Penultimate Ponderings on Ultimate Marvel Comics


1.     last; furthest or farthest; ending a process or series: the ultimate point in a journey; the ultimate style in hats.
2.     maximum; decisive; conclusive: the ultimate authority; the ultimate weapon.
3.     highest; not subsidiary: ultimate goal in life.
4.     basic; fundamental; representing a limit beyond which further progress, as in investigation or analysis, is impossible: the ultimate particle; ultimate principles.
5.     final; total: the ultimate consequences; the ultimate cost of a project.
6.     not to be improved upon or surpassed; greatest; unsurpassed: the ultimate vacation spot; the ultimate stupidity.
7.     the final point; final result.
8.     a fundamental fact or principle.
9.     the best, greatest, or most extreme of its kind.
1645–55; < LL ultimātus (ptp. of ultimāre to come to an end), equiv. to L ultim(us) last, most distant (see ultima ) + -ātus -ate 1

I first encountered the Ultimate Marvel line when I was staying at my parents’ house years ago. My youngest brother, who was in high school at the time, had several Ultimate Spider-Man trades in his bookshelves (he’s got good taste), and I picked them up and instantly put them back down. For whatever reason, I just did not like Bagley’s art and the whole idea of rebooting Spider-Man just seemed dumb to me. Hey, what can I say? I was young and impetuous, and this was before I knew what the Ultimate line was even about. I had heard (or assumed, it’s hard to say) that this was basically Marvel trying to bring in new readers by giving them a chance to “relive” the origin story of Peter Parker. A few months later I was back at my parents’ place and I had nothing to read, so I checked out the trades and read all of the, back to back, and began picking it up in issues. While I still never really got into Bagley’s art, I did really like the writing and had to admit that it WAS fun to see Peter Parker in high school and experience this alternate universe.  I started picking up Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four..heck, I even got Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra!  I was an Ultimate fan.

(Somewhere, I hope some kid is enjoying my Ultimate X-Men, Fantastic Four and Daredevil Elektra books.)

Let’s back up a bit here. I think we can pretty much agree that Ultimate Spider-Man was a helluva book and Mark Bagley and Brian Bendis should be praised for their incredible run. Though I never quite loved Bagley’s art, the man was a machine, and there were some issues where I really got it–to the point that I actually kind of missed him when Immomen (whom I love) came on. Was that book ever late?  Wasn’t it published twice a month or something at the beginning? Regardless, the book was entertaining, touching, and really gave us insight into Peter Parker’s teenage years, and I think that the world is better for it, really. Bendis just HIT it, issue after issue, the whole teenage experience, being high school, trying to figure out classes, girls, jobs, not to mention the whole drive to be a superhero thing.  Enough has been written about Ultimate Spider-Man, so I won’t go on about it, but suffice to say, I think it was a really successful book, with characters that I have learned to love for most of this decade.  So, when I saw Peter Parker die–let’s table whether or not he’s dead or not for reals; I think as honest readers we are to think, like the rest of the characters in the book, that this teenage boy has died doing his best to save the people of New York–I was stunned. I mean, I know there is some Requiem title (Vaguely Final-Crisis-y, by the way) coming out, but, hey–requiems are all about remembering dead folks, it does not necessarily imply (actually it shouldn’t imply at all) that Peter Parker is coming back. 

And that’s sad. But good sad. Maybe the story of Peter Parker is, ultimately, a tragedy.  The child who becomes a hero, who dies a hero, far too young. He does his best, but sacrifices all that he is, all that he can be, for this idealistic pursuit to make a difference. Even more poignant, Peter Parker dies standing, watching his world fall apart, powerless to do anything to stop it. 

(For the record, if Peter Parker does come back, I think it will cheapen an otherwise fitting end.)

But, as the Ultimatum grinds its way through its storyline, the death of Peter (on the heels of Matt Murdock and Dr. Strange’s demises), makes sense. And, not surprisingly, it’s the only “Ultimate Death” that has any emotional impact for me at all. I read Ultimate Fantastic Four. Yes, it was cool they were kids. Kinda. Yes, there were a few issues that had some incredibly good art. And then the book proceeded to get very, very boring. Same thing with Ultimate X-Men.  There were some gem,s but a gem issue in 23 does not a comic I want to collect make. The ultimate expression of what the Ultimate line of comics was all about was Peter Parker’s story, and it makes sense, in the end, that the world dies with him. 

