You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry – Propaganda gets gamma irradiated
Ultimate Human #1
by Warren Ellis and Cary Nord
This is Ultimate Hulk Vs Ultimate Iron Man by another name and it’s a comic specifically designed to be out in collected form by the time both characters’ films come out. But thankfully a crass marketing ploy is saved by its high quality creators.
It’s pretty much everything you’d expect really. From Warren Ellis, from the Ultimate Universe and from two big powerful superheroes pounding the crap out of each other.
Bruce Banner (The Hulk) turns up at Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) penthouse and begs for Stark’s help in ridding his body of the Hulk cells that trigger the transformation into his psychotic, murderous, rampaging alter-ego. And the key to all this, according to Banner, is the miraculous nanotechnology that Stark uses to control his Iron Man suit and could in theory tell the Hulk cells to switch off.
(Bruce Banner seeks Tony Stark’s help with a simple plea that sobers him up in the first issue of Ultimate Human by Warren Ellis, with art by Cary Nord and colours by Dave Stewart)
Which is such a handy solution that Stark immediately heads off to his heavy testing base and decides the only way to test the theory properly is to force Banner to turn into the Hulk by exposing him to the atmospheric conditions of the planet Venus.
Which isn’t the best idea Stark ever had… Its Hulk Vs Iron Man, so fighting was always going to be on the agenda. A comic where Stark actually manages to cure Banner would be a little boring and short. Throw in an old Warren Ellis Marvel character in Pete Wisdom as the Ultimate version of one of Hulk’s oldest foes – a veritable Leader of men indeed – and it’s a recipe for a good old fashioned bit of fighty-fighty, hitty-hitty.
Like almost everything Ellis writes for Marvel (with the exception of the huge slab of bilious fun that was NEXTwave) and particularly the Ultimate Marvel stuff he’s responsible for, Ultimate Human is no more than two minutes reading at best. Cary Nord’s biggest page is just 6 panels, and nearly all of the pages in this first issue are three large horizontal panels. Luckily they’re very nice panels; his art does everything you want it to, it’s full of energy but covers basic anatomy and panel design well and, most importantly for this sort of book, moves the action along with style and gusto.
To be honest I’d feel a little jyped if I’d have bought the thing. It’s a throwaway thing, a terribly quick and yet entertaining read. And I can’t help but think that somewhere along the line writers like Ellis doing this super decompressed style of book are just going to have to bypass the comic altogether and bring the stuff out directly to book form, because that’s the only way I can see something like this being in any way satisfying in the long term.
(“Your bloodwork just frightens me. Synthetic hormones? If you ever had kids they’d make their way out of their unlucky wombs on flippers and tentacles…” Even in human form Banner pays a huge cost for his experiments; either that or he’s been eating too many GM foodstuffs)
But aside from that there’s very little wrong with Ultimate Human. It’s packed with the usual Ellis standards; sharp dialogue, fast pacing and a love of future tech. One of the best bits of this, for me at least) is the moment of the change from Banner to Hulk where Ellis plays with the idea of super-biology:
“He’s growing new cells at an impossible rate – new muscle, new nerves, whole new internal organs – there’s carbon Fullerenes in his skin.”
“He just grew a thicker skeleton and a new array of deep musculature in front of us.”
“His system’s adapting to the antidote. New stress is just making him stronger. I don’t think I like it when he’s angry.”
(the painful nature of having your entire body reworked becomes apparent in this scene from Ultimate Human #1, written by Warren Ellis, art by Cary Nord, (c) Marvel)
And this is exactly what puts Warren Ellis writing a Marvel book just that little bit above the norm. It’s the way he takes a character and makes you think just a little bit more about the things they do. In all the years I’ve known of the Hulk I never really thought that deeply about the physiological aspects of the change from puny Banner to Hulk. Ellis did a similar thing with Ultimate Fantastic Four with a look at the physiology of Mr Fantastic and now he’s doing it with Ultimate Hulk and Ultimate Iron Man. But he cleverly never lets it get in the way of telling a great, fast story.
So if you’re in the market for something entertaining and what promises to be a fun bit of big hitters hitting each other to a background of Ellis’ near obsessive love of future tech you’re in for a treat.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.