The Ultimate Marvel Universe (Earth-1610) was a fascinating experiment in the graphic storytelling medium. One of the biggest (if not THE biggest) comic publishers in the world decided to completely revamp and retell the stories of their pantheon through a 21st century lens. They would employ top writer talents like Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, and Mark Millar to spearhead the whole thing and recreate the magic of hundreds of heroes and villains. The sheer audaciousness of the imprint was nothing short of astounding, and it ambition was unparalleled. The Ultimate Universe was not some soft reboot. It was built to recreate an existing world, which is not small task. Thankfully, for the most part, the experiment was a success and helped shape what Marvel comics would become over the next decade.
Despite the praise the Ultimate Universe was given early on, it was not without its critics. Some changes to characters were seen as being from out of left field or completely ridiculous. While many readers could overlook these changes by reminding themselves that what they were reading was not the main Marvel continuity (Earth-616), a lot of the design choices could not be so easily forgiven. Not every updated, hipper version of what we saw worked. Some certainly did, and even improved upon existing character designs. Some character redesigns were so popular, similar versions of their costumes have become the new norm in comics and on film. Other characters however, looked worse than they ever had, and have mostly (and mercifully) been forgotten.
20 BETTER: THOR
Ultimate Thor is awesome. From the stripped down version of the classic costume to the insane update to Mjölnir, the design of the Ultimates’ most powerful member is near perfect. There is a hardened edge to this costume that previous incarnations never seemed to have. What’s even better is that it still maintains a touch of the previous versions while still being wholly original.
Of all the costume Marvel tweaked in the Ultimate Universe, Thor’s stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s simple, it’s understated, and it tells you everything you need to know about the character. Who needs capes anyway?
19 WORSE: MYSTERIO
When it comes to some characters having a signature look, the silliest details matter the most. Such is the case with the Spider-Man villain Mysterio. Even if you are not familiar with the character’s backstory or his abilities, there is a good chance you recognize him by from the giant “fish bowl” he wears on his head.
In the Ultimate Universe, Mysterio was stripped away of this iconic (albeit goofy) accessory, which made him look like a mash-up between a Cenobite from the Hellraiser films and Ghost Rider. While on paper this might sound like a much hipper version of the villain, in execution, it stripped Mysterio of any charm he once had.
18 BETTER: SCORPION
Some of the best changes to character appearances in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe were very subtle. Characters would look very much like they do in the Earth-616 continuity, but would be slightly more updated for the times. The Ultimate version of Scorpion, for instance, bears a very familiar look despite his extremely bonkers origin story (he was a crazy Peter Parker clone), but the classic green costume is much sleeker and strangely believable (at least in this world).
Even small changes like how the black markings on the costume differ from what we’re used to seeing make the character standout. The techno-organic vibe the whole ensemble radiates also sets it apart, making it seem much more lethal and strangely unsettling.
17 WORSE: JUGGERNAUT
What is this even? The Ultimate Universe has no shortage of bad costumes, but this one fails on a couple of levels. The first being how on-the-nose the design is. Juggernaut is an unstoppable force once set in motion, but the fact his head looks like a black bullet it much too precious and groan-inducing.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the S&M leather straps across his chest make us wonder how this redesign ever got greenlit. We understand functionality isn’t always the top priority when creating a character’s look (what does Cyclops keep in those pouches anyway?), but the Ultimate Universe Juggernaut can’t even fall back on simple aesthetics. He’s just ridiculous.
16 BETTER: KITTY PRYDE
Kitty Pryde’s fashion sense has been come under fire in comics before. During Brian Michael Bendis’ on Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill gives her a ribbing over her outfit choices and tells her the only reason she looks cool as the new Star-Lord is because his own style is awesome, and it’s a bit hard to argue Quill’s point.
In the Ultimate Universe, Kitty Pryde dons an X-Men team outfit that matches that of her teammates, but is wholly unique. In a comic world filled with goatees and midriff crops, Shadowcat somehow makes the overtly hipper costume all her own.
15 WORSE: SCARLET WITCH
Arguably the most impactful title to come out of the Ultimate Universe was Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s grounded version of The Avengers, The Ultimates. The title would go on to act as something of a blueprint for the MCU and pave the way for what superhero comics could be in the 21st century. But as influential as the series was, it was not without its issues, with one of them being Scarlet Witch.
