Monday, July 24, 2006

The Titles of The Ultimates

Comic book titles are often just to be thrown away -- sometimes an issue might have a title, sometimes not -- and are almost always forgettable. In the Ultimates, the titles are doing a lot of important work, enlarging the story through allusion and complicating the story with deep and serious irony.

There are movie, book, and song references: Big, How I Learned to Love the Hulk (cf. Doctor Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb -- the Hulk is the product of a bomb), Dead Man Walking, Born on the Fourth of July, the ironic The Art of War, 21st Century Boy. The Defenders is the name of a superhero team, but the Ultimates issue called The Defenders is just ironic -- these guys could never defend anything. A savage domestic abuse scene, and the revenge it engenders are set up as classic superhero-supervillain matches, though they are anything but: Giant Man vs The Wasp, Captain America vs Giant Man. There are understated titles like Thunder, Brothers, and The Experts. Super-Human is simplicity itself, the introduction of the idea of powers, but it is taken apart in the title Persons of Mass Destruction, in which having superpowers is likened to Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction; Homeland Security reinforces the connection. The Passion Play likens the suffering of Thor to the suffering of Christ, while suggesting that the takedown of Thor is all theater, which it is. Loki is playing with everyone.

The most recent three have been the best: Grand Theft America, Axis of Evil, and America Strikes Back. The first likens the attack on America to car theft, and suggests that America is not an ideal but an industry, a product. Axis of Evil, since the "bad guys" call themselves The Liberators and pose genuine questions about America's foreign policy, questions exactly who is the evil -- America or its enemies. America Strikes Back seems patriotic enough until we remember the title is an allusion to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back -- America is the Empire, America is evil.

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