Originally my intent with this journey through the bowels of Marvel’s Ultimate universe was to read a few of the trades at a time, and then write an article about them. Well it turns out that I’ve been enjoying (well, ‘consuming’ is probably more accurate in most cases) the books so much that I simply never stopped to write. I’ve read roughly 60 of the trades at this point, which finds me within striking distance of the end of my journey through the pre-Ultimatum Ultimate universe. That said, I’ve got a lot of thoughts to cover in the next few articles.
The order in which I’ve chosen to read the books is based loosely on a list I found on a message board forum that I’m having a really hard time finding a link to again. The list attempted to order the books in rough chronological order. I stripped out certain books (Squadron Supreme, Marvel Zombies) that I had no interest in reading and that seemed to only be linked due to crossover events. I also rearranged the order of some books based on recommendations found in other discussions of the proper reading order of the Ultimate universe.
One of the frustrating things about the early Ultimate titles is the inconsistent approach to some of the characters. It’s obvious that there wasn’t a solid plan in dealing with, say, Iron Man, who appeared very much like his 616 self in one of the Marvel Team-Up books. Then there is the version of him in The Ultimates, which is quite a bit different aesthetically. And then you have Orson Scott Card’s origin story for him, which adds significant story elements that are never used in the other two incarnations of the character.
That said, Iron Man was really the extreme case of inconsistency that I noticed. Thankfully, The Ultimates are also one of the least interesting parts of the Ultimate universe so far, and they feel ancillary to the main titles like Spider-Man, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. Kind of like S.H.I.E.L.D.
Prepare thyself for a lot of rambling about Ultimate lore.
Speaking of S.H.I.E.L.D., what a terrible organization. Most of the terrible things in the Ultimate universe can be traced back to the incompetency of this organization. Typically these bad things can be traced back to either Weapon X (which was sanctioned by them until Nick Fury showed up), or Mr. Fury’s restart of the super soldier program. And Fury himself is Captain Bad Decisions half the time he shows up in an Ultimate book. If he isn’t being terrible, then he’s making threats. It’s kind of annoying.
Speaking of annoying, let’s talk about The Ultimates. The Ultimates are the government (S.H.I.E.L.D.) backed force of metahumans that, as part of the lore, are considered to be the elite of the elite. Across the Ultimate universe characters tend to be in awe of the awesomeness of The Ultimates. The problem is that we’re mostly told how awesome they are, but rarely shown. In fact, we’re mostly shown how they share the incompetence of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a good portion of the threats they face come from within. Just a short list of people they’ve fought…
-The Hulk (Thanks to Nick Fury’s super soldier program obsession)
-Thor (even considering Loki’s manipulation, the justification for taking him down was questionable)
-Captain America (okay, S.H.I.E.L.D. actually took him down, but for similarly weak reasons like in the Thor situation)
-Giant Man (beats his wife, Cap kicks his ass.)
-Black Widow (turns out to be a huge traitor…taken down by Iron Man/Hawkeye)
Honestly, when you’ve fought your own teammates as often as you’ve fought external enemies, the rest of the world should see you as an absolute mess of a super team. It always amuses me when Nick Fury shows up in the other titles and gives their characters hell because they operate in ways he doesn’t agree with. The writers never acknowledge the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D., Fury, and The Ultimates have proven to be a bigger and more consistent threat to the world than the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four combined.
Okay, well maybe not the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards is a hilariously careless character when it comes to designing devices that could threaten the entire planet. But that is a discussion for a different time. Speaking of which, I think I’ve rambled enough. Join me next time for more Ultimate thoughts on Marvel’s Ultimate universe!
Wait! Just one last thing. In my last article I kind of crapped on Marc Bagley’s art in Ultimate Spider-Man. I would like to make it known that I have totally shifted my position on his art in that book. After reading 17-ish volumes of Ultimate Spidey (easily my favorite book in the line by a huge margin) I now am dreading the point where he leaves the book. I’ve gotten so used to his style that anything else is going to seem weird and bad and wrong and no good. And sure, this may sound like a strange comic art variation of Stockholm Syndrome, but I can assure you that I genuinely enjoy his work at this point.
And on that note, see ya next time!