Al Ewing’s Marvel Comics work has always skewed a bit esoteric and out there, but the vision for history of the Marvel Universe he lays down with Travel Foreman in this week’s issue of “Ultimates 2” reaches new levels of mind-boggling trippiness. Ewing’s writing usually has a number of balls in the air at once, often playing with a number of disparate and seemingly unrelated elements of the Marvel Universe simultaneously, so it can sometimes be hard to keep up with the directions he’s taking the characters.
“Ultimates 2” #6 introduces the First Firmament, the main villain of the entire “Ultimates” saga, who we learn is the first incarnation of the universe, from which the multiverse was born. This is a plot point that hearkens back to the fallout of “Secret Wars,” where Ewing confirmed in the pages of “Ultimates” and “Clash of Champions” that the Marvel Universe we had been reading about for decades was the universe in its seventh iteration, and the Marvel Universe we are reading about now is the universe in its eighth iteration.
Ewing used this idea to build the next few years of his stories; he introduced the concept of the element known asIso-8 (which many of the Marvel mobile games use as currency) and set-up the idea of a big bad who seized upon an opportunity to place Eternity into shackles, effectively chaining the universe. “Ultimates 2” #6 reveals that The First Firmament was responsible for Eternity’ imprisonment, while its grudge against the Marvel Universe as a whole goes back to the beginning of time itself.
The First Firmament is capable of creating what it calls “Aspirants,” entities that might be familiar to fans as the Death Celestials from Matt Fraction’s run on “The Defenders.” The concept recently resurfaced at the very beginning of “Civil War II,” referred to there as the Celestial Destructor. Its sudden arrival and defeat at the beginning of the event seemed odd and underwhelming, but “Ultimates 2” #6 reveals it to be part of a much larger plan.
The issue also continues to explore a number of aspects from Jim Shooter’s pet project “New Universe,” the ill-fated standalone imprint established in the ’80s that was supposed to present readers with a much more down-to-Earth and realistic take on superheroes. Ewing had already introduced a number of re-imagined New Universe characters such as Jim Tensen, Kathy Ling and Simon Rodstvow to the world of “Ultimates,” and in the most recent issue, he brings back the concept of the Psi-Hawk, an energy being created when the members of Psi-Force pool their powers together to form a single gestalt being.
The reason it was necessary to summon the Psi-Hawk is because Rodstvow, who was actually an agent of The First Firmament all along had betrayed the team and helped poison Galactus, causing the cosmic being to revert form his newfound Lifebringer incarnation to his iconic Planet Deveourer status. Indeed, it has been revealed that every seemingly unrelated attack on The Ultimates, from the Celestial Destructor to Rodstvow to the ongoing schemes of Master Chaos and Lord Order, has been part of The First Firmament’s plans to get revenge on Eternity for usurping its role.
It’s a big, ambitious plan that appears to be more than a little influenced by Grant Morrison’s work at DC on titles like “Final Crisis” and “The Multiversity,” and Ewing and Foreman are pulling it off with aplomb. If you like your comics full of cosmic fate-of-the-multiverse weirdness and you’re not reading “Ultimates” then you’re seriously missing out.