As you might have gleaned, I have long since dropped Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four. Every once in awhile, I would hear good things about Ultimate X-Men, but, honestly, I couldn’t be bothered with another X-Men book.  But even though I am not buying these books, I was hoping that someone was buying them, you know? I liked that the attempt was still going, but it sounded like the intent–to tell new stories with the essence of the archetypal characters intact–was lost somehow. The books did try different stories–The Ultimates started out promising, I thought–but, in the end, the stories seem to have ended with a distracted whimper. I mean, honestly, once you put a light behind the pages of Ultimate 3 to figure out what was going on, where was the story? When you weren’t distracted by eye-bruising nipples and skimpy costumes, like, really–what was the point? I bought those books. I read them. I don’t remember the stories, almost at all.

Am I frustrated with all of this? No, not really, because I don’t truly care (I was thinking of calling this article Ultimate Apathy). Ultimatum has been this odd summer blockbuster that no one seems to have time to go see, even though it is doing some straight-up, honest-to-goodness, end of the world type craziness. But the script veers like a drunk driver, and the art goes from truly jaw dropping to irritating in the span of a pages. But even writing that is harsh, those words imply that I care enough to want it to be otherwise. I am impressed more by the fact that Marvel is taking some drastic steps to change the status quo, that they seem to be saying, “Look, we get it–this is not working, so we’re going to try something new but we’re going to do it using story rather than cancellations,” and I think that’s actually quite cool. But even that’s me being thrilled by corporate editorial decisions rather than creators getting a chance to figure it out.  Is one way better? I really don’t know–I figure we’re all watching this trainwreck together and are probably curious to see who survives. 

That being said, there is a certain…exploitation, perhaps? An exploitation of killing characters in particularly ruthless ways that seems almost cheap to me. Yes, there is poetry in the death of a hero. There is a cruel irony when his or her death is truly meaningless. But when you start using these deaths as advertising for the book, then there is a insensitivity that verges on tastelessness going on.  Sure, maybe many people do not have close relationships with these characters, but Marvel should remember that these Ultimate versions are echoes of characters many of us have known all our lives. Don’t demean Matt Murdock’s death. Don’t tout Professor X’s death as a way of saying, “Dude, we’re like totally serious about this, yo!” Peter Parker’s death was followed up by a silent farewell, and there was a poignancy to it that was kind of unexpected, thanks to the skill of Immomen’s masterful storytelling. By the way, just as Peter Parker’s life was taken far too early, so too was Immomen’s chance to settle down with this book–I mean, he just got started, you know?

So, Ultimatum rumbles along, with one issue that promises doomsday, much like those ads promise a particularly crazy Sunday at this weekend’s Monster Truck rally.  It will take the relationships that people have had with these books and drag them through the mud, just to show they can. Just like definition #4, above,  says, it will prove, finally, that the Ultimate books have reached their limit, that they can progress no further, this is it, we tried and that’s it, this is what you get, overblown art, hyperbolic prose and the vague feeling that you need to take a shower after reading them.  It is telling that in order for Marvel to change the Ultimate universe they had to destroy it.  It’s less a celebration of what did work, the memorable stories and successes that did affect us, inspire us, and more an expression of just why people disliked it so much. And that’s sad. Bad sad.

Let’s see what happens next. I’ll touch base on this in a few months. I assume, sadly, that they will bring back Spider-Man, and…well, let’s just see what happens  Anyway, I really would love to hear what you think about all this. Thanks for reading.

Mike Romo is an actor in Los Angeles. He’ll be in London, Paris, Rome, New York and San Francisco for the next three weeks. Really. Not acting, mind you, but still. He’s got the email, the twitter feed and an in-your-face-facebook-vanity url.


  1. The world deserve more USM and they should get it. It is the only Spider-Man book that matters. I wasn’t reading any of the other books, not even Ultimates, and I doubt I will give the newer line any more of a chance. But, goddammit, I need my Ultimate Spider-Man.


