The Ultimate Wake; 15 Years of Marvel’s Ultimate Comics

Reading Time: 7 minutes
Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

The first week of May is shaping up to be a grim one for Marvel. It’s not an, “Oh, no, Age of Ultron is sold out!” kind of grim. (In case this is an issue for you, try this.) While the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to thrive and drive the superhero thirsts of a planet, its source material will be experiencing an Earth shattering event, Secret Wars.

In the vein of DC’s Crisis events (Final Crisis; Crisis on Infinite Earths; Final Crisis; No Toilet Paper Crisis; Oh, No, Superman is Literally Unbeatable Crisis; and Batman Got Old Crisis), Secret Wars is Marvel’s attempt at a multi-universal reorganization.

As reported months ago, while many of Marvel’s parallel universes will find themselves vying for survival, one casualty has been verified; Earth 1610 (Ultimate Marvel) will most definitely perish, beginning with Ultimate End.

Shrouded under the code name “Ground Zero,” the Ultimate line was released in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man #1 followed by Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates (Earth 1610’s version of The Avengers).

The Ultimate line of comics allowed readers to experience tried and true characters in a new light with new origins and a continuity-free timeline. While its original purpose may have been to attract new readers, it also brought home a few prodigal sons (including this writer).

For original creators Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, these comics gave them the freedom to re-explore the Marvel mythos, find a modern grounding for its inhabitants, and playfully reimagine them. Their 15-year experiment has had lasting and profound influence on modern comics and pop culture.

Before Earth 1610 takes its final bow, GeekDad wanted to honor this groundbreaking comic series with a retrospective. We want to remember the most memorable moments, the shocking reveals, the exhilarating roller coaster rides, and the creative re-imaginings that made up Earth 1610. Of course, this list is limited to nine, so please share your favorite moments in the comments section below.

1) The Ultimatum Wave

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

The Ultimatum Wave, a colossal tidal wave created by Magneto to wipe out Homo Sapiens, was not only shocking, but its devastation was absolute. Its destruction caused more death and destruction than readers could handle. In a literary medium where the death of a superhero is almost always temporary, this event cemented the fact that in this universe, the dead stay dead. This event and its aftermath killed dozens of characters, including Professor X, Wolverine, Magneto, Angel, Dazzler, Daredevil, Beast, and Nightcrawler… not to mention the shock of finding the Blob eating The Wasp’s corpse. You may not have liked the storyline, but its effects have rippled all the way to the Ultimate Universe’s final moments.

2) Mutants: Nurture vs. Nature

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

In the original Marvel Universe (Earth 616) evolution and the x-gene was the cause behind the emergence of mutants. Earth 1610 decided that things should be different. The Ultimate Universe pulled back the curtain to reveal that mutants were the result of the Weapon X program and an attempt to create more super soldiers. So, yes, mutants were engineered by merging Nick Fury’s super soldier blood and Wolverine’s DNA. This set up a fascinating idea that mutants were now considered property of the US Government, which greatly influenced the World War X storyline.

3) The Death of Peter Parker

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

It wasn’t a secret that Marvel was going to kill off their titular hero, Spider-Man. It was in every Ultimate Comic by-line: “Death of Spider-Man.” Still, this didn’t soften the blow as we opened Ultimate Spider-Man #160 in 2011. First, Spider-Man takes a bullet meant for Captain America, who was reluctantly training him. This wound weakened Spider-Man, and, as our hero valiantly later fought the Green Goblin, he fell. In an iconic image, we find MJ holding his lifeless body while Gwen holds Aunt May in the background. After the Ultimatum Wave (see above) it was pretty clear that this hero was not coming back.

It wasn’t so much the death of Spider-Man but the death of Peter Parker that made this a poignant event. For years, Spidey fans of the Earth 616 continuity yearned for Peter Parker to get his due. When Ultimate Peter Parker died, we finally got those moments. From J.J. Jameson admitting Spider-Man was a hero to the Ultimates’ salute to this young man’s sacrifice, comic fans could not have asked for a better send off.

