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CSBG Archive

2013 Top 100 Comic Book Storylines #70-66

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67. “The Painting That Ate Paris” by Grant Morrison, Richard Case and John Nyberg (Doom Patrol Vol. 2 #26-29) – 153 points (3 first place votes)

After his excellent debut on the title with “Crawling Through the Wreckage,” Grant Morrison, along with artists Richard Case and John Nyberg, began pushing the boundaries even further with their second arc on the title, which introduces a fascinating new variation on the longtime Doom Patrol foes, the Brotherhood of Evil. The new group is the Brotherhood of Dada, and we see them trying to find a living painting. When they acquire it, it ends up, well, you know, eating all of Paris.

In the early days of his run, Morrison still had the Doom Patrol fairly well planted within the DC Universe, just a weirder area of the DC Universe. I always liked to see that contrast. We see it early in the story when the Justice League shows up to examine the missing Paris and the Doom Patrol similarly shows up and we get to see just how the Doom Patrol is viewed in the DC Universe…

Ultimately, the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood discover that the addition of Paris into the painting has awoken a powerful and destructive force within the painting known as the Fifth Horseman. If it escapes the painting, it could mean the end of all life on Earth. So the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood are forced to team-up to stop the Fifth Horseman (how they do is so is very clever).

The Brotherhood of Dada are such great characters. They end up staying behind in the painting even after the Doom Patrol saves the rest of Paris as in the end, it is not so much that they are villains as much as they are just outcasts, and while they cannot fit into the real world, in the painting they can create their own reality.

This was a wonderful follow-up to Morrison’s first arc, one-upping an arc that rescued the Doom Patrol from fading into obscurity. Case and Nyberg fit the book’s sensibility beautifully.

66. “Super-Human” by Mark Millar, Bryan Hitch and Andrew Currie (Ultimates #1-6) – 154 points (1 first place vote)

In the first story arc of the Ultimates, we are first introduced to Captain America during World War II.

When he is discovered almost 60 years later, he becomes part of the Ultimates, the United States government’s own superhero team.

Headed by Nick Fury, the team is quite dysfunctional – since Captain America’s disappearance, scientists have been trying to perfect the Super Soldier Serum that made Captain America, well, Captain America, and two of those scientists, Hank Pym and Bruce Banner, have developed other powers due to their work – Pym can grow to giant-size and Banner has accidentally created a monstrous being called the Hulk.

Along with Pym’s wife, Wasp (who can shrink – ostensibly because of Pym’s work) and the armored hero, Iron Man (who is a drunk), the Ultimates are not exactly taken all that seriously. A powerful hero claiming to be the Norse god Thor, refuses to join the group because he feels that they are just government lackeys.

When the Hulk goes on the warpath in New York City, the Ultimates have their first mission and, through the assistance of Thor, save the day, but not before many New Yorkers are killed.

In the epilogue to the first story, Pym takes out his frustrations on his wife, in a brutal scene of domestic violence.

There is not a ton of action in the first arc (the second story has tons, though), as Millar spends a lot of time establishing the various characters. However, there is also a lot of examples of “widescreen comics,” as Hitch uses the approach that made him famous in the Authority to great acclaim in the Ultimates – there are many breathtaking pages of art in this series, like the famous fight between Hulk and the Ultimates…

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The Magus saga was one of my picks. Shame on me for neglecting the Alan Moore Swamp thing run and the great Ultimates issues.

Why Bissette never draw anything after Swamp Thing?
He should have been the artist superstar.

I think Bissette self published a series about Dinosaurs .

oh boy, people really go for that flowery Gaiman writing do they?

and they are inside a “dream”. thats kind of dumb. and basic feelings as persons? overdone to heck and also kind of dumb.

The Magus saga was beautiful, moved me in ways even the Dark Phoenix saga did not. Wow, writing that makes me feel silly for cutting it from my list this time, but there you go. Still happy to see it.

Loved that Doom Patrol arc, and pretty sure it will be the representative of that Morrison run (and a good one, too).

I loved that Swamp Thing trade, although it feels like a bit of a cheat counting it all as a storyline. I considered #21 a classic stand-alone issue, but could see it as part of an extended “Jason Woodrue” saga from #21-24. But even then, I think that Demon trilogy should be a different storyline.

