This new Ultimate Universe gives its chief architect the chance to explore contemporary concerns in the same way the original did in the 2000s.
Warning: contains spoilers for Ultimate Invasion #4!Marvel’s new Ultimate Universe is in full swing, with an upcoming one-shot ready to explore the new reality, and its writer has now explained exactly how this new universe reflects our own. It might not feel exactly the same as the classic Ultimate Universe from 2000, but the new version has its finger on the pulse of the concerns of today and as a new generation of Ultimates unite, their concerns are all too relevant.
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Marvel has released the first preview for Ultimate Universe #1, written by Jonathan Hickman, penciled by Stefano Caselli, and colored by David Curiel, including a quote explaining Hickman’s fascination with the Ultimate Universe.
What made the Ultimate Universe originally really interesting was that it was a reflection of the world outside your window, in the moment that you were living in. What does it look like in the world we’re living in now? It’s kind of shocking how much the world has changed in that period of time. The idea of what it would be like to see the genesis of Super Heroes in a brand new world is a really fascinating exercise.
This new universe, Earth-6160, was just introduced in the recent Ultimate Invasion miniseries, Hickman’s collaboration with penciler Bryan Hitch. The series concluded with this world’s Tony Stark traveling back in time to retrieve Captain America encased in ice, and the preview also introduces new versions of Thor and Sif as the one-shot expands the scope of this universe.
Related: All-New ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Series Will Spin Out of Marvel’s New Ultimate Universe
The Original Ultimate Universe was Marvel for the Modern Day
Beginning in 2000 with Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1, the original Ultimate Universe still stands as a towering achievement, imagining what classic Marvel superheroes would look like if they’d started in the modern day of 2000 without decades of continuity to bog them down. Books like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates proved hugely popular, with the latter being a major influence on the MCU. However, by the mid-2010s the universe had become subsumed in the same continuity messes it had been created to avoid in the first place, and its eventual destruction in Hickman and penciler Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars came as no surprise.
What Makes a Comic feel like an Ultimate Universe Comic?
One big question is how this new Ultimate Universe might utilize the specific attitudes of the original. Under Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, Ultimate Spider-Man leaned heavily into Spidey as an awkward teenager, with a coming-of-age feel and a surprisingly specific focus on the idea of power and responsibility in a world that could be heading anywhere. Meanwhile, the Ultimates‘ Bush-era satire written by Mark Miller and drawn by Hitch was even more distinctive; a mean-spirited take on the Avengers which took the worst character traits of its members to the extreme, turning superheroes into exemplars of American aggression. Finally, Mark Millar and artists Adam Kubert and Andy Kubert made pseudo-celebrities of mutantkind in Ultimate X-Men, as the mutant heroes took on a prejudiced world in a calculated PR war.
However, the tone each of these foundational comics took was keyed to the sensibilities of the 2000s. What does Marvel’s primary, of-the-moment alt reality look like twenty years later? Ultimate Invasion offered some clues, as a cabal of supervillains were revealed to be controlling Earth-6160’s geopolitics, keeping the world locked in a deliberate cycle of war. In his closing thoughts of issue 4, Tony Stark’s father Howard wrote:
I’m so tired of the people in this world, what they accept It’s a false, fallen world we paint as “good enough”… It’s never too late to change the world around you. You just have to fight.
As the preview shows Tony facing off against a key member of the cabal, it seems the new Ultimate Universe will see its heroes taking on a corrupt group of oligarchs whose personal worldview is dragging the entire world to its destruction – the kind of modern, politically relevant story that the Ultimate Universe has always promised to tell, no mater the iteration.