Best & Worst of Ultimate Marvel
In the 2000’s, then Marvel Comics’ then president Bill Jemas and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada were successfully pulling the publisher back from the brink of financial ruin. One the things they realized was that comicdom needed to bring in a new generation of readers. These new readers were unfamiliar with the decades of continuity nor the countless heroes and villains, chances are the new superhero films and TV shows rolling out were their first introductions to these characters. Jemas came up with the idea for Ultimate Marvel, an imprint wherein the Marvel Universe and the characters within were fresh and new in a modern world. Beginning with Ultimate Spider-Man followed by Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates, these books sold big numbers and for a while were a cornerstone for the publisher. As with all things the fad soon wore away and the Ultimate Universe is no more. In honor of this brief but popular comics line here are the best and worst things about Ultimate Marvel.
Easy entry for new readers: The X-Men had taken Hollywood by storm, hype for the upcoming Spider-Man film was sky high with countless more Marvel superhero films in production. This meant that people who either had never been in a comic shop in years, or never in their life, waltzed in to indulge in the new superhero trend. Chances are, these new and returning readers had not obsessively kept up with the past 827 years of continuity. With the Ultimate line, newcomers had a built-in point to jump in. The iconic superheroes and villains they knew from outside media were boiled down to basics and ready to go.
Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury: Today EVERYONE knows who Nick Fury is thanks to the films, video games, and TV shows. But if you showed them a picture of the grizzled cigar-smoking spy Jim Steranko drew next to the stone cold cool actor from Pulp Fiction and told the laypeople to point out Fury you know damn well who they are pointing to. Artist Bryan Hitch modeled his the Ultimate version of Nick Fury on Samuel L. Jackson and this image of the SHIELD leader caught on like wildfire. Soon portrayals outside of comics utilized this look for Nick Fury. It got to the point that the mini-series Battle Scars gave the regular Marvel Universe a Nick Fury who resembled the Oscar nominee through hamfisted means. Nowadays there is no denying that the this is the definitive Nick Fury.
Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley run on Ultimate Spider-Man: Mark Bagley was a Spidey veteran while Brian Michael Bendis was an indie darling getting his big shot. Despite two very different backgrounds these creators had a historic run on the flagship title of the Ultimate line. The individual strengths of the duo complimented each other to perfection leading to some of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever printed. Bendis and Bagley even broke the record once held by the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for longest continuous run by two people on a single Marvel book.
Bryan Hitch artwork on The Ultimates: While Mark Millar’s writing on The Ultimates was divisive to say the least, but the grand blockbuster yet highly detailed style of his collaborator Bryan Hitch was praised across the board. I heard it best put that Hitch drew the book as a big widescreen version of a comic where everything was a massive George Perez-esque scale combined with the gritty realism of John Cassady. His work earned him praise from fans and multiple award nominations, as even those who did not like the book were in awe of his visuals.
Miles Morales is Spider-Man: When Peter Parker died in battle in the Ultimate Universe a new Webslinger was needed. Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli filled that void by creating Miles Morales to put on the web shooters and make history. The Brooklyn-born teen was the child of an African-American father and a Hispanic mother giving the Spider-Man franchise a good dose of needed diversity. After being bitten by a spider genetically modified by Norman Osborn, Morales took on the Spidey mantle. The character proved so popular that Marvel had no choice but to integrate him into the regular 616 universe after the Ultimate universe ended. Since then Miles Morales has even achieved a great deal of popularity outside of comics thanks to video games and film.
Instantly dated: I remember at the height of Ultimate Marvel, Wizard Magazine published an article arguing that it should become the main Marvel continuity. One of their key arguments was that it was supposedly hip and modern and the characters were decked out “Matrix-style” costumes rather than the “goofy” costumes that have lasted for 40-50 years. This should tell you all you need to know about the style and tone of these comics and the timeline they belong to. Everything from the costume to the character attitudes to the overall tone screams 2000’s era edginess. While this may have been cool and fashionable at the time these books were published the style has since faded and as the readers grew older tastes would change and one wonders if these comics would keep up.
Ultimatum: This crossover event in the Ultimate Universe has been largely recognized as one of the worst stories in comicdom. The culmination of a number of plot threads in different books that new writer Jeph Loeb laid out, Ultimatum does not actually feature an ultimatum of any kind. Reversing the magnetic poles of the earth, Magneto has somehow set off a chain reaction of disaster that leaves countless heroes dead (mostly done off-page). While the artwork of David Finch is solid aside from his apparent inability to draw women, the story was bloated and nonsensical
Characterization of the Avengers: Since 1963 The Avengers have lived up to their moniker as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But their counterparts, the Ultimates apparently did not get that memo as writers Mark Millar and Je[h Loeb seemed to hone in on each character’s worst traits and exacerbated them. Hank Pym was abusive to Wasp, Hawkeye turned into a lunatic, Tony Stark was an alcoholic womanizer, Captain America was an old grouch and so on. The problem was they rarely if ever displayed a heroic side to balance out these flaws.
Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch relationship: This is where things get weird. During his time writing Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates, Mark Millar laid out the framework that the siblings were engaged in an incestuous relationship. While the Kick-Ass writer suggestion of such was bad enough, Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira confirmed it in the reviled Ultimates 3. Not only were the children of Magneto in this gross relationship, but it was treated as something totally normal in fact Wasp mocked Captain American for rightly being horrified by the whole thing. This did no favor for either character and stands as one of the biggest WTF story elements of the imprint.
Continuity: A strength inevitably becomes a weakness. One of the initial selling points of Ultimate Marvel was a slimmed down timeline not bogged down in years on continuity; but as these books ran for fifteen years they soon became a victim of becoming bogged down in their new continuity. Once the Ultimate books began having their own crossovers, readers got the feel for just how many plot threads were building up across the line. After the critically panned Ultimatum, the entire universe of these characters changed which no doubt alienated the very “new readers” Marvel sought to attract with these books.