But what the heck, it’s all amazing.

I bought the first issue of Bissette’s dinosaur story (“Tyrant”). It was interesting and unbelievably researched and thorough. I’m not too surprised I never saw a second issue on the stands, as it was probably a bit dry for the times (this was during the Image boom) and that first issue was so dense with information and backmatter-type stuff Mr. Bissette could have rightfully taken a year off to rest…would’ve been amazing to keep that up on a monthly basis.

Magus has a sweet afro.

Swamp Thing issues in question represent the best work Alan Moore ever did with the character. Or any character for that matter.

Doom Patrol arc was decent, but I thought the introduction(s) of Danny the Street and Flex Mentallo were more entertaining.

The more time that goes by the more I realize that Millar’s Ultimates really was the pinnacle of the Avengers. It wasn’t the “best” stories and it wasn’t even necessarily “well written”, but it was the best version of the team and basically how every writer should approach the series.

I’ve never been able to take the Magus seriously. The Afro, the boots, the childish Billy Batsonesque lightning bolt in the chest, the shoulder pads.

Bissette might have been a household name by now if not for running afoul of another never-ending Alan Moore hissy fit and Image’s dishonesty.

Steve Bissette published an independent horror anthology, Taboo, in the ’80s & early ’90s. He published 4 amazing issues of his dinosaur comic, Tyrant, in the ’90s. He worked with Moore, Rick Veitch, and others on Image’s 1963 line. Since then, he’s drawn the occasional comic and published several books on horror movies, “real” monsters, and comics.

The Moore/ Bissette/ Totleban/ Veitch Swamp Thing run was outstanding. Even reading it over 10 years after its conclusion, I found the stories both creepy and moving. The art was excellent, the best of its kind since Berni Wrightson’s heyday.

Speaking of pre-Vertigo, the Morrison & Case Doom Patrol comics deftly straddled the line between freaky and funny, with some of Morrison’s best character writing. Likewise, Sandman is a major achievement in the medium. How many other comics featured stories across that could take place literally anywhere?

It’s shameful how few comics approach the level of imagination that Moore, Morrison, & Gaiman displayed 20-30 years ago (including recent, paler works by those same writers). They could get wordy, pretentious, or really weird, but they delivered great comic after great comic.

The only one of the five I havent’ read is the Magus saga. The other four are all great selections though.

Swamp Thing – I didn’t vote but if I had I might have just gone arc by arc through Alan Moore’s Swamp thing run. If I had to pick one arc though, it would be the finale where Swamp Thing is traveling through space.

A Game of You – I thought this was one of the poorer Sandman arcs. I think we are going to see Sandman maybe 4 or 5 more times before this list is over.

The painting that ate Paris – this may have been the high point of Morrison’s Doom Patrol run for me. As the series lasted longer, it seemed to become more confused and over-the-top weird. The painting story is where Morrison found the perfect mesh of oddness with a coherent narrative. If we could make Top 500 lists I might included this.

Ultimates – The cap v. hulk fight in this issue was simply the best hulk OR cap fight I’ve ever read. I mean, if these guys were real, this is what would really happen in a fight between them.

The Crazed Spruce

November 10, 2013 at 8:23 am

Except for the key issue from The Anatomy Lesson, the only one I’ve read this time ’round is The Ultimates, and it didn’t make my short list. (Although I did download the entire Sandman series to my ComixOlogy app a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve read it right up to A Game Of You. Guess I’d better get cracking on that, then….)

The list is getting intense by the number.

The Crazed Spruce

November 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

And by the way….

A Game of You rose from 73 to 70
The Magus Saga rose from 71 to 68
The Painting that Ate Paris fell from 36 to 67
Super-Human fell from 26 to 66

The Anatomy Lesson, believe it or not, is new to the list.

Still all great stories. I have a particular love for Game of You, Anatomy Lesson, and the Magus Saga and could easily have voted for any of them.

I didn’t, but I could have.

A Game of You is my second choice to show up. The Painting That Ate Paris was on my shortlist.

The Anatomy Lesson didn’t really grab me, I’ve yet to continue with the rest of Moore’s Swamp Thing. I think the Ultimates is rubbish, everything the Avengers shouldn’t be.

