Shockingly lost within the hype surrounding Marvel’s “Secret Wars,” Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s “Ultimate End” #1 — billed as the end of the Ultimate Universe and taking place within the continuity of Battleworld ever-so-tangentially — feels like a story that was planned to happen but ended up shoehorned into the event currently underway. It’s a slow build, typical for the first issue of a Brian Michael Bendis comic, and features quality art from veteran Mark Bagley.
The most interesting takeaway from this comic is that it could easily stand on its own without the underpinnings of “Secret Wars.” Something has clearly happened in the Ultimate Marvel Universe to pull certain 616 Avengers into this Manhattan, few — if any — of which are the versions of the characters that were at the final incursion battle. Bendis keeps his cards close to the chest about what exactly the event was and — other than an unrelated opening spread, a mention of Doom and a last page appearance by the Thor Corps — it feels like something altogether different that caused this team up. The current status quo has been around for several weeks according to the heroes and none of the problems seem to relate back to “Secret Wars,” other than people not wishing to upset Doom. The weight of the trade dress hurts the issue a bit, as readers expecting a companion piece to the most recent and higher profile showdown between these characters will find a completely different situation in these pages.
That isn’t to say the book is a clunker. Bendis gets his chance to write the main universe Peter Parker once again, more neurotic and wise-cracking than ever, and he gets a chance to bounce dialogue off Avengers and Ultimates alike as they point fingers at one another while discussing possible solutions to get them all back home. Bagley uses the mash up opportunity to give readers a fresh take on the wall crawler. His sinewy rendition, once a hallmark of the 616 that he refined for the teenaged 1610 version, has smaller eye windows and tighter patterning on the webbing, showing that this is a character who is not where he should be. It’s also refreshing to see him take on old favorites from his “Ultimate Spider-Man” run, like Cloak and Dagger.
There isn’t much in the way of grand spectacle as of yet; this is a Bendis book, after all, so expect plenty more talking scenes to come before the big action hits. The rat-a-tat patter of Bendis is on display, as the writer toes a line between disclosing what has happened and leaving some of the reveal to be revealed. It ends abruptly and, as most Bendis books tend to do, will probably read better once it’s collected.
If this is the end of the Ultimate Universe, then hopefully the book will be allowed to tell its story without having to get bogged down by an even bigger story happening on its periphery. What was once the crown jewel of Marvel’s publishing initiative has now been reduced to a story-within-a-story. If anyone should be there at the end, though, it should be the team most recognizable for their creative efforts on these properties. “Ultimate End” #1 feels like that one last ride and, though it suffers from being a little too vague, it still has enough within its pages to lure new and lapsed readers to this possible curtain call.