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Ultimate Marvel is an imprint of comic books published by Marvel Comics, featuring reimagined and updated versions of the company's most popular superhero characters, including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. The characters have new origins, freeing them from the sometimes convoluted back-histories of the original versions which were thought to turn off new readers unfamiliar with their extensive histories. The universe has been designated as "Earth-1610"Ultimate Universe, Marvel.com, "The Basics: Universe: Earth-1610 (Ultimate Universe)" within the Marvel Multiverse, which comprises an infinite amount of alternate universes.
The imprint was launched in 2000 with the publication of Ultimate Spider-Man, followed by Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates in 2001 and finally Ultimate Fantastic Four. Prior to the launch, the imprint was under the working title of Ground Zero. While some of the series (including Ultimate Spider-Man) were seemingly aimed at younger readers than most Marvel titles, others (such as Ultimates) seem written for an older audience. Nevertheless, the Ultimate imprint as a whole was intended to attract and serve new readers beyond the existing Marvel fan base, although long-time fans have generally embraced the line.
In the early days of the imprint, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada mentioned that Marvel had already published one series set in the Ultimate Universe prior to the imprint's launch. In his typically playful way, Quesada neglected to specify the series in question, although speculation favored Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy, released in 2000, but his subsequent appearance in Civil War has disproven this.
The stories and characters of Ultimate Marvel have been adapted to reflect the differences between the present and past continuities, most of which were created in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, Ultimate Spider-Man gains his superpowers from a genetic engineering spider rather than a radioactive]spider, and his alter ego, Peter Parker, originally a photographer for the Daily Bugle newspaper, now has a part-time job as the paper's webmaster. Another noteworthy aspect of the Ultimate Marvel universe is that many of the characters are more youthful than their regular-continuity counterparts. In some cases, this is simply a result of taking the characters back to their origins—Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and the X-Men were teenagers at the beginning of their respective series—but other cases involve more striking changes. In particular, the backstory of the Ultimate Fantastic Four has been compressed so that they gain their powers when Reed Richards is only twenty-one years old.
The Ultimate titles have also displayed a shift away from a sprawling universe of magic, alternate dimensions, and continuity changes. Although these elements are present to a certain degree, Marvel characters with fantastical origins are often re-imagined to fit a more plausible (by comic-book standards) framework. For example, the Doctor Strange of this reality is actually the son of the traditional Doctor, and does not nearly possess his father's skill. Several characters are even genetically revamped into other species or sub-species. Mojo (extradimensional) and Princess-Majestrix Lilandra Neramani (extraterrestrial) are now ordinary humans. Longshot (extradimensional genetically-engineered humanoid), Spiral (extradimensional humanoid), the Juggernaut (magic-based human mutate), the Fenris Twins (science-based human mutates) and the Wasp (science-based human mutate) are now human mutants. Also, many characters are somehow connected to Captain America and Nick Fury's attempt to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum. The only characters who are unconnected with this are the X-Men, who are, of course, mutants. Thus far The Hulk has been the standard of ultimate strength, and it is quite common for characters to remark that a group, weapon, or holding facility was designed for apprehension of the Hulk as a means of displaying its power. Also, the phenomenon known as comic book death is rare in the Ultimate universe; the death of a character is treated as permanent and often has lasting consequences. However, due to the relative youth of the imprint, future writers and editors may choose to revive characters killed by earlier creative teams, such as the Ultimate versions of the Beast, who was killed off in Ultimate X-Men #45 and was recently revived in #81.
Furthermore, the imprint as a whole attempts to link the various and diverse titles to a few common themes or events in order to avoid sprawling storylines that do not intersect. The most important elements that overlap with many of the Ultimate titles are the super-soldier project and a genetic arms race that is escalating world-wide. One of the most important factors was the discovery of the frozen body of Captain America, the original super-soldier and the only person whose DNA was fully able to accept the serum. This was a crucial factor in the formation of Nick Fury's superteam, The Ultimates. The Ultimates' first public mission was to take down the Hulk, the result of Bruce Banner's attempt to recreate the Super-Soldier serum with his own genes. In Ultimate Spider-Man, the genetically modified spider that bit Peter Parker was part of Norman Osborn's efforts to win the military bid for the super-soldier project. Furthermore, Osborn's supersoldier experiments turned him into the Green Goblin, his son Harry into the Hobgoblin, grafted Otto Octavius' metal arms onto his body, and recently turned Mary Jane into the Demogoblin. Competing efforts to make supersoldiers led to genetic mutations such as Electro, Sandman, and the creation of Colonel, who notably was the first person to react well to the Super-Soldier serum since Steve Rogers.