    Fun fact: I think the only time USM got delayed was because Ultimatum was delayed.

  2. I think we can all agree to that UFF and UXM wanned.  The biggest dissapointment was Ultimates 3 and the disappearance of Nick Fury to the Supremeverse.  I agree with you that USM IS the Ultimate Universe, but Nick Fury ranks right below him.  I’m still scratching my head over some of the neat stuff they put in Ultimate Origins and then it has no impact on Ultimates 3 or Ultimatum.

    I like that Peter is going to be gone for a while.  He isn’t dead.  His female clone is going to masquerade as USM so the world doesn’t feel like it lost a hero.  I’m looking forward to a new cast, and a female Peter Parker view of high school.  Who do you think she will date?  More importantly, Ultimate Mysterio is awesome – I can’t wait to see him, Ultimate Red Skull and the other villians BMB is going to unlesh.  At this point I don’t care about the other Ultimate titles.

  3. There was definitely something special with USM and Ultimates books that the other books never seemed to capture. Sure, I enjoyed reading UFF time to time, especially the earlier issues, but the ending was ultimately not that ultimate.

  4. I definitely think that Spider-Man’s death should mean something by him staying dead, especially in the Ultimate universe where they could have death be death (though I hear they don’t really do this).

    Nevertheless, I have no plans on buying Ultimate Spider-Man after the final oversized hardcover.

    I didn’t follow any Ultimates books except Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man.

    They killed Dr. Strange . . . how did he die??

  5. When Bendis & Millar return with NEW #1s, I can pretty much guarantee the shit smell of "Ultimatum" will be completely gone.  Even Ellis is doing a story, and his "Ultimate Human" was excellent!  (Just don’t buy the Loeb written book, it will take 1 year for 6 issues and be written as if he were 4 yrs old, as usual)

    @stmyarchnj said "His female clone is going to masquerade as USM"

    Bendis has said the NEW #1 would be a story you’ve never read in a Spider-Man comic before, and what you describe HAS happened before.  So I doubt that will happen in the New Ultimate Spider-Man #1.

  6. so ok USM is dead got that. I hope they keep that way of forever or whatever. Thing that bugs me is that the female clone is going to be USM why can’t she just be ultiimate Spider women? I mean she is a clone right? That means that she’ll can the same thing and stuff as USM. So why can’t it just be UPM dead USW takes is the new spider person?

  7. @siratomofbones: Peter’s not necessrily dead.  He disappeared in a big flash of magical energy. Everyone thinks he’s dead, though, and that’s all that really important to the story.

  8. Taking the story of a teenager turned superhero and eventually killing him sounds great – and keeping it that way
     is important. Sort of a twist on the optimistic "live forever" superhero stories. I won’t read it though – first I doubt it’ll stick, and I read the first TP and it’s not good. I tried reading the second one bit saw a Mary Jane with an overused device to signal childhood that only porn movies use, and that was it for me.

    I have Ultimates TP #1, Ultimate X-Men TP #1 and a bunch of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Maybe they’ll be my thing. 

    Superhero stories that mirror more of mythology sounds good to me – nothing good ever happens in Greek mythology… 

  9. !!!!!!! lol

  10. Not to be snarky (it is going to sound like that anyway), Jeph Loeb doesnt seem to be writing anything worthwhile right now.

  11. Im a big fan of the Ultimates (1 and 2)  I think they were acctually the gateway I used to become an even bigger Avengers fan.  But with Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, its like watching a loved one get rapped.

  12. Let us not forget the excellent, albeit short lived, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up! I loved these books and am bummed out that the series suffered such an early demise.


    Good article btw.

  13. That is exactly how I feel about Ultimatum! Great job, Mike 🙂

  14. @WonderAli and @Unoob – thanks! glad you liked it.  I figure we’ll see some announcements all about this in San Diego.  Maybe they’ll go digest size for the new line of comics?  I would love that…


  15. @TonyStark4prez – totally! I am totally with you.  I actually liked Ultimates 1 and was happy enough with Ultimates 2, but eeesschhh what happened with Ultimates 3?! oy oy oy…

    it will all be over soon..

