I’m willing to bet that unchecked and largely unprovoked violence are not at the top of the list of things you thought I might consider superheroic. In and of themselves, they aren’t. Don’t get me wrong, and excuse me if I go off on a tangent here about superheroics and violence. They are very closely linked. At their most basic level, superheroics are morality stories that don’t wait around for kharma or natural consequence to fuck up people who do not act correctly. Note, these aren’t necessarily evildoers. The super-protagonist of a story can punch anyone he damn well pleases for violating social norms, idealistic rules of behavior, arbitrary laws, etc.. It isn’t about good versus evil, well, it is, but only in a very subjective moral sense. Superheroic comics are on many ways based on the vicarious joy of watching someone deliver harsh and righteous retribution to those to transgress. Now, I don’t need my comics to be violent, but I need more than inconsistent paneling and inconclusive punches and grunts to make my comic fights work. Both Midnighter and Ultimate Cap tell you clearly what’s happening in a fight and what the score is. When they beat a guy; you know that he’s either in resurrection territory for causing a further threat, or if we just learned he’s that much more of a threat now.
What’s strange is that the two of these guys have similar methodologies, but it’s the execution that sets them apart. Midnighter will rip a guy’s spine out when he uppercuts him. He’ll strangle a guy so you can watch his eyes bulge. He’ll hit a guy fast enough that you don’t see the panel where he makes impact. How Midnighter’s violence is implemented and what violence he implements are creative and different. When the monsters that Midnighter kills are killed, you’re satisfied and entertained. The best part of his character is that he’s a weapon who just fucks things up, but tends to be off his kilter when killing stuff won’t fix stuff. Better, it’s something that’s exploited rarely, averting Badass Decay. The Midnighter is surprising and fun with an attitude that frames that violence to make it fun (make no mistake, the fella shit-talks, but isn’t that witty).
Ultimate Captain America, however, is all about the righteousness. Ultimate Cap will think and use tactics like The Midnighter, but he’s not just a killer. He’s got a more varied response to threats, largely coming from the fact that he’s usually the aggressor, and uses the force necessary to accomplish his mission. He’s not a killer; he’s a soldier, and the distinction is separate. Outside of a mission or some other superheroic goings-on, he’s gentle, polite and even hangs out with people his own age (that is to say, old people). Ultimate Captain America combines the two things I like most about comics: violence and character. That Ultimate Cap’s violence is occasionally believably real, misapplied violence (like when he kicks Banner after their first fight with The Hulk). He’s just angry so he hits stuff. It subverts (however unintentionally) the trend of righteous violence by just having Cap hit something because he doesn’t like it that much. Is Mark Millar that smart? I like to think he is. Seventy-five percent of the time he in a fight, Cap is someone you
I guess it could also be a cheat, in that his general compassion and no-questions-asked action mean that he could conceivably do anything the plot requires, but I’ve never really felt (again, speaking strictly about Volumes 1 & 2 of The Ultimates), that he was ever really forced out of character to do something for the plot."