THE ULTIMATE UNIVERSE: 2000-2015

KC Carlson & friend

KC Carlson & friend


A KC Column by KC Carlson

Now that Secret Wars has finally wrapped up, we, as readers, have discovered that not only did it run several months later than it should have, but it also took down the Ultimate Universe with it. To be fair, SW also wiped away the old, familiar Marvel Universe, replacing it with the unwieldily titled All-New-All-Different (ANAD) Marvel, a “new” universe blatantly disguised as a publishing imprint which — so far — is pretty overwhelming in its scope (despite its slow roll-out) and also confusing as hell for a number of both new and old readers.

Still, there are a lot of great reads so far — both Wayne and I have discussed many previously — and my pick for most surprising must-read break-out title is Doctor Strange by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo. It’s also making me very excited for the upcoming Doctor Strange movie, currently scheduled for release on November 4 this year. So, good job Marvel synergy and publicity machine!

Spider-Man #1

Spider-Man #1


Another potential ANAD must-read comic debuts next week when Spider-Man #1 hits the comics racks. It’s by Ultimate Spider-Man veterans Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli! But if you’re expecting to see another Peter Parker Spidey book, you’ll be sadly mistaken. This Spider-title stars Miles Morales, the last survivor (so far) of the now deceased Ultimate Universe. (I think the Molecule Man actually “saved” some of Miles’ family and friends, as well — although with the Molecule Man, you never really can tell, can you?)

Astute readers have also already deduced Miles’ membership in the All-New All-Different Avengers (courtesy of writer Mark Waid) where he not only battles new super-villains, but frequently his other teenaged Avengers teammates, Ms. Marvel and Nova. Ah, kids today…

WAITAMINUTE… ULTIMATE UNIVERSE? WHAT’S THAT?

Ultimate Comics X #5

Ultimate Comics X #5


You’re right, subhead! I AM getting ahead of myself. For a really excellent overview of the history of the (former) Ultimate Universe, jump on over to Vulture (Devouring Culture) for one of the best and thoughtful pieces on the Ultimate Universe I’ve ever read (even if it’s now 8 months old). Abraham Riesman has done a fine job of describing an always difficult subject (rebooting) and has acquired a number of fascinating quotes from Ultimate creators and industry watchers. (It’s almost more interesting to see who wouldn’t talk about UU.)

THANK YOU. I’M ALL CAUGHT UP NOW.

Ultimate End #1

Ultimate End #1


That’s great, subhead! There’s one more thing I should mention, especially if your interest was piqued by the linked article. Ultimate End #1-5, which wrapped up the saga of the Ultimate Universe, was also a great read and an occasionally moving tribute to the Ultimate Universe.

Ultimate End’s main goal was to move Miles Morales from the Ultimate Universe (Reality-1610) to the mainstream Marvel Universe (Reality-616), and it certainly succeeds in doing that, but really not until the last issue, where the cosmic conflict of the whole Secret Wars thing finally boils down to simple human conflict. And here’s where both artist Mark Bagley and writer Brian Michael Bendis get to show off a bit. Bagley provides some majestic double-page spreads packed with characters (one of his trademarks) juxtaposed with a powerful two-page head shot of Dr. Doom which conveys both power and humanity in the simple pose. Instead of the wanton cosmic destruction the story is telling, the creators have chosen to depict the ultimate destruction of the Ultimate Universe in a series of pages of dozens of characters. (There are 70 tiny head-shots depicted on one two-page spread.) As the Ultimate Universe slowly fades away for the final time, so do these characters… one by one… until there’s nothing but two blank white pages. And a shocking, wonderful surprise for Miles Morales.

Ultimate End has recently been collected in a 128-page color paperback, available now.

THAT’S GREAT! BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LEGACY OF THE ULTIMATE UNIVERSE?

