Thursday, May 05, 2011

Ultimate Revival

Marvel’s Ultimate imprint has taken an abrupt u-turn in the past week. In the wake of the positive reception and publicity that the Death of Spider-Man storyline is receiving and the publication of a new costume that will be appearing in Ultimate Spider-Man, Marvel announced major changes for the Ultimate line of comics. Jonathan Hickman will be taking over the Ultimates and writing an Ultimate Hawkeye book while Nick Spencer will be handling the Ultimate X-Men title.

Back in the early 2000s when the Ultimate universe was launched, it represented the cutting edge of superhero comics. The creative forces driving the books weren’t the same writers we were used to seeing. In Brian Michael Bendis we had an up and coming indie writer being given the keys of a major relaunch to Marvel’s most important character. In Mark Millar we had a controversial writer best known for work at Wildstorm and Vertigo being assigned to relaunches of Marvel’s new two biggest franchises.

Now, it has to be said that Ultimate Spider-Man has always maintained a pretty high level of quality, but the rest of the line hasn’t been as fortunate. With the exception of an inspired run on Ultimate X-Men, Millar’s books became a morass of bad ideas and poor execution as brought to us by Jeph Loeb and his interns from Heroes (Remember that show? Me neither.) Meanwhile, Ultimate Fantastic Four never clicked in the way the other books did at their launch, despite some valiant attempts from Warren Ellis and Mike Carey.

What these creative decisions represent is Marvel putting some real creative muscle back into the imprint. However, they’re doing it in the same way that they did it back in the early days of the imprint, finding guys that have a proven creative track record, but will bring an approach that readers aren’t necessarily familiar with. Hickman has written one of the market's highest selling books in the form of FF, but putting him front and center for a major imprint relaunch still feels like a first for him. Spencer might be this month’s next big thing, but his output is relatively slim for someone getting this high profile gig, just like Bendis in 2000.

What both of these creators bring are distinct styles and interests. Between the two of them, they’ve published books about altering the history of the Roman empire, a war between spy agencies, vacationing in alternate universes, and living in the brain of the guy that killed you. Not the resumes you’d maybe expect of guys on a high profile superhero book and that’s definitely a good thing.

The Ultimate universe has declined in recent years because Ultimate Spider-Man aside, Marvel stopped putting good creators on these books. They could have put more established creators on these books to show they were serious. Instead they went with two unexpected choices, which is perfect for a universe designed, in part, to subvert expectations.

The relaunch of the Ultimate universe starts in late summer and it looks like for the first time in a long time, this imprint will publish something worth reading without Bendis’ name on the cover.


  1. Whoa whoa... "Millar’s books became a morass of bad ideas and poor execution"

    Are you saying the you didn't like Ultimates I or II? One was very good. Two started great and broke down a little at the end, mostly because Millar stopped naming characters but other than that, I thought the first two series were pretty good.

  2. Nice write up. I never went to Ultimate because I just didn't want a new take. Now I don't read any Marvel. I do agree that Hickman is a neat choice. Just reread Pax Romana Last night. Still, nice catch up for me reading your post. Thanks!

  3. The previous relaunch of the line seemed to be a stall so they could think up something more prominent, and permanant. Ultimates 4, the Ultimate X book which seems to have vanished - it's great to see that Marvel are finally trying to connect the series once more and find a direction for the line.

  4. Lee: I'm pretty sure he was implying Ultimate Avengers, which have been a shadow of what The Ultimates were.

  5. Their last relaunch seemed to be based around the idea of a big event. While there is the whole "Death of Spider-Man" thing, this one seems to be much more focused on the creators they're bringing in.

    And like Shawn said, I meant to the books that Millar wrote (Ult. X-Men, Ultimates, and to some extent Ult. FF) became a mess, largely after he left.

  6. Awesome write up. I forgot they were doing a live blog thing today, work has been unkind. Should be an interesting shakeup.

  7. Awesome write up. I forgot they were doing a live blog thing today, work has been unkind. Should be an interesting shakeup.