Ultimate Marvel, later known as Ultimate Comics, was an imprint of comic books published by Marvel Comics, featuring re-imagined and updated versions of the company's superhero characters from the Ultimate Universe. Those characters include Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. The imprint was launched in 2000 with the publication of the series Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, providing new origin stories for the characters.
Cover to The Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates
|Title(s)||List of publications|
|Publication date||2000 – 2015|
The Ultimate Universe, as a part of a large scale reboot of the All-New, All-Different Marvel multiverse, ended at the conclusion of the 2015 "Secret Wars" storyline, when select characters from the Ultimate Universe moved to the mainstream universe. However, writer Brian Michael Bendis established at the end of the 2017 miniseries Spider-Men II that the universe and its superheroes still exist.
In the late 1990s, the US comic book industry had declining sales. Annual combined sales from all publishers, which had been close to a billion dollars in 1993, had declined to 270 million. The bubble that held comic books as valuable collectible items ended. The poor reception of the Batman & Robin film cast doubts on the prospects of any other comic book cinematic adaption. Marvel Comics went through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, many notable artists left the company, and their rival, DC Comics, topped them in sales. Brian Michael Bendis, who was hired to start the imprint, said that "When I got hired, I literally thought I was going to be writing one of the last — if not the last — Marvel comics".
Comic book continuity, which had been a key to the success of Marvel Comics in its early years, turned into a problem for some readers. All stories had to fit into a sixty-year continuity, a bar that not all fans could reach and which scared away some new readers. The usual style of superhero comics, with suits of bright colors, corny names and convoluted plots, was of little interest to young adult audiences, which preferred the style set by The Matrix franchise. Most superheroes were adults, even those that started as teenagers, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men. Previous attempts to cut the long continuity did not work as expected: DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour: Crisis in Time caused several plot contradictions, and Marvel's Heroes Reborn was panned by critics and fans. The Dark Age of Comic Books tried to counter the campiness of the superhero genre with violence and shocking content, but the trend was declining as well.
The idea for the Ultimate imprint was developed by Bill Jemas. A lawyer who had worked mainly at the collectible-trading-card industry before that point, he had little interaction with the production of comic books. In his perspective, the main problem of Marvel Comics was that it was “publishing stories that were all but impossible for teens to read — and unaffordable, to boot”. He worked on an idea given by a CEO of the Wizard magazine: reboot the heroes back to their original character premise. Marvel's editor-in-chief Joe Quesada preferred to start an imprint with new heroes, but accepted Jemas' proposal. The working title for the imprint at that point was "Ground Zero". Unlike previous reboots, there was no in-story explanation for the existence of the imprint, and the standard comic books were still being published, unaffected by the new project. Thus, Ultimate Spider-Man would contain the stories of a new teenager Spider-Man starting his career, and the usual Spider-Man titles would still contain the stories of the adult Spider-Man with sixty years worth of continuity.
Quesada then hired Brian Michael Bendis, an artist from indie publishers, for the first comic book of the imprint, Ultimate Spider-Man. One of the previous auditioners had made a word-by-word rewrite of the Amazing Fantasy #15 comic (the debut of Spider-Man), in a modern setting. Bendis preferred to avoid that writing style completely. Instead, he changed the narration style, so that it resembled a TV series more than a classic superhero comic book. There were no thought bubbles or long expositions, and the first issue did not feature any superhero costume. Jemas tried to bring more notice into the comic book by distributing it at chain stores like Payless Shoes and Walmart. The sales rose, and the comic book was acclaimed by critics. The arts were made by Mark Bagley. The Bendis/Bagley partnership of 111 consecutive issues made their partnership one of the longest in American comic book history, and the longest run by a Marvel creative team, beating out Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four.
Ultimate X-Men was also launched in 2001. It was initially delayed by the search for a creative team, and even Bendis' proposed scripts were rejected. The new title was finally given to Mark Millar, who had a controversial run in DC's The Authority. The two authors had conflicting styles: Bendis sought to modernize the old superhero tropes, and Millar sought to critique them. While Bendis tried to write atemporal stories, Millar preferred to set his stories amid the political controversies of the time (which, at the time of the Ultimate imprint, was mainly the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the War on Terror). The first issue of Ultimate X-Men sold 117,085 copies in a month. Lacking previous knowledge about the characters, Millar based his general draft of the series on the 2000 X-Men film.