Several storylines across the Ultimate titles have involved the genetic arms race and the commonly held belief that the next world war will be fought with genetically altered soldiers. There was an international test-ban treaty concerning development of super-soldiers, but many countries still maintain undercover genetic projects, such as the abandoned Russian super-soldier project seen in Ultimate Nightmare, the Weapon X Project utilizing brainwashed mutants, and the U.S. development of a replacement for Captain America seen in Ultimates Annual #1. This treaty has apparently been amended or done away with entirely (or ignored) as of Ultimates Vol. 2, as the European Union is shown in that series developing and publicly testing superhuman "Captains" for their individual nations; the United States too has made public use of supplemental teams of "Giant Men" and other super-powered or mechanically enhanced operatives aside from the Ultimates.
Nick Fury has been authorized by the President of the United States to create and enforce laws that regulate genetic modification, the most notable of which is that it is illegal to deliberately alter a human being's genetic makeup without government sanction (Presumably this extends to superhumans sanctioned in allied nations, as opposed to, say, Kraven the Hunter, who left the country to gain superhuman powers, but was arrested upon returning to the U.S.). The mutants in Ultimate X-Men are frequently drawn into the escalating conflict due to their involuntary but highly public status as genetic anomalies.
The characters in this line exist outside of the regular Earth-616 continuity of the Marvel Universe and therefore do not interact with their original version counterparts. Marvel once hinted that a crossover was planned between the two worlds. This crossover was to have occurred in Ultimate Fantastic Four #21 (July 2005), although it turned out that this was a bit of sly misdirection on Marvel's part, as the continuity that they crossed over into in the issue was not that of Earth 616, but a similar one taken over by zombies. Another possible meeting of the mainstream and Ultimate universes could have taken place in the Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special #1 and in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #9, in both of which the ultimate Spider-Man briefly encountered the Fantastic Four before they had been introduced in the Ultimate universe. Later on, when the ultimate Spider-Man met the ultimate Fantastic Four during the Ultimate clone saga, it seemed to be their first meeting and the Fantastic Four relearned Spider-Man's secret identity, which they had already known in the Super Special. This was possibly a meeting of the two different worlds but probably not, seeing as the Fantastic Four of Earth-616 would have already known about Spider-Man and would not be meeting him for the first time either. It was probably a fluke on the part of the creators, who, seeing as both comics were released earlier on in the Ultimate line, may not have yet set up the distinction between the two worlds and may not have foreseen the eventual creation of the Ultimate Fantastic Four. Since then, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has reiterated his earlier claim that the two universes will not cross over as that would signify that Marvel had "officially run out of ideas".
In the Ultimate imprint's first few years of existence, some readers speculated that its great popularity might prompt Marvel to declare the Ultimate universe the "official" Marvel universe, replacing the traditional continuity. However, the strength of this rumor has diminished over time, as Marvel has shown no sign of canceling either continuity. However, in December 2005 through early 2007, Marvel published a print ad campaign in titles across their company that showed all Ultimate titles and had the slogan, Ultimate Marvel: The Gold Standard. these rumors served as an in joke in a She-Hulk storyline, where she was brought before the Living Tribunal (She-Hulk #20) and asked to weigh her universe against a newer, better 'cosmic trophy wife' version, described by Walters as "an ultimate universe."
Writers noted for their work in the line include Brian Michael Bendis, Brian K. Vaughan, and Mark Millar. Joe Quesada and former president Bill Jemas were also deeply involved in the creation of the line. Grant Morrison was involved in the conception of the imprint, but did not write any titles for it; he was most involved in the creation of Ultimate Fantastic Four and was at one point set to write the series, but his departure from Marvel and exclusive contract with DC Comics made this impossible.
Currently, there are four main groups of characters in the Ultimate Universe: Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Ultimates, and the Fantastic Four. The central character who links most of them is General Nick Fury, head of the Ultimates and the U.S. president's right hand in superhuman affairs.
- Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker, is under protection of Fury and his Ultimates, which Peter sees as a mixed blessing. In Ultimate Spider-Man: Legacy, he is told he will be drafted into S.H.I.E.L.D. by force when he is 18, but Fury also repeatedly helps him out of big trouble, as in Ultimate Spider-Man: Public Scrutiny or Ultimate Six. However, he is on good terms with both the FF and the X-Men. He dated the X-Men's Shadowcat after the events of Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1. But in issue #105 gets back together with Mary Jane.The Human Torch considers him one of his few friends. It is a running joke in the series that Peter's identity is known to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates, as well as most of his enemies.
