Cover to "The Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: Vol. 2 #1: Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates"
|Publication date||2000 – 2015|
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 original stories for the characters.
The Ultimate Universe, as a part of a large scale reboot of the All-New, All-Different Marvel multiverse, ended at the conclusion of Secret Wars, when select characters from the Ultimate Universe moved to the mainstream universe.
- 1 Publication history
- 2 Timeline
- 3 Publications
- 4 Writers
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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 the readers. All stories had to fit into a sixty years worth of continuity, a bar that very few fans could reach and which scared away 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. Composed by 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 relaunches
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 arch-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 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.
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 Secret Wars crossover was used to give a closure to 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 made by Bendis and Bagley, the team that started the imprint. Miles Morales, a main character in the main plot of the crossover, is moved to the mainstream Marvel universe. The final issue set his status for the upcoming comic book, including the return of his mother. 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.
After the event, Marvel published a new comic book named Ultimates, but it had no relation with the imprint beyond the name. Miles Morales is moved to the mainstream Marvel universe, alongside all of his supporting cast, with the exception of Ultimate Jessica Drew. The Maker, an evil Reed Richards, is also moved, despite his death in the plot of the crossover. The hammer of Ultimate Thor (lost in the Cataclysm crossover) is found by Thor Odinson, who was not capable at the time to wield his classic hammer, owned by Jane Foster. He refused 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, but with no explanation for the reasons. The Ultimates 2 #10, renumbered as #100 under the Marvel Legacy relaunch, features the Ultimates from the Ultimate universe.
Ultimate Marvel series timeline (by date of publication)
Titles in this section are organized by approximate publication date and line title.
Ultimate Marvel (2000 – 2009)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- All-New Ultimates #1-12 (2014–2015)
- Ultimate FF #1-6 (2014)
- Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #1-12 (2014-2015)[note 8]
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.
- 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.
- Issue #12 is a crossover-of-sorts with the Mainstream Marvel Universe.
- "The MARVEL UNIVERSE Is Ending". Newsarama.com. 2015-01-20. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
- Abraham Riesman (May 25, 2015). "The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever". Vulture. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
- Greg Burgas (May 5, 2012). "What should we call this age of comics?". CBR. Retrieved August 22, 2017.
- Schedeen, Jesse (March 19, 2011). "C2E2: Bendis & Bagley Get Brilliant". IGN. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012.
- James Kelly (April 27, 2015). "Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People". Sequart organization. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
- David Wallace. "Marvel Runs in Review: Ultimates, by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch". Silver Soapbox. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
- Khouri, Andy (2009-02-07). "NYCC LIVE: Cup O' Joe". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
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.
- "Kaare Andrews Covers Marvel's Ultimate Relaunch". Comic Book Resources.com. 2011-05-17. Retrieved 2011-05-29.
Prepare for Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn, signaling the biggest changes to ever hit the Ultimate Comics Universe!
- Franich, Darren (August 2, 2011). "The new Spider-Man will be a half-black half-Hispanic teenager". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
- "Marvel's Ultimate Comics X-Men". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
- Sunu, Steve (January 10, 2014). "Marvel Releases Details, Covers for Ultimate Marvel NOW! Line". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved May 14, 2016.
- Albert Ching (June 17, 2014). "Marvel’s "Ultimate FF" to End in August with #6". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
- McMillan, Graeme (2015-01-28). "'Ultimate End' Closes a 15-Year Era of Marvel's Comic History". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2015-02-01.
- Stephen Gerding (December 16, 2015). "Returns in Marvel’s “Ultimate End” Finale". CBR. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
- Matt Little (May 22, 2015). "Ultimate End #1". CBR. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
- James Whitbrook (May 5, 2017). "So What Actually Survived The Destruction Of The Ultimate Marvel Universe?". Kotaku. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
- Jamie Lovett (April 12, 2017). "Exclusive: Wolverine's Son Officially Joins The X-Men". Comic Book. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
- Joseph Schmidt (May 26, 2017). "The Original Ultimates Returning In August". Comic Book. Retrieved July 30, 2017.
- Phegley, Kiel (16 May 2013). "Marvel's Hunger Grows with Fialkov & Kirk; Cancels Red She-Hulk". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Casey, Dan (14 August 2013). "Comic Book Day: Brian Michael Bendis and Josh Fialkov Talk "Cataclysm"". Nerdist. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
- Booker, M. Keith (2010). Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. United States: Greenwood. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-313-35746-6.