4) The Slap: Aunt May Edition

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

The Aunt May of the Ultimate timeline was a whole different cookie than her Earth 616 counterpart. No longer did we have a frail, helpless caretaker for Peter Parker. Now we had a younger provider, an ex-hippie, a proud, no-BS protector. So, when Peter Parker, wounded by a gun shot meant for Captain America, died fighting the Green Goblin (in front of his own house, no less), May did not take it sitting down. At Peter’s funeral she walked right up to Captain America and slapped him for his reluctance to take Peter under his wing and treat him with the respect he deserved. It was the slap heard around the world.

5) The Triskelion

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

Introduced in Ultimates #2, S.H.I.E.L.D. was finally given a brick-and-mortar face. The Triskelion is to S.H.I.E.L.D. what the Pentagon is to the Department of Defense. There’s a definite presence, but we have no idea what goes inside those walls. It can be argued (quite strongly) that there has been no greater influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Ultimate Comics. From Nick Fury to the Ultimates, the Ultimate Universe has been a solid resource for the MCU. The Triskelion is no different. First mentioned in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode “The Hub,” it would soon become the centerpiece for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

6) Nick Fury, One Bad $%&#@

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

Sure, comic artists have been using real life people as inspiration for their characters for years. However, it was never as blatant as the introduction of Ultimate Nick Fury in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #5. Suddenly, we have Samuel L. Jackson running around as Marvel’s resident spymaster. A brilliant move by Brian Michael Bendis and Matt Allred, this gave readers a shorthand into understanding what a bad a** Nick Fury was. This version of Fury has become the standard image for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s head spy. Show me a picture of a white Nick Fury with Reed Richard-esque hair and a cigar, and I’ll show you a confused millennial.

7) Miles Morales: The Hero We Deserve

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

Having someone other than Peter Parker take on the role of Spider-Man is a brave move. The cybersphere instantly flared up with bigoted and racist comments when they heard Peter Parker’s replacement was bi-racial. For others, it was just hard to conceive that someone other than Peter Parker could be Spider-Man. However, Miles turned out to be a perfect fit for that web-laden outfit. Modest, smart and conflicted, Miles felt like he was a an adopted member of the Parker family. Yet, he was different. In a medium where writing teenage heroes simply involves a dash of angst and a heaping of irreverent humor (see: the current iteration of Nova), Miles Morales was different. Now, as we enter Phase 3 of the MCU and the reveal of Spider-Man, it’s looking more and more like the MCU Spider-Man will be more like Miles and less like Peter.

8) Gah-Lak-Tus

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

When Earth 616’s Galactus was first introduced in 1966, he may have been incredibly frightening. However, after years of being thwarted by the Fantastic Four, Galactus had become a parody of himself. How do you make Marvel’s giant galactic eating champ frightening for his Earth 1610 debut? They could have removed his helmet handles and called it a day. Instead, they broke him down into a swarm of robotic entities whose only warning of destruction was a broadcast of psychic fear. Follow that up with a flesh-eating virus that devastates the population, leaving the planets ready to be sucked dry of all its resources, and you have something of great terror.

9) Thor! Diagnosis: Schizophrenia?

Image by Marvel
Image by Marvel

Ultimate Comics were conceived with the idea that the creators could play around with our favorite heroes’ origins. Peter Parker was bitten by a genetically-altered spider (not a radioactive one). Vision was created by the Kree (not by Hank Pym). And Thor? This origin brilliantly maneuvered readers into questioning whether Thor was a man or truly a God.

No longer was Thor purely a Norse god. No. Now, he was a self-deluded, potentially schizophrenic social activist who had a nervous breakdown at 30 that led him to realize he was a god. Right from his introduction in Ultimates #4, we were led to question if Thor is crazy or not. It didn’t help when Loki would show up for a chat. In one panel, Thor’s in a cafe talking to Loki. In the next panel, Thor’s still talking, but Loki is nowhere to be seen. Is this a Loki trick or are readers seeing into the mind of a madman? This was a truly creative way to introduce a superhero in a grounded world.

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