- The X-Men have both been saved (Ultimate X-Men: Return to Weapon X) and hunted (see Ultimate War) by Fury and his Ultimates, until settling on an uneasy truce. In the Ultimate Nightmare and Ultimate Extinction arcs, both teams reluctantly paired up to investigate mysterious alien phenomena. They have recently split ways (Ultimate X-Men: Magnetic North), but Fury recently contacted Wolverine to hunt down the Hulk in "Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk". Fury also recruited Professor X to assist the Hulk using psychic therapy. The X-Men are on amicable terms with the F4, see Ultimate X4.
- The Fantastic Four is run and funded by a different department of the government (run by former S.H.I.E.L.D. director, General Ross) than the Ultimates. The Fantastic Four first met The Ultimates in the Ultimate Secret storyline when they had to work together on a space mission, and again when they turned over a group of time-traveling terrorists to S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Johnny Storm has ambitions to join the Ultimates.
Sales for Ultimate Marvel have been strong. The following table features a timeline (figures all from Diamond Comic Distributors):
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 79,201 (Amazing Spider-Man: 68,937)
- Ultimate X-Men: 99,990 (Uncanny X-Men: 127,100)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 96,382 (Amazing Spider-Man: 100,070)
- Ultimate X-Men: 93,216 (Uncanny X-Men: 87,008)
- The Ultimates: 112,570 (The Avengers: 55,931)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 102,429 (Amazing Spider-Man: 93,469)
- Ultimate X-Men: 110,492 (Uncanny X-Men: 93,866)
- The Ultimates: 103,192 (The Avengers: 57,850)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 96,279 (Amazing Spider-Man: 88,118)
- Ultimate X-Men: 103,154 (Uncanny X-Men: 95,838)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 90,670 (Fantastic Four: 50,247)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 75,600 (Amazing Spider-Man: 72,000)
- Ultimate X-Men: 76,200 (Uncanny X-Men: 87,600)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 71,800 (Fantastic Four: 61,500)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 76,075 (Amazing Spider-Man: 123,552)
- Ultimate X-Men: 70,153 (Uncanny X-Men: 89,225)
- The Ultimates 2: 96,751 (New Avengers: 154,262)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 65,191 (Fantastic Four: 89,676)
- Note: The Ultimates issue from June and the Amazing Spider-Man issue from July are used for comparison, as no new issues shipped in August 2006.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 76,518 (Amazing Spider-Man: 106,478)
- Ultimate X-Men: 57,656 (Uncanny X-Men: 88,062)
- The Ultimates 2: 105,745 (New Avengers: 117,898)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 48,775 (Fantastic Four: 65,690)
- Note: The Ultimates issue from May is used, as no new issues shipped in August 2007 due to the fact the series had finished.
Current or upcoming titles
- The Ultimates 3 (Written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Joe Madureira)
- Ultimate Iron Man II (Written by Orson Scott Card and penciled by Pasqual Ferry)
- Ultimate Human (Written by Warren Ellis and penciled by Cary Nord)
- Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk (Written by Damon Lindelof and penciled by Leinil Francis Yu)
- Ultimate Adventures #1-6, 2002-2003 (was part of a poll where readers decided which of three mini-series would become an ongoing series, this lost.)
- Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra #1-4, 2003
- Ultimate Elektra: Devil's Due #1-5, 2004-2005
- Ultimate Galactus trilogy 2004-2006
- Ultimate Iron Man #1-5, 2005-2006
- Ultimate Power #1-9 2006-2007
- Ultimate Six #1-7, 2003-2004 (featuring Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates)
- Ultimate Vision #0-5 2006-2007
- Ultimate War #1-4, 2003 (featuring Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates)
- Ultimate X4 #1-2, 2005-2006 (featuring Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic 4)
- Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special (One-shot, conclusion to Ultimate Marvel Team-Up)
- Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: Spider-Man and Fantastic Four
- Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: X-Men and The Ultimates
- Ultimate Saga (Written by C. B. Cebulsky and penciled by Travis Charest)
- Official Handbook of the Ultimate Marvel Universe: Ultimate Secrets
Other tie-in limited series
- Marvel Zombies (technically not an Ultimate title, but the series originated in the Ultimate Fantastic Four story arc "Crossover").
- Marvel.Com's Ultimate Marvel Encyclopedia
- Ultimate X
- Ultimate Central
- Ultimate Marvel (in French)
- Ultimate Marvel Timeline start to 2005
- Ultimate Marvel Universe