How were ties broken? Did you flip a coin? Go by #1 votes? Total vote quantity? What?

Total vote quantity. There really weren’t that many ties, though. Below the Top 100 is where you get tons of ties. Up here there is a larger point spread (well, large enough to avoid that many ties, at the very least).

Game Of You is my least favorite Sandman arc (not counting Preludes and Nocturnes, which is really Gaiman doing bastardized Swamp Thing). Still, I mean, it’s Sandman, and it’s great.

“after already being reprinted in the 12980s”

Some kind of temporal loop I’m not aware of?

* Man, the Brotherhood of Dada are awesome, not least because they ask questions about what the Doom Patrol are up to. “Magic Bus” is more overt about those questions, but I love the final issue of the arc above, where Frenzy — a homeless illiterate man with freakish superpowers — finds a world where he can have happiness and creativity.

It’s rather interesting to notice that Mister Nobody, in this arc, really doesn’t mean any of it. He’s a huckster more than the utopian Morrison wrote him as later, but his hype turns out to matter despite the hollow intentions behind it. It’s subtly and overtly a story about the benefits of imagination, and might be Morrison’s best and most mature take on what’s turned out to be his pet theme. He doesn’t neglect the monstrosity of imagination either, but he tends to connect that to a sort of bad faith, an instrumentalization of fantasy. The painting’s status as a prison, Nobody’s inability to get rid of his dreams of power, and the rest are bad uses of imagination; but the power to form bonds in response to art and even the ability of imagination to render power meaningless — dada! — are what carry the day. (The later arc is more about the fragility of such stuff, even if it ends on the note that imagination is irrepressible.)

* The 1970s Thanos stuff holds up well in general. It’s meticulously plotted, and Thanos actually comes off as smarter than most villains because Starlin shows us the work that goes into his planning. He was the first character I’d seen who got the omnipotent whatsit and, instead of just doing big, dumb overt stuff, had a single desire and a single maneuver that gave him what he needed all at once. He employed genuine misdirection, fooling the reader as well as the characters. And in the Warlock saga, Thanos cleverly stays behind the scenes and pops in only when and where no one will bother to question his reasons, because things have grown so desperate. (Darkseid has some of these elements, but he’s more a representation of a sociopolitical concept where Thanos, as the name implies, always reflected a psychological drive or emotional impulse.)

That’s the sort of writing Starlin tended to forget to do later; I’ve been rereading the Silver Surfer stories building to Infinity Gauntlet, and there Thanos doesn’t seem smart so much as average, while everyone else seems deeply stupid and unobservant. Part of the problem is that the first Thanos stories both revolved around the villain as an unknown quantity and that, once revealed, he defied some of the genre conventions mastermind villains then obeyed. In the 1990s, a less subtle time but also a time after characters like Ozymandias and even, say, more nuanced takes on Doctor Doom had redefined the savvy schemer type, Thanos’s original shtick wasn’t cutting edge anymore. Unfortunately, I’m not sure Starlin found a new one for him.

I think he fell into the same trap Thomas Harris did: having created a somewhat romanticized, fascinating monster, he forgot that his “darling” was still a monster, still the character who’s not in the right. Once Thanos became the central character in Starlin’s later stories, everyone else became a prop to show us how deep and smart and clever Thanos was. But how clever and deep can a character be when he’s in a world of props, a world already bent to his favor? (This is also where Millar screwed up with Ultimate Loki; you don’t have to be much of a trickster when all you have to do is wave your hand and the world rearranges itself around your intended deception?) There’s a kind of cluelessness around Thanos’s rather visible sadism in Starlin’s last work with the character, a bit too much buying into an “ends justify the means” idea as the plot bends into pretzels to give Thanos sufficiently convoluted ends to justify his obviously horrific means.

More basically, I find that 1990s Thanos in particular fits well with Kurt Busiek’s criticism of the character: Thanos is basically a gloomy teenager pining after a girl, and later just a gloomy teenage nihilist. We’re asked to take it on faith the no, really, he’s all deep and no one else unde4rstand his deep deep sense of the nature of all things, but, really, the Marvel abstracts are just a lot of New Age bullshit. At best, all that guff about “balance” is a third-hand version of Eastern philosophy as interpreted by an (incompetently) autodidact stoner.

