WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Spider-Men II #5 by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Mark Bagley, Elisabetta D’Amico, John Dell, Justin Ponsor and Cory Petit, on sale now.
Well, Marvel Comics' Ultimate Universe is back. The coda to Spider-Men II #5 saw the Prime Miles Morales stepping through a gateway between worlds and arriving in what we once knew as Earth-1610, complete with Mark Bagley art and lower-case lettering.
It feels like it’s been ages, but the Ultimate Universe has only been gone for two years or so. Its return could spell big things for the future of the Marvel Multiverse, including the return of the Fantastic Four and the fate of several major Marvel heroes.
See You At The Crossroads
The Ultimate Universe was established in 2001 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man #1, which introduced a bold new — and most importantly modern — take on Spider-Man’s origin. The imprint was the brainchild of Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Bill Jemas who — without a background in comic books — saw complex continuity as the biggest obstacle when it came to attracting new readers. The launch of Ultimate Spider-Man was a huge success — partly thanks to a larger distribution outside of traditional comic book stores — and led to more reinventions such as Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates, a new take on The Avengers.
While the line' popularity lasted for a number of years, it began to get bogged down in its own continuity, resulting in and changes-for-changes’ sake. Titles such as Ultimate X-Men seemed to rush through introducing as many characters from the main timeline as possible, and it quickly became just as hard to keep track of the history of the world as it completed its first decade of publication.
Ultimatum was the first attempt at a soft-reboot of the universe; a controversial storyline where a giant tidal wave battered Manhattan and dozens of characters were killed off. “The Death of Spider-Man” revitalized interest somewhat thanks to the introduction of Miles Morales, and the arrival of Earth-616’s Galactus allowed the Cataclysm event to shift things again, killing off the likes of Captain America and Thor.
The universe was killed off completely just prior to Secret Wars, as Earth-616 and Earth-1610 became the final two worlds in the Marvel multiverse, heading on a collision course with each other in the final Incursion. Though heroes from both worlds attempted to ensure theirs was the last one standing, both Earths were destroyed and both universes were wiped out from existence. Luckily, Doctor Doom was able to save small chunks of the Manhattans of both planets, which became one domain in his patchwork reality Battleworld.
Finally, the Ultimate Universe got a send-off from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in the Secret Wars miniseries Ultimate End, which brought together characters from both worlds in a story that makes almost zero sense and ends abruptly.