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Spider-Men (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Men feels very light. It is the first official crossover between the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, something that readers had been promised would never happen. However, despite the fact that this is a big event that has been more than a decade in the making – something rumoured since the earliest days of Ultimate Spider-Man – Spider-Men feels decidedly low-key.

It’s pretty much a collection of vignettes rather than a compelling story in its own right, allowing Bendis to run through a checklist of material to smooth the transition between ultimate!Peter Parker and his successor, Miles Morales.

"Well, this is awkward..."

“Well, this is awkward…”

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Ultimate Spider-Man – The Death of Spider-Man Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s amazing how much can change in a decade or so. When it launched, Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was an incredibly fresh playground for some of the top creators working in comic books. It was an opportunity to relaunch iconic characters without the baggage of continuity – to allow creators to tell stories unburdened by decades of history and back story. It was something fresh and exciting, classic characters boiled down their purest essence.

This approach worked, particularly when juxtaposed against a wider Marvel Universe populated with characters that had drifted away from their roots a bit. Modern storytelling conventions, popular writers and artists, and easy of access all made the Ultimate Universe a very exciting place to be. The early years of the Ultimate Universe offer some of the best gateways into comic books for anybody looking to branch into the medium.

At your service...

At your service…

However, things change. Over time, the Ultimate universe lost a bit of its sheen. This was partially due to the way that the comics built up their own tangled continuity over the years that followed – it was soon as difficult to jump into an Ultimate comic book as it was to jump into the mainstream Marvel universe. At the same time, storytelling in the mainstream Marvel universe adjusted to incorporate the aspects that had made the Ultimate Universe so popular.

So the Ultimate Universe wound down a bit, with the decline assisted by some very questionable creative choices. Allowing Jeph Loeb to kill off most of the cast in Ultimatum was a bit of a miscalculation, and it seemed like titles like Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men became a bit messy and less focused than they had been. There was a sense of redundancy to the entire Ultimate line. Relaunches followed, with a number of attempts to re-brand and re-energise the Ultimate line.

A bridge to nowhere...

A bridge to nowhere…

With all of this going on, a bold decision was made. The Ultimate Universe was introduced as a place populated with very boiled-down and iconic takes on the famous characters, as if offering readers a glimpse at the very essence of these heroes. However, as times began to change, the editors became a bit more willing to experiment – to try new things. Having served its purpose as an accessible alternative to the mainstream Marvel Universe, it became the place where Marvel could try new things, things impossible in the mainstream universe.

And so the comic attempted a variety of new approaches. Mutants were no longer quirks of evolution, but the result of government experiments gone horribly wrong. The X-Men became a bunch of teenage runaways. Reed Richards became a large-scale supervillain. However, perhaps the most audacious approach taken to the Ultimate Universe was the decision to kill off Peter Parker, with the original Ultimate Spider-Man creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley conspiring to close the book on this version of Spider-Man.

Everything blows up in his face...

Everything blows up in his face…

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Ultimate Comics Avengers by Mark Millar Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Read our review of The Avengers here. And because it’s release day in the rest of the world, here’s a second Avengers-related review. And it’s a long one.

They say you can’t go home again. The Ultimates was easily one of the best comics of the past decade, and perhaps the comic that really got me into the medium. A clever, timely, astute and well-considered exploration of the superhero in the twenty-first century, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch undoubtedly had a massive influence on everything that followed. Of course, all this would seem to be for nothing when Jeph Loeb took over the franchise for Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, two stories that were very poorly received and damaged the franchise quite considerably. So Millar’s return to write four six-issue miniseries of Ultimate Comics: Avengers seemed like a breath of fresh air. Critical and fan reaction to his twenty-four issue run has been somewhat muted, and there’s no denying that a lot of the magic from that origin story was lost. That said, I’ll concede to finding it an interesting, complex and occasionally compelling examination of Millar’s views on superheroes.

Not quite the ultimate Avengers comic…

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Ultimate Comics: Doomsday (Hardcover) (Review)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Ultimate Comics: Doomsday is a bit of a weird beast. After the events of Ultimatum, Mark Millar’s Ultimates was relaunched both as Ultimate Comics: Avengers and the clunkily-titled (and written) Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates, while Ultimate Spider-Man became Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men spun off into Ultimate Comics: X. That meant that the only on-going series that hadn’t fed into a relaunched series was Ultimate Fantastic Four. Perhaps it’s understandable, since the series was arguably the weakest of Marvel’s Ultimate reimaginings of popular heroes, suffering from adapting Marvel’s most innocent scientific heroes in a grim and hyper-modern context. Ultimate Comics: Doomsday collects three miniseries (Ultimate Comics: Enemy, Ultimate Comics: Mystery and Ultimate Comics: Doom), which tell a gigantic crossover crisis set in the shared universe that the “ultimate” characters inhabit, but it’s really just a vehicle to allow Brian Michael Bendis to play with the left-over bits and pieces from Ultimate Fantastic Four.

This little Spider...

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Ultimate Comics: Captain America (Review/Retrospective)

In celebration of the 4th of July and the release of Captain America: The First Avenger later this month, we’re jumping into Marvel’s comic book alternate history and taking a look at the star-spangled avenger every Wednesday this month.

I have a certain fondness for Jason Aaron. He’s a writer who has fantastic success in taking the more hardcore elements of the Marvel Universe and making them work. His Ghost Rider is acclaimed as one of the best runs ever on the character, while his Wolverine is considered some of the greatest work on the title in quite some time. Even his Punisher MAX run has enjoyed considerable success, despite following in the footsteps of the defining Garth Ennis run. So I was initially extremely excited when Aaron was given the job of writing the Ultimate Comics: Captain America miniseries. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with his work here. It’s still competent and engaging, but it lacks to sort of energy and focus that one associates with the writer.

Apocalypse... Now?

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Ultimate Comics: Thor (Review/Retrospective)

With the release of Marvel’s big-budget superhero action movie Thor this summer, we’re taking a month to celebrate the God of Thunder. Check back each Wednesday for a Thor-related review.

“It burns,” Thor tells us as the comic opens. “The world tree burns… Surely this is the end of all things…” Yes, Jonathan Hickman suggests, it is indeed the end, but it is also the beginning. The lives of gods, like the myths themselves and the comic books they inspire, are cyclical and endless. This scene, as Nazi stormtroopers and frost giants march on Asgard, might be the end, but it is also the beginning.

Thor Smash!

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Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1 (Hardcover)

The Fantastic Four, as originally imagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were an instant overnight success for Marvel. Although perhaps Spider-Man would go on to surpass them as the most recognisable creation from the comic book publisher, the four were intrinsically linked with the spirit of newness and pop science that defined comic books in the sixties – the run was so iconic that I’m even considering placing an order for the two volumes of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four Omnibus, even though I find Silver Age comic books tough to read. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the characters were among the last to be coopted into Marvel’s Ultimate line, an experiment designed to essentially start their characters from scratch again to attract a new audience. However, depite the late arrival of Ultimate Fantastic Four – four years after Ultimate Spider-Man and three years after Ultimate X-Men – the talent involed in the launch of the series suggests that Marvel was trying to get this version of the family off to the same flying start as their mainstream counterpart.

That's gonna put a dent in local real estate prices...

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