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Nick Spencer’s Run on Ultimate Comics: X-Men (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Strangely enough, it’s the second relaunch of the Ultimate comic book line that feels like it is finally dealing with Ultimatum. Jeph Loeb’s “kill ’em all and let editorial sort ’em out” event had served as the catalyst of a relaunch for the entire line, ending long-running books like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men. The line was re-tooled and re-focused and relaunched following that event.

However, that relaunch quickly fizzled out. Mark Millar’s run on Ultimate Comics: Avengers could not quite measure up to the dizzying heights of his original run on The Ultimates. Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate Comics: X shipped sporadically at best and his run on Ultimate Comics: New Ultimates was something of a mess. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis continued his run on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man as if nothing much had changed.

A song of ice and fire...

A song of ice and fire…

Oddly enough, it was the second relaunch that seemed to click. Coming out of The Death of Spider-Man, the slate was cleaned and the various books all got new beginnings. Jonathan Hickman took over Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, Nick Spencer helmed Ultimate Comics: X-Men, while Brian Michael Bendis launched Miles Morales in a new volume of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. This was a very real shift in the status quo, and one that marked a clear departure from what came before, with bold new vision.

One of the more interesting attributes of the latest relaunch of the Ultimate line was the sense of heightened continuity between the various books. In particular, Jonathan Hickman’s run on The Ultimates overlapped quite heavily with Nick Spencer’s work on X-Men. As a result, the first year of each of the three titles seemed to be building towards Divided We Stand, a massive crossover between the various titles.

Sentinels-of-not-quite Liberty...

Sentinels-of-not-quite Liberty…

Spencer’s X-Men doesn’t work quite as well as Hickman’s Ultimates, suffering from the fact that nothing seems to get resolved. Dealing with a massive cast and an epic scope, Spencer’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men spends its first year establishing where all of its characters are and how their situations reflect on the larger story that is in motion. It’s an ambitious storytelling model, as Spencer crafts one big story from the ground (or the sewers) to the heights of the Oval Office, but it means that everything is barely set up before it is time to knock it down again.

Spencer’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men is a run with no shortage of great ideas and impressive scale, but one that suffers from the fact that the writer never gets to follow through on the world that he has built.

Shocking treatment...

Shocking treatment…

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Ultimate Origins (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ultimatum effectively brought an end to the first stage of life for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. To be fair, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four had both cycled through multiple creative teams by that point, but Ultimatum was the book that effectively drew a line under a certain era of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic four were all cancelled in the wake of the massive end, marking it as the end of an era.

As such, it made sense to go back to the start of the line – to task writer Brian Michael Bendis to craft an origin for this shared spin-off universe. With Ultimatum killing off so many characters and so radically altering the status quo, it made sense to go back to the beginning and offer a glimpse at the formative moments of this alternate universe. The Ultimate Universe had been built from the ground up, so it made sense that the continuity all fit together.

A Magnetic personality...

A Magnetic personality…

While Ultimate Origins offered a series of insights and revelations that radically altered (or expanded) the back story of almost every corner of the Ultimate publishing line, Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Origins undoubtedly had the most profound implications for the characters of Ultimate X-Men. While the characters from Ultimate Spider-Man or The Ultimates could go back to something approximating business as usual, those characters would never be the same again.

Offering an explanation for the mutant genome that would alter the context of mutants and play into the climax of Ultimatum, Ultimate Origins represents something radical and distinct from mainstream Marvel publishing. In a way, it feels like it is playing into the mission statement of Ultimatum – redefining the Ultimate line so as to distinguish the Ultimate Universe from its mainstream counterpart. This is no long a streamlined and cleaned up alternative; it is something radically different.

Carry on...

Carry on…

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Mike Carey’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 4-6 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

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 Fantastic Four was never really the crown jewel of the Ultimate line. It wasn’t ever as consistent as Brian Michael Bendis’ 100+ issues on Ultimate Spider-Man, nor as zeitgeist-y as Ultimate X-Men (which had the success of the X-Men trilogy to back it up at least). Instead, like Fox’s Fantastic Four movies, Ultimate Fantastic Four was just… well, just kinda there, really. To be fair, I dug Mark Millar’s twelve-issue run on the title. Hell, I even enjoyed elements of the opening arc by Millar and Bendis, and the year-long run by Warren Ellis that followed. However, Mike Carey’s run is somewhat disappointing. This was the run which essentially saw the series through to the big Ultimatum event, and perhaps it justified the decision to clean the slate when it came to Marvel’s Ultimate line. Because, whatever Carey’s run was, it certainly wasn’t consistently fantastic.

That surfer dude looks spaced...

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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

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.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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Ultimate Galactus Trilogy (Review/Retrospective)

After spending the tail end of last year looking at the tangled inter-continuity crossovers at Marvel, I thought I’d spend January looking at some of the looser “out of continuity” tales at the major companies.

What does a continuity-lite crossover look like? I mean, a relatively self-contained comic book event that isn’t based upon years and years of events? Marvel famously launched their Ultimate line a decade ago to offer a chance to “reimagine” their classic stories – the Avengers became The Ultimates, and monthly issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four were available on the stands. The goal was to offer tales that would allow new readers to jump on board without having to worry about the weight of half-a-century (or more) worth of back story for the characters. Despite some minor crossover between the books – Mark Millar writing the Ultimates into his Ultimate X-Men run or Ultimate Spider-Man occasionally paying a short visit to the Baxter building – the line largely steered clear of the sort of bombastic big events that Marvel seems to love churning out month-on-month. So, what does an actual “big crossover event” look like when written for these characters? A bit like the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, I suppose.

He's got the world in the palm of his hand...

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Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

I’m on a bit of a Wolverine binge at the moment. I got the quite enjoyable Old Man Logan last week and am slowly working my way through the Wolverine Omnibus at the moment. I would have picked up Enemy of the State if it had a nice hardback version. But such is life. I figured I’d dip my toes into Marvel’s Ultimate line. Basically a shrewd marketing decision to launch all their titles from scratch – the hope being that the line could attract readers alienated by decades of continuity in mainstream comics. The experiment was a bit of a mixed success – Ultimate Spider-Man might be the most successful interpretation of the web-slinger this decade, but Ultimate X-Men left a lot to be desired. However, this continuity-free playground offered Marvel a chance to do two things: invite big-name film and television writers to handle their properties (such as allowing Lost scribe Brian K. Vaughan and Heroes writer Aron E. Coleite to work on Ultimate X-Men), but also to shameless release miniseries to capitalise on their big screen projects. Released between the big screen adaptations of The Incredible Hulk and X-Men Origins: Wolverine and featuring the work of Star Trek co-writer Damon Lindelof, this series attempts to do both. Does it succeed?

It's a game of two halves...

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Brian K. Vaughan’s Run on Ultimate X-Men – Vol. 5-6 (Hardcover)

Brian K. Vaughan is the accidental Ultimate X-Men author. Originally drafting a single arc to transition between Brian Michael Bendis and a potential arc by David Mack, his entire tenure was overshadowed by the near-constant suggestion that X-Men director Bryan Singer would be hijacking the title for a storyline or two. Neither of these two proposals came to pass, and Vaughan ended up working on the series for nearly two years. Perhaps because of the seemingly temporary nature of his stay – liable to end with any given arc – his run seems to lack overall consistency or direction. That isn’t to criticise his individual stories, which are arguably the best in the entire run of Ultimate X-Men, but an observation about the nature of Vaughan’s tenure.

Mojo is big... in television...

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