  16. @mikeromo – "it will all be over soon…" as long as you stay away from Ultimates 4 which Loeb is penning with Cho on pencils.  The story is supposed to take place before any of the Ultimate Comic stuff starts and will fill in Ultimatum gaps.  So basically its gonna be porn, trolls, and giant dialogue bubbles with high school curse words inside of them.  Im going to stay away from that book like its the plague.

  17. @stmarychnj – NO WAY. (I really should be reading the news more, I guess.) Seriously?! I can’t…I mean, who is buying this stuff? 

  18. @mikeromo

    the same assholes who are buying the Red Hulk.

  19. A sage over at the marvel boards wrote this:

    "USM will be relaunched as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man with Brian Michael Bendis and David LaFuente. Ultimate Comics Avengers will also begin with Mark Millar and Carlos Pacheco. Ultimate Comics Armor Wars is a 4 issue mini-series starting in September by Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth. New Ultimates has yet to be solicited, but will be by Jeph Loeb and Frank Cho. There is also a "fourth" title that’s supposed to come out by Jeph Loeb and Art Adams, but we know nothing about it other than who’s involved."

     Thats right, even more Loeb :o) /fail

  20. By assholes, you mean almost everyone. Because the books sell like mad.

  21. @muddi900: I buy Red Hulk (in trades). Am I an asshole?

  22. @Josh and Connor: you know what he meant, guys. 🙂

    But seriously, more Loeb? I read Ultimatum #1 and was not liking that story at all.

    I am very much looking forward to Millar’s new Ultimate Avengers, although I don’t see the need for an additional Ultimates. Even though Cho is drawing it, and I like his art, there’s no way in hell I’m gonna buy this one. Something about Loeb’s writing rubs me all the wron way, I guess.

    And although I wouldn’t be surpised by Josh saying that he doesn’t like Ultimate Avengers because of Millar probably sometime in the near future, I think the series has potential for greatness. Not that Josh is THE guy to say what makes or breaks a comic, you know. But if Millar was to write UA as he did with The Ultimates, then this is certainly gonna be fun.

    And finally, I guess Millar’s a bit like Michael Bay to me. He’s good for the Blockbuster writing, with action Baysplosions going on everywhere, jut being entertaining, but for some it’s sort of a one trick pony. Some people enjoy Bay movies, some don’t. Same I’ve heard with Millar. With Loeb though I keep on hearing nothing good at all for quite some time now. He’s kind of like Claremont, somehow having lost his writing mojo.

  23. @Kenzaburo: No, I don’t. It’s why I asked.

  24. All Loeb bashing aside, I would really like to see what would happen if he was paired with a less than A-list artist.  The last projects that he worked on at Marvel have not only been with big name talent, but also talent that does not work regularly like Finch, McGuiness, Joe Mad, Bianchi (to a lesser extent), and even Liefeld.  I wonder how much the art side is pushing up the sales numbers?

  25. @muddi900 I cant believe you are calling out Red Hulk readers (Of which I am one). It sounds to me like you are trying to be that elitist, too hip for the room, comic reader that thinks just because something isn’t nuanced with tons of exposition and 20 panels per page that it is immature drivel. There is a reason Loeb’s work sells like crazy. It is fun. It is action packed, and depending on the artist, it is gorgeous(His name alone tends to get some of the best artists in the business. Gee they must not know what they are talking about either). Now I know that it isn’t Shakespeare. But I don’t want to watch Citizen Kane all the time. Sometimes I want to watch Independence Day. Simple, check your brain at the door, fun.

    Calling someone an asshole because they dont like what you like is like handing out speeding tickets at Daytona, and just as stupid.

  26. Loeb needs to stay away from the Ultimate Universe…

  27. No, Loeb just needs to stay away from Hulk.  I won’t collect it until he is gone.  I was going to pick up Incredible Hulk, but then I found out who was drawing it.  I think Loeb is a fine writer.  He just likes old, stupid Hulk, which hurts my brain to read.  I stopped reading Ultimatum because I wasn’t really that attached to the characters remaining.  I’ll definitely give this new Ultimate line a try.