The Giffen and DnA stuff made Thanos work agin, mostly by remembering that he’s a clever villain with a hidden, sometimes perverse agenda. They used him as such, and so he worked in their stories. Make Thanos a protagonist or buy into his supposed mystique, though, and you end up with little more than Hot Topic Darkseid.

* And on the other side of Morrison you have Millar, whose central move is always towards the misanthropically cynical. The Ultimates isn’t much more than the Avengers as written by Holden Caulfield. Its shotgun blasts of cynicism in this first arc are as hollow as its clumsily dutiful stabs at idealism in later arcs, and it fits nicely into a kind of unreflexive resentment about the world coupled with a sense of powerlessness about how to fix things. This arc, for example, is a story about how science nerds are bitter, resentful losers fuming at the world because the hot chick doesn’t want them or they know deep down she can do better, abut thankfully big handsome people with clever-one liners are there to kick them in the face. In this world, gay people can be snarky perverts but not much else; also, if you kill half a city, the prom queen will suddenly be drawn to your Alpha Maleness in the worl’s creepiest epilogue scene.

A certain sort of comics fan loves this sort of thing because they imagine it’s a devastating shot at all the other comics fans, making it a profitable venture in externalized self-loathing. Bryan Hitch does make it very pretty, though, and there’s always a market for candy-coated rot. Can you believe there was time when we all though the pinnacle of comics was a clumsy French joke and references to the presumably eternal stardom of Freddy Prinze, Jr.?

I completely forgot the Magus Saga. It’s good to see her again, though. One of the best stories Starlin.

Ultimates was great.

Omar, we’re in total agreement when it comes to Millar’s “Ultimates” (and I’d extend that opinion to just about everything else Millar’s written.) I’m always amazed at how many people love those books, though I suspect it has something to do with the face that it’s a decent idea. The notion that whatever makes someone a superhero also gives them an eccentric and intense personality (thus putting a group of them together would likely cause far more conflict than most Marvel/DC books depict) isn’t a new one (Watchmen and Giffen’s Justice League did it two decades earlier,) but there’s plenty of life in it even today. Unfortunately, Millar ignored any actual character or plot development in favor of a deep cynicism toward every aspect of the genre. The book isn’t a complete waste, but why bother defending a couple of well-drawn fight scenes when they’re in service of such dreck?

For my money, The Ultimates'” only saving grace is that Millar’s “Ultimate X-Men” was even worse.

Still none of my picks show up. Maybe not as many will as I predicted in the last batch.

I’ve never read Doom Patrol, but have been somewhat intrigued by it for a while. Would people say it’s closer to Morrison’s Animal Man run, or closer to his more current stuff? Because I really enjoyed Animal Man and some of Morrison’s earlier stuff, but most everything he’s done in the past decade has left me cold.

I never have and never will understand the love for Ultimates, especially by people that are Avengers fans. The characters are just so unlikable. Different strokes, I guess.

Very surprised Anatomy Lesson wasn’t on the list last time around. Has there been a new printing released since the last poll? Maybe it wasn’t as easy to get your hands on 4 years ago.

The Magus saga is very much on my to – read list. Seems like something I’d like a lot.

I forgot Sandman for my list, but I’ve got no regrets – it gets enough love on the runs list. If I had voted for any Sandman, I probably would have gone for The Kindly Ones or Season of Mists.

Anatomy Lesson is fantastic. Still working through the hardcovers, and I do rate the second one more than the first overall. But number 21 is one of the best single issues ever. The idea is very good, but the execution is truly exceptional.

Painting That Ate Paris is brilliant. But I already had enough Morrisob on my list.

I’ve already said enough about Super-Human. It’s quite entertaining, but not particularly good (at least the writing’s not – Hitch is very good at what he does).

@Omar Karindu —

You really are overthinking things, dude. They’re just comic books, ffs.

I heard that Jim Starlin is going to be doing yet another Thanos story soon. I am NOT looking forward to it, and will not be buying it. I really wish that Marvel would have left both Thanos and Warlock stay dead after Starlin’s original stories. As Omar observed so accurately, in the Infinity trilogy of the 1990s, and the subsequent Thanos and Warlock stories, those two characters only come across as super-intelligent and clever and ultra-competent because Starlin wrote everyone else in the Marvel universe as a bunch of morons constantly tripping over their own two feet.

