Comics Creators

What was so great about Ultimate Comics?


Ok, brace yourselves. The Ultimate universe was launched 16 years ago. (Mother of God that’s depressing. Why God? Why do you make time go so quickly???)

Some folks here were buying comics around that time (you’re all old farts now). And most people agree the Ultimate universe lit up the comics world like very little before, it brought huge amounts of people back and it created a vision and energy that renewed Marvel and helped kick off their movie domination.

So what was it? Why was the Ultimate universe so successful?

And if Marvel continues to struggle, is there a place for a new version of the Ultimate line, and what would it look like?


I think a key part was keeping the line small and the quality high.

It always seems in comics the urge is to launch as many books as possible and I think it dilutes everything and backfires. Even with their budget issues the likes of the New Universe had some good books, Star Brand, DP7 and Justice were decent reads. The rest were filler and devalued it all.

I think Valiant have been good with that in their recent relaunch, they started slowly, one book at a time and retained quality control. A lot of the superhero indie lines that were tried in the past launched with 8 books in a month and had gone bust within a couple of years.


That’s an interesting perspective. So how many books would be too many? 4 a month? 6 a month? It’s the kind of perspective that could feed into planning for event comics.

Star Wars is maybe doing so well as they’ve limited things - just 2 main titles and a few mini series, but I wonder if they’ve launched so many mini series that they’re diluting the brand.


I think it’s hard to quantify an exact number but I think a staggered launch is important. With the Ultimate line I wiki’d this:

The Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610) was introduced in 2000 with the publication of Ultimate Spider-Man, followed by Ultimate X-Men in 2001, The Ultimates in 2002, and finally Ultimate Fantastic Four.

It’s really extraordinarily patient, 4 books over 3 years or so. I think they really spent some time to make sure they were top notch and people could easily buy them all too, remembering the original premise was all about accessibility.

Of course there are other reasons but it’s just one I’ve observed over the years, the more they go big bang and throw lots of product out at once the less successful it seems in the long term.


I think what was great with the early books was that boiled away everything unessential and were very contemporary in look and feel. They weren’t looking for the same audience as the main MU books. You didn’t have years of annoying continuity to learn. It was just pure story.

Bendis and Bagley were hitting all the beats you would expect in a Spider-Man story, but it felt more real and modern than say, the John Byrne revamp of the origin.

When the continuity started to get tangled up, I think that it spelled death for the line.


Aside from what was already mentioned, I think an underrated aspect was the lack of events. Or, more to the point, the “events” were contained within the individual books. Ultimate Spider-Man was Ultimate Spider-Man, and aside from the oddball UMTU (which essentially ended up being ignored) you could read all of his stories in that book. Same with FF and X-Men.


I think that was a feature of comics at that time anyway, but I agree. Everything was fairly self contained. When Ultimates crossed over to X-men in Ultimate War, that was a fairly big deal.


That does conveniently ignore Ultimate Marvel Team-Up and Ultimate Adventures.


A big thing was that everything was new, even beyong mixing up the designs and casts. With a 30+ year-old comics franchise, you can’t have the characters act too far away from the norm or there’s outrage. And yeah, Ultimate Marvel did catch flak from some fans for doing thigs differently, but we still had a morally ambiguous Professor X, Wolverine sleeping with Jean Grey, and later stuf flike Reed Richards trying to take over the world and the killing off of characters left right and centre.

Having Millar and Bendis write the core books to begin with also helped because they were outside the Marel apparatus and coming up through the world of indie and off-beat comics (for the most part, anyway). Giving them a larger degree of personal freedom allowed them to apply a more creative touch to well-worn properties.


I believe both have been de-canonised.


Except for the part where I specifically mentioned UMTU.


It was the novelty, I think. The universes had really become the same creators doing the same stories within a very tight set of creative confines. Ultimates had the perfect storm of writers and artists outside the norm, with strong feelings about the characters and the room to experiment, and convenient jumping on points for readers.

Some of that can be replicated, and some of it can’t be. Even the best editor in the world can’t pick the right talent 100% of the time – because even the best talent with the best track record can have some weak ideas, or want to go too far, or whatever.

I look at Wildstorm, which was the pre-cursor to, and model for, the Ultimate line, and I tend to think that kind of stuff just can’t be done anymore. Nor should it; creators are doing their own thing, and being compensated more fairly for it.


I quite liked Ultimate Team up. There were some great artists on that.

Ultimate Adventures. I haven’t read it, so it would be unfair of me to comment.


Sounds painful

Ultimate X-Men started off with mutants being squashed, Wolverine as an assassin infiltrating the X-men to kill them (instead of being the diamond in the rough we were used to), and had him dropping Cyclops off a cliff because he wanted Jean to himself.

Good times!


I was responding to Gar. If I was replying to your post, I’d point out that Spider-Man spun off Ultimate Six while X-Men and Ultimates spun off Ultimate War and Ultimate Nightmare as separate minis.

The Ultimate U was helped by the low number of titles early, which created greater cohesion (ignoring Team-Up), just as with the original Marvel U early on.


The Reason’s of Success IMO:

Simple and very understandable stories that tried hard to not focus on continuity.

New creators who hit the scenes and later hit it big.

The Negatives:

SALES! Over time, the sales were hurting, so like any other comic line what did it do kids?! CROSSOVER! Was the crossover good? Eh beautiful art but the shock value was too much(Although the consequences were interesting.)

The relaunched series’s were really great and always were but a thing people should know about comics is sales.

Sales can end a series :frowning:

I’ll always miss Ultimate for not being confusing with anything, simple stories that I could enjoy.


Right. But it was a few years in before they really started doing events - and when they did they weren’t the all-encompassing events we have now until the last few years of the line. If we’re looking at what worked about the Ultimate line and could be applied to comics now, I think that’s part of it - smaller, self-contained line of comics, each of which feels very different from the other, while still obviously existing in the same world.


This is it in a nutshell.

While they appealed to the old guard, they really were for truly new, young readers. If you only new the characters as cultural icons and never read a comic before, these were perfect. No need to trudge through decades of history to understand a single issue. Everything you needed was right in those books. And because there were only a handful of titles, it made it very easy to stay caught up.

Looking back, Ultimatum marked the end of the Ultimate Universe. After that, it never recovered. I think it was already starting to decline before that but Ultimatum was the final nail in the coffin.

What Marvel should have done is have Ultimatum actually end the line as it was. Then, they should have rebooted it completely with an all new continuity. And 8 - 10 years later, another hard reboot. And keep doing that. The Ultimate line should reflect the zeitgeist and been a place to give new voices in art and writing a chance to speak to the times. On every level, the Ultimate line should have been about the now. It would have been a bold and risky thing to do but it would have been so cutting edge.


This is definitely true and was true for me. I was about 14 when I got into the Ultimate Universe in 2001, admittedly already reading Busiek’s Avengers in reprints, but it was accessible and easy to follow. But, eventually, I was perfectly happy to move onto the “proper” Marvel books.


I’d agree that’s part of the success. Nor have there been many minis on a monthly basis - Marvel have been quite canny with them. Generally they have the 2-3 ongoings, plus 1 mini, with series ending and a new one starting in the same ‘slot’.

As to the Ultimateverse - a large part of the attraction for me was the clean slate element, I hadn’t read that much Marvel. Stuff like X-continuity was a mind-frell and the books were very good. I’d agree with Gar that Valiant are probably the closest current operators of the approach - limited number of books + high quality.

The other aspect is perhaps that there wasn’t a sense of taking the readers for granted, so the books were made to grab and then keep your attention!