Al Ewing's Ultimates has been one of Marvel's absolute best titles since the launch of All-New, All-Different Marvel. Its mixture of character-focused plots and universe-shaking near-disasters make for an enthralling read. It also goes into some interesting and even semi-meta means of adding depth to the existential origins and gods of the Marvel Multiverse.
"But you said you hated Dark Days: The Forge for giving answers to questions you didn't have," I hear you say. Well pull up a chair, sonny, and let me learn you some things.
Firstly, character is everything in storytelling. Where Batman is an arrogant recluse keeping potentially world-ending shit to himself while he scrambles away in his cave, the Ultimates are a public team made up of at least two people who are way more knowledgeable in physics than the Dark Knight, as well as most superheroes in general.
Secondly, this comic is paced way better than that prelude issue. This one is willing to pace out its reveals instead teasing a bunch of crap that it won't talk about for a couple of months at least.
Lastly, Ultimates actually made me interested in its world-building mysteries with implications beyond "It's all connected." There is a deity who actually chained up our very reality? That's wild; tell me more, Al. This last point is helped my Marvel's tendency to make a deity for every metaphysical concept, so there are actual characters working these things out instead of inanimate objects.
The story running through Ultimates Squared (Ultimates²) thus far is that something has chained up Eternity, the living embodiment of our universe. The Ultimates, now working without government sanction thanks to the events of Civil War II¸ are investigating this phenomenon with the help of Galactus, who is now the Life-Bringer.
Miss America, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Blue Marvel, and Spectrum are hot on the trail of this when they are attacked by the government-sanctioned Troubleshooters, who want to bring them in for disobeying orders to not work together in this capacity. That team is actually a throwback to Marvel's New Universe from a long time ago, by the way. The two teams end up cooperating when the Troubleshooters actually begin to comprehend the enormity of what the Ultimates are trying to stop.
The being that chained up Eternity turns out to be the First Firmament, the original universe from which all of the multiverse sprung. It wants revenge against the multiverse, ours particularly, for being made by rebellious lower gods in eternities past. It also drove Order and Chaos mad enough to consume the In-Betweener, killing the Living Tribunal, and join together to become the new celestial, Logos.
Pretty dense and wild stuff, I know. But it's endlessly interesting, and the implications — both narrative and meta-narrative — are really fun to speculate about.
Then Secret Empire happened, and the Ultimates are trapped trying to protect the Earth from the Chitauri. But far be it from Ewing to let that stop his crazy celestial-filled story, as this issue really has nothing to do at all with that story, despite the cover having the Secret Empire banner. I think that's freaking fantastic, and I actually mostly enjoy Secret Empire.
This issue has Galactus, the Life-Bringer, meeting up with Ego, the Living Planet. Ego holds a grudge against the former Devourer for his assaults on Ego in the past. However, Galactus is here on a mission of peace, and he is willing to weather Ego's attacks to get through to the Living Planet.
That's the story; to tell more will be to get into spoiler territory. We'll do that later. For now, just know that this is another stellar issue in the Ultimates story.
There is a vulnerability and gentleness to the Life-Bringer iteration of Galactus. It's hard to not feel bad for him now that he is coming to face the destruction of his actions. Ego's fear of him is entirely justified, even before you get into the specific interactions these two beings have had.
The pacing is done very well. This meeting between the two gods is the entirety of the issue, and it concludes with the ending. It's a full arc of the story.
Aud Koch's artwork actually fits it very well. He brings a humanity to the appearances of the characters, and, given the character intent-focused nature of the tale, it helps ground the proceedings. Dan Brown's color work aids in this with paler shades that add to the more-mortal less-cosmic appearance of what could otherwise be depicted as wild and detached from reality.
Now we'll get to spoilers. Galactus gets through to Ego, and we figure out that he is a mortal from a previous reality as well. Galactus uses his newfound powers to give Ego a body and more power to help in his war against the First Firmament and Logos. He is joined by the Infinaut, which is a being which the Ultimates helped stabilize, the Shaper's Ghost, who is the spirit of a now-dead celestial, and the Psi-Hawk, a deity attached to one of the Troubleshooters. The call themselves the Eternity Watch, an appreciated call-back to Jim Starlin's Infinity Watch of years past.
Meanwhile, the Maker, AKA the Reed Richards of the Ultimate Earth, has approached the High Evolutionary with the intent of "evolving the multiverse."
These are really cool developments, and I look forward to the celestial smackdown to come. I truly wonder what Maker and the Evolutionary have in mind. It's a concept that's hard to contemplate properly, but I'm sure Mr. Ewing has some interesting things in mind.
The only drawback to this comic is that it won't sate anyone's need for a lot of action or tension. Galactus wards off Ego's attacks with ease, and it's never really in doubt that he will get through to Ego.
Regardless, this is a another great chapter to a really cool story. I have been engrossed in this series from the get-go, and it's never been in danger of losing my interest. I recommend this to anyone. It's a fantastic comic, and one of Marvel's absolute best books on the market right now.