Jo Schmidt – In Defense of the Ultimate Marvel Universe

Many imprints have existed in comics over the years. Some successful (Top Cow, Wildstorm), and most unsuccessful (too many to list) but the Ultimate Marvel Universe is arguably the most surprisingly successful of them all. It started as a simple idea. There were some 40-years of continuity for new readers to catch up on Marvels biggest characters. Restart the Marvel Universe set today, get new, young readers, and do what no one thought possible. Improve comics in general. The Ultimate Universe was meant to be an introduction to the rest of comics. It started with Ultimate Spider-Man, X-Men and eventually was joined by Fantastic Four, Daredevil and the Avengers. (called the Ultimates) They were big-budget, summer movie storytelling. Epic events with repercussions felt through the entire line (which, admittedly, wasn’t that large) and it resonated. “Ultimate Spider-man” and “the Ultimates” won many awards and have gone down as some of the most critically and fan-loved comics ever. Literally, modern classics. Do you know how zombies became so popular in comics? Yes, “Walking Dead,” but also “Marvel Zombies” launched in “Ultimate Fantastic Four.”But after eight years, everything was starting to feel old. The stories were still good, but had the same-old regular Marvel feel. That was, until the infamous “Ultimatum.”

The Ultimate line has had many big-name writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Greg Rucka, Warren Ellis, Brian K. Vaughn, and others but one name is remembered for both destroying and invigorating the universe-Jeph Loeb. Also known as “The Michael Bay of comics,” Loeb is known for writing massive, gorgeous stories and to hell with plot or characterization. Spinning out of his universally panned “Ultimates 3,” “Ultimatum” told of the destruction of New York City at the hands of Magneto. That’s about it. It was bloody, and stupid but man, did it shake everything up. Finally, the Ultimate universe did what it was created to. Shock us into something new. How different? SPOILER ALERT (that’s 3 years old) Wolverine is dead. Dead dead. Not comic book dead, but actually dead. And he isn’t coming back. A return in the Ultimate U, while not impossible is just so much more unlikely. Characters die and change. Histories aren’t rewritten, they’re revealed. In “Ultimate Origin,” we learn the truth about mutants. Hated and feared, turns out they were accidentally created by the US Government. Holy crap.

As you probably heard, Ultimate Spider-Man was killed. How much bigger of a change can you get? With new titles starting this third era set in motion is growing to be more incredible than any other. The Ultimate Universe is and should be, set apart from everything else. It’s its own entity and set of rules. The characters, while new versions of old, are unique and different. There is so much to become involved in. You don’t need to start at the beginning either. I do recommend reading “Ultimate Spider-Man,” and “the Ultimates,” but after that, you can jump to “Ultimatum” and catch up. Shockingly accessible the Ultimate Universe is taking those chances that others don’t (Marvel proper) or are too scared to do full out. (DCnU)

Jo Schmidt