I was just getting to that, subhead. (SO impatient…)

Obviously, the first thing the Ultimate Universe inspired was the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from that very first Bryan Hitch panel depicting Ultimate Nick Fury looking like Samuel L. Jackson. Ultimate Nick actually appeared in several Ultimate Universe titles (starting in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #5 — drawn by Michael Allred) looking somewhat similar to 616-Nick Fury. Hitch then redesigned him to look like Jackson in The Ultimates #1 (2002).

The Ultimates

The Ultimates


The Avengers films are much like The Ultimates comic books in tone, team dynamics (especially the pairing of Hawkeye and Black Widow), and updated costume designs. While not an MCU film, the most recent Fantastic Four film was loosely based on the younger Fantastic Four team depicted in Ultimate Fantastic Four. And rumors abound that the next Spider-Man film may feature the Miles Morales Ultimate version of the character.

In comic book and publishing circles, the Ultimate Universe is intrinsically locked into the concept of “writing for the trade” and near-instant collections of just-completed storylines. We’re used to seeing that today, but the Ultimate Universe successfully pioneered that publishing revolution. The early Ultimate Universe also opened doors for more distribution methods and experimental formats (like magazine-sized anthologies) for those markets outside of comic stores.

The Ultimate Universe was also instrumental in continuing the then white-hot trend of what came to be known as “Widescreen Storytelling” — so titled because creators strove to emulate their favorite SF, fantasy, and action movies on the printed page. Ultimate Universe comics like The Ultimates and mainstream Marvel titles like Astonishing X-Men and New X-Men were by creators like Bryan Hitch, John Cassaday, Frank Quitely, Josh Whedon, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and others. Widescreen comics from other publishers included The Authority, Planetary, and Stormwatch.

THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF GOOD STUFF. IS THERE MORE?

Well… there’s more, uh… stuff.

Not everything the Ultimate Universe presented was positively inspiring. Along with “widescreen” came “decompressed storytelling”. The strong emphasis on interesting visuals or storytelling techniques or increased character interaction (more banter!) led to slower moving plots. Most all comic book stories went from single issues to 4- or 6- or even 12-part stories. We’re still there, today. Good work if you can get it for creators and publishers. But still hard on the wallets of fans. (Hope you can see the tie-ins with “writing for the trade” without my actually spelling it out for you.)

The Ultimate Universe had some glitches. Fans loved The Ultimates but quickly tired of the long publication delays for the series. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch left the series after Volume 2, and Ultimates Volume 3 by Jeph Loeb and Joe Madureira in 2007 seems to be many fans’ ‘worst series ever”…. until Ultimatum arrived shortly after.

Ultimatum #1

Ultimatum #1


It seemed that Ultimatum only existed to shake up the Ultimate Universe by the near-destruction of the planet (or at least NYC), eliminating as many Ultimate Universe characters as possible. Many fans refer to Ultimatum as the ultimate snuff comic, and having read it myself, I cannot disagree. I saw one reviewer on the internet call it a “disasterpiece” which made me laugh… and then made me cry. It truly is a bad, bad comic.

It’s not as bad, however, as a creepy Ultimate Iron Man series written by Orson Scott Card that re-wrote Iron Man into something completely unrecognizable. Mark Millar later explained the whole series away by stating that it was actually an animated series commissioned by Tony Stark for giggles.

Ultimate Wolverine vs. The Hulk

Ultimate Wolverine vs. The Hulk


Getting back to lateness, Ultimate Wolverine vs. The Hulk was a six-part miniseries by Damon Lindelof (yeah, that guy behind Lost) and Leinil Francis Yu that began in (cover date) February 2006 and ended in July 2009! Marvel had to freshly reprint the first two issues because there was a three-year gap between #2 and #3.

And then, there was the Ultimate series in name only. Ultimate Adventures was a six-issue series by Ron Zimmerman and Duncan Fegredo originally published from 2002 to 2004 (yet another title plagued by delays). Apparently, it was lumped in with the Ultimate group because the book “stole” the “Ultimate” logo used on all the “real” Ultimate titles of the period. (And there actually is a minor cameo appearance by the Ultimates.)