Now we could get into the relationship between Wanda Maximoff and her brother… but we’re not, because gross, but for most of her time in the universe, her outfits were terrible and horribly generic. Thankfully, we would see some costumes that hearkened back to the more operatic outfit from Earth-616.
14 BETTER: GAMBIT
We love Gambit. The smooth-talking, card-throwing, Cajun cad is a wonderfully unpredictable hero who in recent years has been making something of a comeback in the greater Marvel Universe. Now this isn’t to say comic creators had abandoned him, but starring in the new ongoing series, Mr. & Mrs. X, has put the mutant back in the spotlight.
Gambit in the Ultimate Universe was always a bit of a strange duck. He wasn’t around for terribly long compared to some of his fellow mutant brethren, but he did keep all his charm from the Earth-616 counterpart. Thankfully he didn’t keep the weird headgear (at least, not consistently) and those goofy knee pads.
13 WORSE: MISTER SINISTER
Some characters from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe just have not aged well. They can often look like the product of their time in the worst kind of way, especially when they steal lame fashion choices of the era to make the characters seem more hip or grounded. The Earth-1610 Mister Sinister is certainly a victim of this.
From the awful tattoos to the white tank top and beanie (are you cold or are you hot, dude?) this version of Nathaniel Essex is so cringe-inducing, we wouldn’t be surprised if he had a stack of nu metal CDs (yes, compact discs) in his Honda Civic and un-ironically calls his buddies “broseph” while they slam Natty Ices during happy hour on a Tuesday.
12 BETTER: WASP
Oh, the midriffs -- they just don’t stop in the Ultimate Universe but in the case of Wasp, it’s a look that works. Now Janet van Dyne from the O.G. Marvel Universe had a solid outfit (even with the miniskirt), but the little tweaks to her design in The Ultimates made some slight improvements.
The striped marking across her abdomen were kept in play and often muted by being in gray and black. Now, there were versions of her costume that did feature the bright yellow stripes, but even then, the outfit had a more utilitarian look to it compared to the Earth-616 version. She simply looked tougher.
11 WORSE: IRON MAN
We would wager that no character has undergone as many costume changes as Tony Stark in the Marvel Universe. It seems like there is a new Iron Man suit every month anymore. With this in mind, we can forgive a little experimentation even if some of them don’t pan out. But Stark’s getup in The Ultimates is just plain ugly.
When we first saw it, we thought the bulky outfit was kind of cool, or at the very least, something we had never seen before, but time has not been kind to Ultimate Iron Man. He looks more like one of the aliens from that terrible Battleship movie than he does a member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
10 BETTER: SPIDER-MAN
Okay, so this one is a bit of a cheat. The costume worn by Peter Parker in Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t too different from the one seen in Earth-616 comics. However, the costume MilesMorales eventually wears is so cool it has to be on the list, even if at the time of his introduction there was no version of the hero in the main Marvel continuity.
The black and red outfit looks great -- it’s sleek and evokes more of a deadly arachnid vibe than the classic blue and red suit. It also makes Miles stand out among other Spider-Folk (of which there are many). We just love this costume so much.
9 WORSE: ICEMAN
How do you mess up a character costume when the character doesn’t wear one? Well, it turns out all you have to do is add a dumb accessory. Bobby Drake is often presented as a man simply made out of ice (hence the name). There might be a pair of trunks with an X across the waistband to drive home the point he isn’t really nude, but that’s about it in the clothing department.
And before anyone cries foul about the cargo shorts Bobby wears in the Earth-616 continuity, just remember we are not a fan of those either. However, they are no worse than the silly skullcap he wears in the Ultimate Universe. Is Bobby trying to be a ninja?
8 BETTER: BLACK WIDOW
Say what you will about Black Widow’s role in The Ultimates from a narrative standpoint, but her costume is on point. Black Widow adopts an outfit that feels like something out of the real world, which makes sense seeing as how she’s a covert ops assassin who doesn’t need a lot of unwanted attention when she’s doing her job.
Instead of a cat suit with red spider on it, Natalia Romanova on Earth-1610 dons a tactical outfit. It feels far more threatening and also has somewhat of an ambiguous tone in regards to reflecting her character traits, which is good since it turned out Romanova was a (spoiler alert) no-good traitor.