All four are excellent choices.

However, the Warlock/Magus/Thanos saga is comic book history at its finest. Hey, if you believe the story, the whole reason Peter Parker became Spiderman was just to help out at one small, but crucial, part of the plot. When I was a kid and read that, I was wowed.

I’ll never like the coloring on The Ultimates.

its a bizarre choice, and really overwhelms the meticulous illustrations

What other comics have used such an overwhelming monochromatic scheme?

agree w/ dhole on splitting up swamp thing/floronic man – swamp thing /etrigan, I guess I wasted a choice thinking they should be separated, as both made my list. and its funny that they were my only choices picked out of a larger run (oh I guess “year one”) all others were limited series w/ definitive beginning and end

was waiting for some of alans moore swamp thing run to show up on the list but expected the atatomy lesson to be another story line higher . and nice to see some sandman on the list. doom patrol interesting the story line with dada and the paiting is the one that winds up on the list. for that one proved how crazy grant can be with the dc universe not to mention jane thinking booster had problem with her

“Would people say it’s closer to Morrison’s Animal Man run, or closer to his more current stuff?”

You see the line above where Animal Man says he’s been living the Twilight Zone? That’s a direct reference to Morrison’s almost simultaneous work on Animal Man, and the answer to your question.

On a side note, I think the “Painting that ate Paris” is the only time Morrison has ever used Booster Gold, who gets to play the role of the everyman who doesn’t get Morrison’s work.

Morrison was involved in 52, where Booster has a pretty big role.

I knew I forgot about something, although to be fair much of the Booster storyline was Johns. (I do remember that Morrison was responsible for the eventual choice of villain in that storyline.)

Booster showed up in Morrison’s JLA and Animal Man, too (a few time in each series), just not as a major player.

@Omar Karindu: Fabulous. The Platonic Form of Millar takedowns. People who pushed Ultimates that high make me sad.

Thanks, Thok. I’ll have to give the first trade a look one of these days.

Anatomy Lesson is such an amazing start if a bigger story.

I will admit that I got caught up in the whole Ultimates opening. I still think about the culture shock of a guy who went to sleep in 1948, and then waking up in 1968, that must have been weird. But to go fron 1948 to 2008, or whenever, I mean, there is nothing for that guy. Everything has changed. That was my big take away from that story. That and the Freddie Prince Jr. reference.

This is the first group of ten not to have one of my picks on it. ‘A Game of You’ is possibly my least favourite Sandman arc (which means it is still brilliant). I just found it hard to get into, possibly because (as is pointed out in the story) it is a story about girls dreams.

My Sandman pick was ‘Season of Mists’, which might still appear.

Anatomy Lesson is the best part of Swamp Thing.
Ultimates I also liked.

A Game of You was my #2. I am aware of its shortcomings as a story (deus ex machina, anyone?), but I still really liked it.

Doom Patrol is on my to-read list.

Booster Gold seemed to be Morrison’s random JLA/I member of choice during Animal Man. At one point he gets an extremely naive line, something like “Superheroes aren’t supposed to lie”. I think Morrison just liked his appearance, he does look like a traditional, generic, all American Superhero.

The Anatomy Lesson seems an odd choice becasue it was a single issue story – but it seems another two arcs have been included in the same entry – presumably because of the TPB. It is great though – but I voted for a different Swamp Thing arc.

Doom Patrol, Sandman and The Ultimates are great – but didn’t make my list.

swamp thing 21 is indeed awesome and proves that you can do scary comics.

but especially in the later run of Swamp Thing, Moore is waxing his usual tiresome esoteric.

@omar karindu

i found your write up very interesting. good work.

…the painting that ate paris was on my list. i find it the best representation of morrison’s doom patrol (one of the truly great runs in comics). back in the day, before everything got branded and separated, it was amazing to go into a comics shop and pick up doom patrol (and sandman) right alongside the justice leagues and batmans.

As Ben says above, Warlock should have stayed dead.It was an incredible story and nothing done with him since has justified bringing him back.

This is a great batch.

