Today we are going to talk about Marvel’s “Ultimate Universe” and it’s impending reboot.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with superhero comics, there is a fairly complicated series of “universes” that these stories take place in. I will probably write some posts in the future about the structure of these universes, but it will take a lot of time to write it and get everything correct (my memory of this stuff isn’t exactly encyclopedic).
To give you a quick point of reference, most of the classic Marvel stories, the ones that are subtly or overtly referenced in the movies come from the original Marvel Universe or the Earth-616. Over the course of the last five decades, the Earth-616 Universe became pretty unwieldy and bogged down in continuity (which it still is and probably always will be).
In response, Marvel created the Ultimate Universe in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men. In 2001, they launched Ultimates (the Ultimate version of the Avengers).
They started with issue one. No history.
While the ultimate characters frequently overlapped with the classic characters we all know and love, they didn’t have upwards of forty years of history, so the writers were free to do things differently and take the characters to new, uncharted territory. The goal was to make these characters accessible and modern, and grounded in realism (as much realism as you could have with superpowers).
Ultimate Spider-Man took a conventional yet fresh approach to Spidey. It was clearly Peter Parker, but the world around him was different. The art was vibrant and action packed. The writing was thoughtful and witty. The storytelling was superb and has pretty much remained so for the last nine years there were a few weak story arcs, but it was a consistently strong read. Bendis and co rarely ever missed a deadline, so the regular publishing schedule helped to make this an enthralling read.
Ultimate X-Men took a more cynical approach to the characters and the world around them. Mark Millar delved deeply into issues of racism and prejudice. His characters had a distinctly dark but still fun feel to them. Unlike Spidey, the X-Men had a number of writers, and the stories became progressively more inane and out there. This completely defied the “grounded” and “realistic” feel of the Ultimate Universe.
Ultimates was a completely different beast. The Ultimates (Avengers) were so ridiculously badass. They were deeply flawed individuals fighting for mostly selfish reasons. The stories were cleaver, violent, political, and very funny in a dark and twisted kind of way. The only real flaw with this book was that it was eternally off schedule. I’m not talking a month here, a month there. I started and completed college with a double major and a minor in less time that it took Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch to write 26 issues of this comic. I usually forgot what had happened between the issues because it took so damn long for them to go to print.
Other Ultimate titles came and went. They had Ultiamte Daredevil, Elektra, Iron-Man, a number of random mini-series, and the eternally delayed Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk.
Damon Lindelof, co-creator of the hit TV show Lost wrote the first issue of Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk back in 2005. After the first two issues of six, the book went on hiatus. There hasn’t been a single issue printed since. Allegedly the final four are written and going to press over the coming months. I’ll believe it when I see it.
After nearly a decade, the Ultimate Universe has become somewhat unwieldy and with the exception of Ultimate Spider-Man, the quality has completely eroded from accessible, grounded, and intelligent storytelling to bad Saturday morning cartoon caliber.
It’s a pretty sad state of affairs for the Universe that got me into comics in the first place.
The line is being rebranded as “Ultimate Comics” and everything is starting sometime in the future with issue one.
Spidey will still be penned Bendis, Avengers will be written by Mark Millar, and Jeph Loeb will be the scribe behind Ultimates (I’m kind of worried about this one. His past Ultimate endeavors have been atrocious). There will be one more Ultimate Comic title, but it has not been revealed yet.
I hope that the reboot brings thoughtful and cleaver storytelling with it.