7 WORSE: JEAN GREY
When it comes to the Ultimate X-Men version of Jean Grey, there is a lot about the character that is problematic. Like, a lot. The manner in which she is written feels like a far cry from the Jean we’re used to, but much is to be expected in a comic designed to update characters who were created in the ‘60s. Her costume, however, is bit too much.
Look, we’re no prudes when it comes to revealing costumes. Some of the best superhero designs show off a lot of skin, but this outfit is as silly as it is revealing. Jean Grey is the “good girl” archetype within the X-Men, which is important when she rebels against it. So much for subtly.
6 BETTER: THE THING
The Fantastic Four always had one team member who never seemed to adopt the notion of matching costumes. Ben Grimm seemed perfectly content rocking a pair of blue briefs and nothing else when fighting subterranean monsters and interstellar threats -- and good for him. We’re happy Ben feels comfortable in his own… um rock… to wear something so revealing. However, it does make him stick out (even more so).
In the comic series Ultimate Fantastic Four, a lot of strange choices were made when retelling the classic story of the quartet of superheroes. Many of these choices were not great. However, the team costume they all wore was pretty great, especially on the Thing. The wrestler outfit with the big number four on the chest worked wonderfully.
5 WORSE: GREEN GOBLIN
Arguably the most boring archetype of villain is the uncontrollable monster. When characters like Man-Bat or the Lizard are just running about like wild animals, they don’t offer much in the way in of being interesting nemeses beyond a monster-of-the-week scenario. For reasons unknown, Green Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man befell the same fate.
Early on in the comic’s run, Norman Osborn became the Green Goblin. Now, this might not sound like a controversial statement since that’s what Norman Osborn is kind of known for, but in Ultimate Spider-Man he literally became a green goblin -- not just some guy in a mask on a crazy glider -- Norman turned into an actual monster.
4 BETTER: NICK FURY
There is a world-weariness to the version of Nick Fury in The Ultimates. He is often presented as a man who has dealt with some bad situations and has come out stronger on the other side. This might have a lot to do with the fact he was modeled after legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson in a choice what would become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
The Earth-616 Nick Fury is a fine representation of the military head honcho archetype we’ve seen in so much pop culture, but there is a reason the MCU went with the Ultimate version when adapting the character to the big screen -- he is simply much cooler. From the trench coat to the haunted look in his eye, he rules.
3 WORSE: WOLVERINE
One small caveat up front: Wolverine’s costume in the Ultimate Universe did eventually get better despite never getting the classic mask, but when he first dons an X-Men outfit, man it was awful. We don’t know what’s worse, the goofy soul patch goatee or the weird laces on the gloves (they aren’t old timey boxing gloves).
Despite his costume getting marginally better (and he shaved that dumb little beard) as time passed, the fact the Earth-1610 Wolverine never got the mask with those big pointy ears is a crime. We chalk it up to the fact the film version of the character never got them either, which is also a crying shame.
2 BETTER: HAWKEYE
Clint Barton deserves some respect. The guy fights alongside super soldiers, men in impenetrable armored suits, and literal gods, so the fact he steps out on the battlefield with the same gusto as his teammates is admirable beyond believe. There is no guarantee he will make it through. He’s just a guy with a bow -- that’s it.
Hawkeye in The Ultimates really leaned into this notion. His costume was stripped down and became something far more practical than the purple one we were familiar with. And while his costume did eventually jump the shark in Ultimates 3, the early version was practical and probably influenced the one he wears today on-screen and in the 616 comics.
1 WORSE: DOCTOR DOOM
Doctor Doom in Ultimate Fantastic Four looks like a ThunderCats villain and no, that is not a compliment. All the regality and menace Victor Von Doom exudes in the primary Marvel continuity is completely expunged from his Ultimate Universe counterpart. While the origins of Ultimate Doom are arguably interesting (albeit unnecessary), everything else about him is pretty awful.
We can almost forgive the change in name (Victor Van Damme…no, seriously) and maybe even the fact his skin is literally made of metal, but those weird backward goat legs are just too much. Who thought that was a good idea? Seriously, is he supposed to be a metal satyr?