Marvel Comics’ All-New Ultimate Universe, Explained
WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Spider-Men II #5 by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Mark Bagley, Elisabetta D’Amico, John Dell, Justin Ponsor and Cory Petit, on sale now.
Well, Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe is back. The coda to Spider-Men II #5 saw the Prime Miles Morales stepping through a gateway between worlds and arriving in what we once knew as Earth-1610, complete with Mark Bagley art and lower-case lettering.
It feels like it’s been ages, but the Ultimate Universe has only been gone for two years or so. Its return could spell big things for the future of the Marvel Multiverse, including the return of the Fantastic Four and the fate of several major Marvel heroes.
See You At The Crossroads
The Ultimate Universe was established in 2001 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man #1, which introduced a bold new — and most importantly modern — take on Spider-Man’s origin. The imprint was the brainchild of Marvel’s then-Editor-in-Chief Bill Jemas who — without a background in comic books — saw complex continuity as the biggest obstacle when it came to attracting new readers. The launch of Ultimate Spider-Man was a huge success — partly thanks to a larger distribution outside of traditional comic book stores — and led to more reinventions such as Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four and The Ultimates, a new take on The Avengers.
While the line’ popularity lasted for a number of years, it began to get bogged down in its own continuity, resulting in and changes-for-changes’ sake. Titles such as Ultimate X-Men seemed to rush through introducing as many characters from the main timeline as possible, and it quickly became just as hard to keep track of the history of the world as it completed its first decade of publication.
Ultimatum was the first attempt at a soft-reboot of the universe; a controversial storyline where a giant tidal wave battered Manhattan and dozens of characters were killed off. “The Death of Spider-Man” revitalized interest somewhat thanks to the introduction of Miles Morales, and the arrival of Earth-616’s Galactus allowed the Cataclysm event to shift things again, killing off the likes of Captain America and Thor.
The universe was killed off completely just prior to Secret Wars, as Earth-616 and Earth-1610 became the final two worlds in the Marvel multiverse, heading on a collision course with each other in the final Incursion. Though heroes from both worlds attempted to ensure theirs was the last one standing, both Earths were destroyed and both universes were wiped out from existence. Luckily, Doctor Doom was able to save small chunks of the Manhattans of both planets, which became one domain in his patchwork reality Battleworld.
Finally, the Ultimate Universe got a send-off from Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in the Secret Wars miniseries Ultimate End, which brought together characters from both worlds in a story that makes almost zero sense and ends abruptly.
I Will Survive
Though the Ultimate Universe was destroyed, several of its inhabitants were able to survive the end of Secret Wars and found themselves with new lives in the Prime Marvel Universe. Most notably, Miles Morales and his extended supporting cast were transplanted into what was once Earth-616. While Miles himself has memories of living on another world, the rest of his friends and family don’t seem to know anything is different.
The Maker — Earth-1610’s super-villain Reed Richards — also survived the transition and resurrected his Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Giant Man and Wasp to fight Galactus’ Ultimates. Those characters presumably still exist somewhere in the Marvel Universe, having regained their memories and siding against the Maker. Jimmy Hudson — the son of Wolverine — joined the time-displaced X-Men to fight against a new team of Marauders comprised of Ultimate Universe mutants, while the hammer of Ultimate Thor crossed dimensions and was wielded by Volstagg, who became The War Thor.
However, thanks to the events of Spider-Men II #5, we now know that the Ultimate Universe is once again out there. More importantly, we’ve learned that things have moved on since we last saw it. There’s a new team of Ultimates that finally includes Peter Parker among their members, along with an Ultimate version of Ironheart and a resurrected Captain America, Thor and Giant Man.
It remains unclear as to whether Marvel has any further plans for the new Ultimate Universe, or if it was more of a proper goodbye to the Ultimate Universe from Bendis and Bagley, but either way, its return has major ramifications.
The Ultimate Universe’s return is most likely thanks to the Future Foundation of Earth-616, who chose not to return to the new Prime Marvel Universe and instead ventured into the now empty Multiverse with the Molecule Man to bring back the dead and forgotten worlds. Working together, Franklin Richards creates the worlds, which are anchored by a slice of Owen Reece’s self — which remains the same across the multiverse — then placed into the infinite by Mister Fantastic.
We recently saw Franklin and Valeria Richards at the end of Marvel Legacy #1, with the latter feeling somewhat homesick for her native reality. The lack of the Fantastic Four is seriously being felt in the Marvel Universe right now, with Moon Girl doing her best to live up to the legacy of Reed Richards and The Thing doing his best to keep Johnny Storm from self-destructing. It seems that Marvel has a plan for the return of the FF, we might not see it for a while.
As for the effect the Ultimate Universe has on the Prime Marvel Universe, we now have two Miles Morales’ living in the opposite universes. Key here is that the heroic Miles doesn’t know that his home dimension — which houses many friends that he believes died in the Incursion — has been recreated. The same goes for the likes of Jimmy Hudson as well, and the resurrected Ultimates who have been replaced in their own timeline by doppelgängers. Marvel’s Multiverse has always been a lot more fluid and less ordered than DC’s, but ever since Secret Wars it has felt more chaotic and unregulated. The official return of the Ultimate Universe indicates that this is by design and may just be building to something big in the very near future.