Ultimate Adventures

Ultimate Adventures


The unfunny Batman and Robin parody was also was part of Marvel’s infamous U-Decide “event” in which fans would decide which of three (presumably) low-selling books would survive. Initially, the competition was between an ongoing book (Peter David’s Captain Marvel) and two new titles — Marville and Ultimate Adventures. The “showdown” was based around a bet between Marville writer Bill Jemas (also Marvel’s Executive VP and essentially its publisher) and David, and eventually included Marvel EIC Joe Quesada. The bet was that the loser would take a pie in the face for charity. The internet doesn’t seem to know who won the bet (or if the loser took the face-pie), but David’s combined Captain Marvel runs lasted for 60 issues, Marville ran for 7, and Ultimate Adventures ran for 6. The Captain Marvel run was fan-acclaimed and an excellent read, while the other two series have been totally forgotten — although both of them ended up on Comics Alliance’s list of the 15 Worst Comic Books of the Decade. (Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum also made that list.)

(Since I mentioned it and since you likely have never heard of it, Marville is an amazing thing for a professional publisher to have released. It consisted mostly of pot-shots at DC Comics. Stan’s jabs in his letter columns, decades ago, at the “Distinguished Competition” were one thing; Marville was just juvenile mud-slinging nastiness, from someone who couldn’t afford real publicity or marketing and thought getting talked about on the internet would make up for the lack. Wrong.)

JEEZ, IT COULDN’T ALL BE BAD, COULD IT?

Ultimate Spider-Man

Ultimate Spider-Man


Of course not, subhead! Almost all of Ultimate Spider-Man was great (if sometimes slow-paced). I think it’s amazing that something created to be an alternate of an existing character would have such a long life-span, but there were plenty of great twists and turns in both storylines and characters. Ultimate X-Men also had a very long, but very readable, run, but since it bounced around among creators a bit, it wasn’t always consistently good. And I might be in the minority (sales weren’t there), but Ultimate Fantastic Four was fun (and kind of paved the way for better story changes in the long-running original FF title). I very much loved the goofy randomness to Ultimate Team-Up, one of the earliest of the Ultimate titles. And there’s always hidden gold when there are dozens and dozens of miniseries in the Ultimate Universe waiting to be discovered (or re-discovered) in dollar boxes. (I should know… I haven’t read all of them yet!)

Ultimate Team-Up

Ultimate Team-Up


The Ultimate Universe ultimately will be looked at as a mostly successful experiment in counter-programming for Marvel properties. It’s always been somewhat controversial to put out a new take on long-running brands, especially with hardcore Marvel fans who don’t want to see their beloved Marvel characters changed in ANY way. (Not sure how those folks are gonna survive All-New, All-Different… ) In a comic book history filled to the brim with new publishing ideas that ultimately flame out within a matter of months, a fifteen-year run of anything is something to celebrate — both its highs and lows! And guys who have done super-long runs on Ultimate books — I’m talking Bendis and Mark Bagley especially — should also take a long bow.

CAN I DO THE SIGN-OFF?

Sure, subhead — why not?

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SUBHEAD HAS WRITTEN JUST AS MANY COLUMNS FOR WESTFIELD COMICS AS KC CARLSON, ALTHOUGH MINE ARE MUCH MORE SUCCINCT. WHEN I’M NOT CORRECTING KC’S SPELLING, PUNCTUATION, AND GRAMMAR, I WRITE FOR TICKER COMPANIES LIKE THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE AND FOX NEWS. PLEASE DO NOT JUDGE ME. ALSO, IT FREQUENTLY LOOKS LIKE I AM ANGRIER THAN I ACTUALLY AM. I ACTUALLY LIKE COMIC BOOKS. I THANK YOU FOR THIS OPPORTUNITY.

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. Have I just lost control of my own column?

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