I voted for Swamp Thing (It was either my #3 or #4), and I disagree with DanCJ about it being a single issue story. I think issues 21-24 clearly form a complete story, with Jason Woodrue studying Swampy, Swampy discovering who he is and retreating into his mind, Woodrue going crazy and attacking the bayou, Swampy returning to the waking world and defeating Woodrue, and accepting who he is, with that gorgeous final “Rise Up” splash page by Bissette, Totleben, and Wood. Along with the original Wolverine mini-series by Claremont and Miller (which I also voted for), it’s one of the truly great character arcs in comics that begins with tearing the character down into nothing more than his worst aspects, and concluding with building him back-up into something better than before and ultimately accepting of himself and his nature. I do think issues 25-27 are a completely separate story and I wouldn’t have included them, but the initial arc is definitely more than just The Anatomy Lesson, it’s a four issue character epic in which the first part just happens to read incredibly well as its own piece.

Game of You definitely isn’t my favorite Sandman story (I voted for The Doll’s House and really wrestled between that and Brief Lives), but I do appreciate it and I think it’s rightfully included here. Morrison’s Doom Patrol is something I haven’t read in its entirety (sorry Greg), but I have read this arc and it’s great. Starlin’s Warlock is almost certainly one of the ten best comic stories of the 70’s. And Super-Human was a great start to Ultimates and was probably the most influential Avengers story of the last 25 years (since Under Siege maybe?). It’s funny, I can read Avengers stories from the 70s and 80s and love them, but I have a bit of a hard time with Busiek’s run, because knowing that Ultimates came out so soon after makes the earnestness or Busiek’s issues feel really dated for me. The difference feels as profound as Kupperberg Doom Patrol vs. Morrison Doom Patrol.

And the race for most stories between Moore and Morrison is on! 4 stories for Moore (2 ABC, 2 Swamp Thing) with at least 4 sure things still to come, and 3 stories so far for Morrison (2 JLA, 1 Doom Patrol) with at least 5 sure things still to come. I suspect Morrison will end up with more stories, but Moore’s stories will total more points.

Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing is another one of those undisputed classics that I’ve been meaning to pick up for years now but just haven’t found the time yet, aside from a few random issues, which were very good. And, agreed, Moore had fantastic artists working with him during his run. Rick Veitch, Stan Woch, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben should all be hugely popular.

Third Man – Fair point about The Anatomy Lesson being the first part of a four-parter. I’d misremembered that a bit.

” A certain sort of comics fan loves this sort of thing because they imagine it’s a devastating shot at all the other comics fans, making it a profitable venture in externalized self-loathing. Bryan Hitch does make it very pretty, though, and there’s always a market for candy-coated rot. Can you believe there was time when we all though the pinnacle of comics was a clumsy French joke and references to the presumably eternal stardom of Freddy Prinze, Jr.? ”

The clumsy French joke was treated as clumsy, with the following issue having Nick Fury ribbing Cap for the ridiculousness of the statement, and Cap sheepishly commenting that it was the first thing that popped into his mind. Contrary to fan conception, Ultimate Captain America isn’t actively bigoted so much as unwittingly dated due to his era.

Similarly, the only thing that mattered about Freddy Prinze Jr. in-story was that he was an attractive Hollywood type Betty was seeing to assert power over Bruce. His name could be changed to “Rock Hudson” or “James Vanderbeek” or “Ashton Kutcher” or “Cory Montelith” or whoever depending on the era. See also: Shannon Elizabeth’s appearance, dating Tony Stark.

In any event, there’s no danger of Millar’s iconoclasm returning, as the Ultimates eventually did make its way into Hollywood, became one of the top-grossing movies of all time as the Avengers, and had all its interesting parts defused in the name of marketability. Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson, but doesn’t get up to anything truly bad in the name of protecting his country; Robert Downey Jr. evokes Ultimate Tony Stark, except he can still fall into the Heroic Protagonist role without compromise whenever the plot calls for it; Thor’s more like his Marvel Universe counterpart (i.e. no anti-establishment agenda) and in doing so removes anything interesting about how he relates to the group dynamic. Ultimates wasn’t the peak of comics at the time, but it’s emblematic of a period when Marvel took chances and tried to remake their characters for different audiences. It worked in creating the IP necessary for the movies, and now Marvel’s publishing is (with the exception of some of their smaller titles, where they’re good about letting creators do their thing) in servitude to the homogenized movie versions of their characters (while still having to serve the crossover paradigm that Marvel relapsed into around House of M, creating a unique mix of gobbledygook).