Jemas and Quesada paired Millar with artist Bryan Hitch, who had also worked with The Authority, but in a run that did not overlap with Millar's. They would reimagine the Avengers, who were renamed as "the Ultimates". Unlike the simple updates of the Spider-Man and X-Men titles, the Ultimates were a complete reimagination of the Avengers, with very little in common with the mainstream title. Ultimate Captain America got a rash and soldierly personality, Hulk was written as a murderous and cannibalistic monster that kills hundreds of civilians, and Thor was ambiguously introduced as either an actual Norse god (as in the main comics) or a man with stolen weapons and a psychiatric disorder. Nick Fury, originally a caucasian character, was modeled after the actor Samuel L. Jackson, and the new design overshadowed the original one, being incorporated into the mainstream universe and all new media adaptions of the characters. The main premise was to write a comic that looked the way a superhero film about the Avengers should look like. At that point, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had not been created, and the prospect of a film about the Avengers was remote. The series was a huge success, and became the single best-selling comic of the year. The series was also notable for being one of the few anti-war mainstream works, in a time when most works were either pro-war or escapist. Still, the comic also proved popular among pro-war readers, especially the new version of Captain America. Millar once said that “People would say, 'I joined the army after reading The Ultimates because I wanted to make a difference in the Middle East,' and I was like, 'Well, I kinda meant the opposite of that’”.
The Ultimate Marvel imprint, with a high political tone, was benefited by the political changes that took place in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Terrorism resurfaced into the public perception as a clear, dangerous and complex menace, which reduced the credibility of the usual supervillains of superhero fiction. Fictional conflicts involving explosions and property damage became more ominous. Young people became more politically aware and critical of the foreign policy of the United States. The Ultimate Marvel comics incorporated those topics into their plots, which would eventually become commonplace in the whole comic book industry.
Jemas was fired from Marvel in 2004, and Millar and Hitch left the Ultimates after writing a second miniseries. Sci-fi writer Orson Scott Card wrote a miniseries, Ultimate Iron Man, which was poorly received. Quesada considered that the Ultimate imprint needed a big crossover event to keep the interest of the audiences, and hired Jeph Loeb for a third Ultimates miniseries that would lead to such event. This miniseries relied on shocking content, instead of the political overtones of the first ones. The art by Joe Madureira was standard superhero art, instead of the cinematic action provided by Hitch. The miniseries had decent sales, but was panned by critics.
The series was followed by Ultimatum, a crossover between the Ultimate titles. In five issues, the story kills thirty-four characters with an increased content of graphic violence. The series became a commercial failure, with both low sales and highly negative reviews. The sales of the whole inprint were decreased, and never returned to their pre-Ultimatum figures.
After the crossover, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four were cancelled, with a last issue named "Requiem" to give closure to their plots.
Ultimate Comics relaunchesEdit
The Ultimate Marvel imprint was re-launched, as "Ultimate Comics". Ultimate Spider-Man was renamed as Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, and the line was joined later by Ultimate Comics: Avengers and Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates. New Ultimates featured the reconstruction of the team, and was made by Loeb and Frank Cho. Avengers features a black-operations superhero team, and was made by Millar and several artists.
There was a new relaunch shortly afterwards, named "Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn". Both teams met in Avengers vs. New Ultimates, where Nick Fury is reinstalled as director of SHIELD and the teams merge again into a single team, the Ultimates. This team would then be featured in Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, written by Jonathan Hickman. The Death of Spider-Man features the death of Peter Parker and his nemesis, the Green Goblin. An Afro-Hispanic teenager, Miles Morales, becomes the new Spider-Man. He was featured in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, still written by Bendis. The X-Men were relaunched in the miniseries Ultimate Comics: X, which introduced Jimmy Hudson, the son of Wolverine. This miniseries was followed by Ultimate Comics: X-Men, written by Nick Spencer, who explored the X-Men mythos in a setting where both Charles Xavier and Magneto are dead.
Initially, Marvel resisted to make crossovers between the Ultimate and the mainstream universes. The first crossover was the Spider-Men miniseries, between Miles Morales and the adult Peter Parker. It was made for the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man. All-New X-Men, also written by Bendis, had a story where the main characters got stranded in the Ultimate universe and teamed-up with Morales. However, Bendis and Fialkov agreed that crossovers should be done sparingly, to keep them interesting, and cited the creative decay in the Marvel/DC intercompany crossovers as a justification.
