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Marvel’s Ultimate Universe Deserves a Revival

Marvel Multiverse Ultimate

Recently, prolific writer Donny Cates indicated he's open to the prospect of rebooting Marvel's Ultimate Universe. Effectively defunct for nearly three years now, the alternate universe imprint once featured a streamlined continuity, presenting classic Marvel characters and storylines in a different context for new readers. The line launched in late 2000, taking Marvel's characters into the 21st century to bestselling success and critical acclaim. Seemingly destroyed along with the rest of the Marvel Multiverse during Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic's 2015-2016 crossover event Secret Wars, a new incarnation of the Ultimate Universe was revealed to exist in the final issue of Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's Spider-Men II in 2017. With a rebooted Ultimate Marvel Universe already confirmed to exist in some capacity, now is the perfect time for the publisher to revisit and revive the imprint for another generation of new readers.

Arriving in October 2000 with Bendis and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man #1, the Ultimate imprint was created at a time when the entire North American comic book industry was in a period of decline, and Marvel Comics was recovering after filing for bankruptcy. The brainchild of Marvel President Bill Jemas and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, the imprint updated and retold the origins of the publisher's flagship characters, putting Peter Parker back in high school at the start of his superhero career, while Mark Millar and Adam Kubert's Ultimate X-Men were depicted as teenagers and young adults dealing with a highly political world that feared and hated them.

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Both series were sales successes, opening the properties to a new generation of readers and encouraging Marvel to expand the imprint. Millar was reunited with his former collaborator on DC Comics' The Authority, Bryan Hitch, to launch the imprint's version of the Avengers known as The Ultimates in January 2002. Millar later claimed Marvel felt the Avengers name had become something of a sales liability, leading to the rebranded title. The debut issue went on to become the bestselling single issue of 2002, and so the universe expanded once more as Millar teamed with Bendis and Kubert to launch Ultimate Fantastic Four in December 2003.

Ultimate Marvel

However, after approximately five years into its publication, the Ultimate Marvel imprint began to go through growing pains and significant changes behind-the-scenes. Millar would leave the imprint to write for the main Marvel Universe, leaving The Ultimates, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four with rotating creative teams that never quite captured the same level of acclaim or commercial success of his tenure. Jemas was fired from Marvel in 2004, and soon after, the focus for the publisher turned back towards the main publishing line.

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Looking to reinvigorate sales and make the imprint relevant and daring again, Jeph Loeb and David Finch created the crossover event Ultimatum in November 2008, which saw Magneto use Thor's hammer to hit New York City with a tidal wave, leading to the death of many of the Ultimate Universe's heroes and villains. The effort to revitalize the imprint was a failure, as the bold, shocking story saw poor critical reception, and sales across the entire line dropped to levels they would never fully recover from. At this time, Marvel even tried rebranding the line, renaming the imprint Ultimate Comics.

By 2015, the Ultimate imprint was a shadow of its former self, largely sustained by Bendis and Pichelli's Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man featuring new protagonist Miles Morales, who stepped into the webbed identity in the wake of Ultimate Peter Parker's death, and Hickman and Ribic's work on Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, which saw Ultimate Reed Richards descend into full-blown villainy. As Hickman and Ribic destroyed the Ultimate Universe in the opening issue of Secret Wars that year, Bendis and Bagley reteamed for its sendoff with the miniseries Ultimate End, which was only tangentially related to the crossover event and actually appeared to contradict elements of the publisher's line wide event. Following Secret Wars' conclusion, elements of the Ultimate Universe were merged into the mainstream line, most notably the inclusion of Miles Morales and the evil Reed Richards in the main Marvel Universe... the latter of whom is prominently appearing in Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman's current run on Venom.

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Despite its launch and subsequent decline years before the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Ultimate Marvel imprint has been a clear source of inspiration for the MCU. The more outlandishly eccentric portrayal of Tony Stark, a Peter Parker still in high school and visual design of several characters, including Captain America and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, all come straight from the pages of their Ultimate Marvel counterparts rather than their mainstream ones.

1 Ultimate Nick Fury Samuel Jackson

With millions of fans around the world being introduced to Marvel characters through the massively popular MCU films and television programs, now would be the perfect time for Marvel to relaunch the Ultimate imprint, perhaps tailored more specifically to embrace the MCU than its mainstream publishing line. This would avoid concerns from longtime fans that the Marvel Universe is too overly influenced by the movies and give new readers curious after watching films like Captain Marvel or Avengers: Endgame an opportunity to read more familiar incarnations of the classic characters. Nearly 20 years since rebooting the Marvel Universe, the Ultimate Universe could use a reboot of its own.

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