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From A Library – Ultimate Human

[Full title: Ultimate Hulk Vs. Ultimate Iron Man: Ultimate Human] issues #1–4 by Warren Ellis and Cary Nord

Ellis seems to have a free remit to write more or less what he wants for Marvel, especially the Ultimate universe (his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four, the Gah-lak-tus trilogy) – all he has to do is put in some traditional superhero action to satisfy the hardcore base and he get away with indulging his own whims.

What is interesting is that Ellis seems to treat these books as writing exercises, seeing how the structure ticks while introducing ideas that interest him (‘Computronium: matter that thinks’) but are based on logical ideas. In this case, Bruce Banner goes to Tony Stark, a technological genius, to ask for his help in removing the Hulk. This makes complete sense and is a good set up for getting them together. He then introduces the spanner in the works for the plot: the Ultimate version of Pete Wisdom (well, he did create the original), now called the Leader, with such an oversized cranium that it requires support from scaffolding.

Ellis doesn’t crank this stuff out – there is thought and nuggets inside (‘the only plane that doesn’t burn fuel – it EXPLODES it’, ‘The New Mexico section of the Chihuahuan Desert, still the least explored ecoregion in the continental USA’) or the details about different planetary atmospheres used to initiate the Hulk change – a nice idea linked to Stark planning for Iron Men going into space eventually. He also employs an interesting narrative device of using unboxed captions, which just gets the information straight out there, and no sound effects at all.

Nord uses large panels, three to a page, giving a cinematic feel to proceedings; however, he has a very soft style, much more painterly than his early work – he’s good with people and faces and backgrounds but his Hulk and Iron Man look a little unusual (reminding me of Colin MacNeil in places) although the bonus material in the back of the trade shows the amazing detail in his pencil work.

Issue 3 stands out because I’m amazed Marvel let Ellis get away with it – in providing background information on why Wisdom is now the Leader (including nice details about the British Secret Intelligence Service aka MI6, such as Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming, first direct of SIS, signed all his documents ‘C’, hence all SIS directors are called C), Ellis writes a dense, talky story of political manoeuvring and backstabbing in six-panel pages of talking heads to explain things; it feels like an issue of Queen & Country, and it’s a surprise to see it here.

To make amends, the fourth and final issue is the big fight with violence and over-the-top dialogue (‘Did Stark just … HEADBUTT Hulk?’); however, it isn’t as engaging as Ellis’ other work – although it is exquisitely constructed with impeccable story logic, and Ellis does a really good Tony Stark, but it doesn’t have the magic spark that elevates it to above normal. Enjoyable, well made but disposable.

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