The Age of Ultron crossover, between the mainstream comics, ended with Galactus displaced into the Ultimate universe. This premise started the "Cataclysm" crossover in the Ultimate imprint, which was followed by a new relaunch. The Ultimates disbanded after the crossover, and were replaced by a completely different team, led by Miles Morales. This team starred in All-New Ultimates, by Michel Fiffe and Amilcar Pinna. Spider-Man was relaunched in Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man, which inclued the return of Peter Parker and the Green Goblin. Ultimate FF ("FF" standing for "Future Foundation", not "Fantastic Four") featured the "incursions", a multiversal threat that was being used in Hickman's run on the Avengers, and which would lead to the Secret Wars crossover. Ultimate FF was cancelled, alongside the Fantastic Four comic book, as a result of the disputes between Marvel and 20th Century Fox over the film rights over the characters.
The 2015 "Secret Wars" storyline concluded the Ultimate Marvel imprint. In the plot, it was destroyed alongside all the other alternate realities in the multiverse, and then recreated as a region of the Battleworld. Ultimate End, set in such region, is the last story of the Ultimate imprint. It was produced by Bendis and Bagley, the team that started the imprint. Miles Morales, a character that originated in the Ultimate Universe to take over the mantle of Spider-Man when the Ultimate Universe's Peter Parker died, was migrated to the Marvel-616 universe, along with his supporting cast, a development that saw his mother restored to life, following her death in a 2013 storyline. The story, however, is largely a team-up of characters from the Ultimate and mainstream Marvel universes, with only a superficial relation with the plot of the crossover. Matt Little from CBR suspects that the story may have been conceived at some earlier point, and then slightly modified to serve as a tie-in for Secret Wars.
Aaron Davis, Morales' uncle, makes his first Marvel-616 appearance in Spider-Man #234. The Maker, an evil Reed Richards, is also restored to life and moved to Marvel-616, where he is a recurring villain in the Infamous Iron Man comic book. The hammer of Ultimate Thor (lost in the Cataclysm crossover) is found by Thor Odinson, who is not capable at the time to wield his classic hammer, owned by Jane Foster. He refuses to take the new hammer, which is then lifted by Volstagg in the Unworthy Thor miniseries. Jimmy Hudson, the son of Ultimate Wolverine, is also revealed to be alive in the new continuity, though this is not explained. The Ultimates 2 #10, renumbered as #100 under the Marvel Legacy relaunch, features the Ultimates from the Ultimate universe.
Bendis left Marvel Comics in 2017, and moved to DC Comics. One of his last comic books was a second volume of Spider-Men, featuring Peter Parker and Miles Morales. The miniseries ends with the Marvel-616 Miles Morales emigrating to the Ultimate Universe to be reuniting with his lost love, following the death of her Marvel-616 counterpart, confirming that the universe still exists. A brief glimpse of the still-extant Ultimate universe is provided by artist Mark Bagley, showing that Ultimate Peter Parker, who had been revealed alive in one of the last issues, has returned to the role of Spider-Man, and that he is a member of the Ultimates, as is Riri Williams and a gray Hulk. Tom Brevoort confirmed at the 2018 Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo that Marvel has editorial plans for the Ultimate universe, still undisclosed.
Titles in this section are organized by approximate publication date and line title.