Thankfully, the market has expanded to give creator-owned books a higher profile than they might’ve had ten years ago, and people getting into comics now have far better contemporary entry points than the Ultimates may have provided.

Millar’s iconoclasm is rather shallow, and rather changeable; each volume of the Ultimates, after all, ends with rather unreflexive rah-rah victory.

But you know, that word “interesting” — it glosses over so much. How, exactly is the Ultimates interesting? I think you’re a lot more interested in what you think it could have been than in what Millar and Hitch did, especially as Millar’s “edgy” work from btoh before and after the Ultimates tends towards deliberate, but ultimately (heh) unreflexive and scattershot efforts at provocation. I’m talking way back with Millar, to his UK comics work, most of which displays every bad habit of his creator-owned work. Read that, and the Ultimates becomes a lot less “interesting.” I mean, it’s hardly Marshal Law, is it? Iconoclasm is great when there’s something else at the back of it, but that’s not Millar’s work. Never has been.

(We can also get into his really problematic way of writing women in nearly all his work, if you like; I think we might find a lot of agreement there, though.)

The clumsy French joke was treated as clumsy, with the following issue having Nick Fury ribbing Cap for the ridiculousness of the statement, and Cap sheepishly commenting that it was the first thing that popped into his mind. Contrary to fan conception, Ultimate Captain America isn’t actively bigoted so much as unwittingly dated due to his era.

Quite the opposite occurs. Here’s the relevant dialogue:
FURY: Listen, I gotta tell you, that “doesn’t stand for France” line was the funniest thing I heard in ages, man. Where’d you get that? I was telling Hawkeye earlier and he was just cracking up.
CAP: I dunno. Just one of those stupid things that comes into your head when you’re pounding somebody, y’know?

This is not Millar telling us the joke is clumsy, It’s Millar patting himself on the back for creating an instant meme by having the characters compliment each other about it. It might help to realize that making French jokes is practically the national sport of the UK, and that in that context it’s more obvious that Millar is indulging himself quite a bit in these scenes.

But then, Ultimate Cap is all sorts of problematic. Pitched alternately as “a realistic man from the 40s” and “a McCain conservative,” the character is inconsistent and historically a bit risible. Ed Brubaker took apart the France line in particular rather ably by pointing out what combat veterans of the 1940s might actually have to say about the French; Allied propaganda, too, pushed the “Free French” angle very hard, and plenty of countries were taken over by and had puppet governments installed by the Nazis in that period. Anti-French sentiment actually dates more from the postwar era, a reaction against Gaullist national chauvinism…and more likely, of course, Millar is riffing on the conservatives of the 2000s, angry that France preferred maintaining its oil deals with corrupt Middle Eastern despots to America’s War on Terror agenda.

More than that, Millar seems to buy in rather wholeheartedly to the whole “authoritarian violence is necessary” idea. It’s there in the Ultimates, in Civil War, and even in bits of his Fantastic Four and Spider-Man around the edges. He’s honestly too cynical to be a true iconoclast; he prefers George Orwell’s notion of “rough men” who keep the fragile peace of liberalism too much to do anything else.

I like plenty of deconstructive and iconoclastic works, from Robert Aldrich’s superb 1955 take on Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly to the aforementioned Marshal Law to the actual nuance of the comics version of V for Vendetta. But those works take on the problem of violence, and Millar is too interested in marketability and entertainment himself to really turn on that notion in the end. Even Thor pitches in to bust heads while the reader’s cheers are solicited in the end for vast panaramas of gorgeously rendered destruction. The Hulk gets to lift Mister Hyde’s big death scene from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and finally gets the (deeply messed up) girl. Maybe there’s ambiguity there, but if so, the execution isn’t up to snuff. And really, from Millar’s statements and work as a whole, it’s probably just not there.

This is not Millar telling us the joke is clumsy, It’s Millar patting himself on the back for creating an instant meme by having the characters compliment each other about it. It might help to realize that making French jokes is practically the national sport of the UK, and that in that context it’s more obvious that Millar is indulging himself quite a bit in these scenes.

