Flashback to… The Ultimates!

October 22nd, 2015

What I like best in art – and I like loads of stuff, I like jokes that I can’t help but laugh at, I like being able to just fucking marvel at someone doing something that seems impossible, I like that moment when something that didn’t seem like it could possibly come together does, and so on – is being put into difficulty.  Not in terms of being faced with something that’s hard to watch/read/look at/listen to necessarily, more in that I like it when I’m made to confront something that I can’t easily resolve or ignore or explain away.

The Millar/Hitch Ultimates doesn’t look like the most promising territory for this sort of experience, and for the most part that’s true. It’s probably the last Mark Millar comic I was able to enjoy without vomiting up qualifiers, and it definitely represents the last point where Bryan Hitch’s artwork looked good to my eyes, but if I like it at all then I like it in a fairly breezy way.  I laugh at the crude bits, I follow the fight scenes, I enjoy the brash, bratty character beats, and all of this is good.

The point of difficulty, for me, the point where I find myself getting really tangled up in the book, involves a cameo by the man who was President of the United States of America at the time the story was published:


In last week’s instalment of THE FUNCTION OF THE FILTH, we skipped straight to the “violence” part of the equation.  This time round, we’re dealing with sex, because sex is always important in this sort of story.

This sort of story?  Well, try not to stop me if you’ve heard this one before!

There’s this guy who wakes up from his mundane life to discover he’s really a disturbingly important human being – maybe the most disturbingly important human being – rather than just another boring arsehole with bad hair. Inevitably, he’s a little incredulous about the whole thing to begin with, but as one world crumbles away he soon starts to find himself more at home in his new reality – and it’s almost always his new reality, whatever complications may arise further down the line. 

This detail tends to narrow down the rest of the possibilities of the story so that at least one attractive woman will usually be involved – the idea of “normal” being what it is, can you think of a better way to ensure that the transition from the “real” world to another, more overdetermined world goes well?  Cosmic purpose on its own isn’t enough: if the switch over is to be successful then the deal must be sealed with flesh.  For this price, plus teleological extras, our hero finds it within himself to be all that he can be.

This story is called The Matrix, or maybe Star Wars, or maybe even Wanted. For all their differences, these stories are all equally at home in the pages of comics and on cinema screens, in visual media where they can best present the  dreams of their audience back to them as a dressing up kit, a series of moves or tools or attitudes that can be easily copped and used to remake the world. These stories represent the transformation of dreams into merchandising, and as such their tropes are as easy to critique as they are hard to resist .

But did I say we would be talking about sex instead of violence this time?  Yeah… let’s do that!

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Jupiter’s Legacy #1-3, by Marky “Mark” Millar, Frank Quitely and Pete Doherty

Forgive me for the somewhat less than timely review, but fuck me – three issues in this is still a startlingly uninteresting book, from pig (Millar) to lipstick (Quitely) and beyond (???).

It should go without saying that this response is merely a product of the reaction between the lines on the page and those etched into my long-suffering brain, but that in no way makes this a good or even halfway entertaining comic.  So while it’s true that both Millar and Quitely have thwarted all expectations here by failing to irritate and innovate respectively, the only real problem experience poses for Jupiter’s Chegacy is that a lifetime of reading and watching stories will train you to spot a tired duffer like this miles off.

Familiarity itself isn’t the issue here, per se: the old power/responsibility theme could easily survive yet another regeneration, and there’s no reason why a story about the famous children of rich superheroes couldn’t be made timely and interesting. It’s the old world vs. the new, the people who made the world vs. those who have to limit in it, and surely that’s an easy sell in this post moneygeddon landscape?   The problem, at least so far as this cynical critic is concerned, is more that no one involved in this comic seems particularly interested in how they’re saying anything:

Page after page of dialogue mounts up to little effect, with passionate arguments sitting on the page like undeveloped notes from the plot breakdown, lacking either the vanity of realism or the courage of true artifice.  This is a comic full of gestures, which would be forgivable if we were dealing with the mangled mitts and marvelous manifestations of Ditko-era Doctor Strange. Instead, Jupiter’s Children nods absently towards a half-busy suburban street in the daylight, hoping that you’ll find something interesting there and mistake dumb luck for careful planning.

In the spirit of increased generosity, I won’t pretend that there’s no value to be found in this book…