supposed to be about Galactus entering the Ultimate universe. However, Rick isn’t the only Ultimate concept that is utilized in Hunger #1. After the Watchers drag Rick back to his responsibilities, they take him to the middle of an inter-stellar battle between the Kree and the Chitauri. Ultimate fans and fans of Joss Whedon’s Avengers should recognize the Chitauri, who actually come off as much more likable than Rick Jones. Even though they’re fighting a war that involves them sacrificing their own people, at least they carry some emotional weight in the story. It’s way more compelling than watching Rick Jones ditch his job so he can grab some burgers on Earth.
This battle between the Kree and Chitauri leads to a direct confrontation with Gah Lak Tus, which is the Ultimate incarnation of Galactus. It also brings back one of the more unique characters of the Ultimate universe that didn’t rely on shock tactics. In Ultimate, the concept of Galactus is different in that Gah Lak Tus is a massive swarm of world-destroying robots that have decimated life of countless planets for reasons that are very different than the mainstream Galactus. It’s a novel concept that was once consistent with the Ultimate policy of being the gold standard. And it would have made Hunger #1 a lot more engaging if it didn’t take half a comic of Rick Jones whining to get to this plot.
By the time the events of Age of Ultron #10 finally converge, the impact is overdue. Nonetheless, it is still very satisfying to see Galactus literally tear a hole through space and force his way into the Ultimate universe. And his presence immediately affects Gah Lak Tus. In what is definitely the most compelling moment of the issue, the Gah Lak Tus swarm tries to consume Galactus. But in the end they actually merge to become one being with the Gah Lak Tus swarm now acting as heralds. It effectively delivers what Hunger #1 promised, but only for those patient enough to endure the forgettable filler that preceded it.
And that’s the biggest problem with Hunger #1. Only one third of this whole comic is compelling. The plot with Rick Jones was needlessly juvenile and the war between the Chitauri and Kree felt like it was just shoehorned into the story to add a few obligatory explosions. It’s akin to throwing darts at a dart board blindfolded, but still hitting the target a few times. It’s not a bullseye, but it still delivers something appealing.
The promise of Hunger is definitely there, but the realization of that promise is lacking. Just throwing Rick Jones, the Chitauri, and Galactus into the story isn’t enough in the same way that just tossing ice cream and milk in a blender doesn’t make a good milkshake. It still needs to be effectively blended. And Hunger #1 failed to do that until the final third of the book. And for an Ultimate universe that has been lagging almost as badly as Lindsey Lohan’s movie career, that’s just not enough.