Millar put that joke in at the expense of Americans, not the French – and it was appropriate for the version of Captain America that he wrote in The Ultimates.

And I never took that Ed Brubaker story as a criticism of Millar’s story so much as a way of making it clear that the Cap he was writing was a very different character to the one in The Ultimates.

The scene sets up Cap rallying to successfully defeat the bad guys, and leads to the first unambiguously heroic thing the team does in the series. It’s a successful rallying cry, not a stupid jingoist about to fall on his face, which robs any intended satire of its point.

Moreover, one volume later we see that a French villain — the Ultimate version of the Schizoid Man — is in fact part of the “Axis of Evil” characters in the Liberators. Again, the Ultimates, Cap chief among them, get big heroic scenes in that arc; they’re hardly being presented as the unlikeable types, nor are there views being satirized particularly effectively if that’s the intention. Cap actually gets to hep take down the French baddie personally that time.

Interestingly, just as the France joke is lifted from Millar’s earlier work on The Authority, the Schizoid Man is written almost identically in personality to the French member of the phony Authority from Millar’s last storyline. In the Authority plotline, the line is more clearly satirical int he way you suggest…but there, as in The Ultimates, Millar also doesn’t particularly like the French and takes shots at them. It’s “kidding on the square” or just simple incoherence, either of which certainly lives down to Millar’s standards as a writer.

So your basic point is that because Cap wins the battle, that line doesn’t work as satire? I really can’t see that.

And for that matter I can’t agree that “they’re hardly being presented as the unlikeable types”. Tony is irresponsible, Hank is a wife beater, Bruce Banner is criminally reckless – and every single one of them is arrogant.

Cap himself is presented as a macho jingoistic relic – with a combination of old school chivalry and old school xenophobia.

Don’t forget that the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” description of French people comes from another Scots bastard ;) , Groundskeeper Willie. Those Scots, they don’t like the French….

But the “You think this A…” line is definitely presented as a “fuck yeah!” moment that we (mostly) American comics reading audience are supposed to cheer unironically — Millar’s taking the piss and laughing at us Americans. All the way to the bank. Millar definitely enjoys pandering to our baser instincts.

I half agree. I’m sure Millar is happy to take all of the jingoistic “Fuck yeah”s he can get from some readers while also taking the other readers (American and otherwise) who see those jingoistic Americans as the butt of the joke.

The Magus saga is the second from my 10 to make the 100 – a wild highly imaginative space-fantasy of a very rare kind

I feel like I need an “Omar Karindu was right. Right about everything.” T-shirt. But I could only wear it on this blog, and nobody could actually see it. Hrm.

I think Omar’s view on the Ultimates holds a lot of water. I kind of liked then non-PC nature of Cap with the line about the French, while acknowledging it only makes sense for someone who’s been around for the 60 (now 70) years since WWII. But that’s all it is. It’s was one of the foundations of Joey Q’s new Marvel where shocking=good. It’s not even the Avengers movie of comic book storylines…it’s more the Transformers.

And post Thor 2 I just had a discussion on how non-Ultimates like the Ultiimates inspired MCU really is. It’s been interesting to see how they mesh both universes for the movies. You have Hawkeye and Fury straight from the Ultimates. Hulk and Thor very traditionally 616 Marvel (or in the former’s, maybe some tv thrown in). Cap dressed like the Ultimates but characterized very traditionally. Iron Man might have had a bit more of the wit, but that was more RDJ than the Ultimates. He’s original all the way, and not nearly the jerk the Ultimates version is. SHIELD a mix of forming the team but characters like Hill outside the U U. (Though they realized Avengers was a much better name than Ultimates). And Black Widow who doesn’t really fit either version that closely. So I’m curious to see how they work i characters like Scarlet Wtich, Quicksilver, and Ant-Man. The whole Ultimates influence seems reserved to Nick Fury (and a bland Hawkeye) and Cap’s original costume, with SHIELD having some involvement in the team forming….if not actually controlling them.

As an aside, I forgot about Doom Patrol, and while it still probably wouldn’t have made my list, some really good stuff there that’s nice to see get recognized.

Just as an additional note- Aren’t the Ultimates and Wanted just the flip side of the same attitude/mindset?

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