Ultimate Marvel (2000 – 2009)Edit
- Ultimate Spider-Man #1–133 (vol 1) (2000-2009), plus Wizard 1/2 special (134 issues in vol. 1 initial run)
- Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #1–16 (2001–2002)[note 1]
- Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 (2002)
- Ultimate X-Men #1–100 (2001–2009), plus Wizard 1/2 special (101 issues total)
- The Ultimates #1–13 (2002–2003)
- Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra #1–4 (2002–2003)
- Ultimate Adventures #1–6 (2002–2004)
- Ultimate War #1–4 (2002–2003)
- Ultimate Six #1–7 (2003–2004)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four #1–60 (2004–2009)[note 2]
- Ultimate Elektra #1–5 (2004)
- Ultimate Galactus Trilogy (2004–2006)[note 3]
- The Ultimates 2 #1–13 (2005–2007)
- Ultimate Iron Man #1–5 (2005–2006)
- Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #1–6 (2005–2009)
- Ultimate X4 #1–2 (2005–2006)
- Ultimate Vision #0–5 (2006–2007)
- Ultimate Power #1–9 (2006–2008)
- Ultimate Iron Man II #1–5 (2007–2008)
- Ultimate Human #1–4 (2008)
- The Ultimates 3 #1–5 (2008)
- Ultimate Origins #1–5 (2008)
- March on Ultimatum Saga #1 (2008)
- Ultimatum (2008–2009)[note 4]
Ultimate Comics (2009 – 2011)Edit
- Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1-15 (vol. 2) (2009-2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Armor Wars #1–4 (2009–2010)
- Ultimate Comics: Avengers #1–6 (2009–2010)
- Ultimate Comics: Avengers 2 #1–6 (2010)
- Ultimate Comics: Doomsday Trilogy (2010–2011)[note 5]
- Ultimate Comics: X #1–5 (2010–2011)
- Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates #1–5 (2010–2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Thor #1–4 (2010–2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Captain America #1–4 (2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Avengers 3 #1–6 (2010–2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #150-160 (reverted to original numbering) (2011)
- Ultimate Comics: Avengers vs. New Ultimates #1–6 (2011)
Ultimate Comics: Reborn (2011 – 2014)Edit
- Ultimate Comics: Fallout #1-6 (2011)
- Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #1-30 (2011–2013) plus #18.1 (31 issues total)
- Ultimate Comics: X-Men #1-33 (2011–2013) plus #18.1 (34 issues total)
- Ultimate Comics: All-New Spider-Man #1-28 (2011–2013) plus #16.1 (29 issues total)
- Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye #1–4 (2011–2012)
- Ultimate Comics: Iron Man #1-4 (2012–2013)
- Ultimate Comics: Wolverine #1-4 (2013)
- Hunger #1-4 (2013)[note 6]
- Cataclysm (2013–2014)[note 7]
- Cataclysm #0.1 (2013)
- Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand #1-5 (2013–2014)
- Cataclysm: The Ultimates #1-3 (2013–2014)
- Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man #1-3 (2013–2014)
- Cataclysm: Ultimate X-Men #1-3 (2013–2014)
- Ultimate Spider-Man #200 (vol 1) (2014)
- Survive! #1 (2014)
Ultimate Marvel NOW! (2014 – 2015)Edit
Brian Michael Bendis wrote the first comic book of the Ultimate imprint, Ultimate Spider-Man, launched in 2000. This was his first work for Marvel Comics. He later worked in other comics of the imprint, such as Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (2001-2002), Ultimate X-Men (2003-2004), Ultimate Fantastic Four (2003-2004) and Ultimate Origins (2008). He is recognized as the main author of the whole Ultimate imprint. Most characters were reimaginations of classic Marvel characters; Miles Morales was an original character of his own creation. Given the success of the Ultimate imprint, Marvel asked him to write mainstream Marvel comics as well. He started a successful run on The Avengers, starting with Avengers Disassembled. He created Jessica Jones in the Alias comic book, part of the R-rated MAX imprint. He wrote major crossover events such as House of M, Age of Ultron and Civil War II. He wrote Cataclysm, the last crossover event within the Ultimate imprint, and Ultimate End, that closed it. He moved to DC Comics in 2017.
Mark Millar is a Scottish comic book writer, and started his career with British comics such as Judge Dredd. He was hired by DC Comics, and worked in several titles. His most successful work was Superman: Red Son, which reimagined Superman as a newborn alien whose ship fell in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas. This work was published in 2003, two years after his departure from DC. Millar started the Ultimate X-Men comics, the Ultimate Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates. Stan Lee, creator of many characters of Marvel comics, praised his work, but also advised him: "That’s great, but you should do your own characters instead of doing mine. I didn’t do Superman and Batman and Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. I went off and did the X-Men." Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, was impressed by his work and started working with him in Kingsman, published by Marvel at the Icon Comics imprint, which allowed Millar to retain the rights. Millar then created Millarworld, with his own comic books, such as Wanted and Kick-Ass. Kingsman and Kick-ass had cinematic adaptations. On 7 August 2017, Millarworld was acquired by the American streaming media company Netflix.
In other mediaEdit
The only adaptations of the Ultimate Marvel works to other media are two direct-to-video films by Marvel Animated Features, "Ultimate Avengers" and "Ultimate Avengers 2: Rise of the Panther", based on the Ultimates. The plot was simplified and the political aspects of the original work were removed, turning it into a standard superhero animated film. Sony is currently working on an animated Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which will be starred by Miles Morales. The plot is an adaptation of the 2014 storyline Spider-Verse, and will premiere in December 2018.
Other animated series incorporated aspects of the Ultimates, despite not being direct adaptions. Despite the name and the involvement of Bendis, Ultimate Spider-Man is a different work, aimed for kids. Being critizised by this, Bendis said: "I don't know what to say — 'You know, you're watching Disney XD.' It's not on Showtime. I want you to like it too, but like it in the context of what it's for. It's for kids. We're thinking of them while we write it." The series adapted some specific storylines, such as the episode "Freaky", where Spider-Man and Wolverine switch bodies as in Ultimate Spider-Man #66-67. Miles Morales appeared in that TV series as well, in a cameo. Some character designs from The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes were based on the Ultimate comics instead of the mainstream ones, such as Captain Marvel and the suit of Captain America during the second season. Nick Fury was based on Ultimate Nick Fury since season 2, which was kept for the following series, Avengers Assemble.
Ultimate Marvel has also been a strong influence in the early stages of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Joss Whedon said that "It's my feeling that Ultimates brought Marvel into the modern age in a way no other book did". The personality of Tony Stark was based on that Ultimate Iron Man, and Millar and Bendis were included in the staff as consultants. Samuel L. Jackson, whose likeness was used to create the new version of Nick Fury, was casted for the character in a 9 films deal, starting in a post-credits scene in Iron Man. The script of the scene was written by Bendis. As a comic book fan, Jackson had noticed the use of his likeness and asked to be included in some eventual film. The suits of Hawkeye (first seen in Thor) and Captain America (first seen in Captain America: The First Avenger) were based on the Ultimate ones as well. However, Captain America himself was not based on the reimagination used at the Ultimates, Captain America's origins had aspects of the Ultimate version such as having known Bucky Barnes since childhood rather than meeting him after becoming Captain America. The film The Avengers featured the Ultimate take on the team, as a military operation organized by S.H.I.E.L.D. rather than an autonomous superhero group. Kevin Feige based the script of the film broadly on the first miniseries of the Ultimates and the ending of the second.Spider-Man: Homecoming also had aspects of the comics like Parker's age, an African-American version of Liz Allan, a younger Aunt May, introducing Aaron Davis and mentioning Miles Morales.
Other films based on Marvel comics were also influenced by Ultimate Marvel, albeit in a less noticeable degree. The film Spider-Man was released in 2002, two years after the start of Ultimate Spider-Man, and it also provided a higher character development for uncle Ben before killing him in Spider-Man's origin story. The series was rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, and Sony asked Bendis for suggestions. He proposed that Spider-Man should use artificial web-shooters, as in the comics, instead of the organic webs of the Raimi trilogy. The 2005 film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is based on the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, in particular the design of Galactus. The franchise was rebooted in 2015 with Fantastic Four, which is strongly based on the first arcs of Ultimate Fantastic Four.
Marvel video games have also featured Ultimate influences such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance and its sequel Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 likewise have elements from the Ultimate Marvel Universe such as the main costumes of Captain America, Thor, Colossus, Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch based off their Ultimate counterparts as well as alternate costumes for Iron Man, Elektra, Storm, Wolverine, Moon Knight, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Deadpool, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Venom, Sabretooth, The Thing, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Hawkeye also based off the Ultimate versions of the characters for the first game. The 2010 video game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions features the Ultimate version of Spider-Man possessed with the symbiote.
- Ultimate Marvel Team-Up titles include Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 as the series conclusion.
- Issues #21-24 crosses over with Marvel Zombies.
- The Galactus Trilogy titles are listed in order of publication and story development.
- The Ultimatum titles are listed in order of publication and story development. One-shot March on Ultimatum Saga #1 and limited series Ultimate Origins are also prologues for the event.
- The Doomsday Trilogy titles are listed in order of publication and story development.
- The Hunger miniseries is one of two story arcs bannered as resulting from the Marvel Universe crossover/miniseries Age of Ultron and serves as a prologue for the following miniseries, Cataclysm.
- Hunger acts as a prologue to the event, while Survive! #1 one-shot serves as the miniseries epilogue.
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Quesada then clarified that the entire Ultimate line will be canceled, sent off with a number of "Requiem" specials, and re-launched as Ultimate Comics.
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Prepare for Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn, signaling the biggest changes to ever hit the Ultimate Comics Universe!
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