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 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.
Note an alternate universe special issue of Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe in 2005 designated "Ultimate Marvel Universe" as Earth-1610.
The imprint was launched in 2000 with the publication of Ultimate Spider-Man, followed by Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates in 2001. 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 favors Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy, released in 2000.
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 genetically-engineered 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, the eldest, 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 fantasical origins are often re-imagined to fit a more plausible (by comic-book standards) framework. For example, Ultimate Mojo is an ordinary human as opposed to his Earth-616 counterpart, an extradimensional alien. Also, almost every character is somehow connected to Captain America and Nick Fury's attempt to recreate the Super-Soldier. The only characters who are unconnected with this are the X-Men, who are, of course, mutants. 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.
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 supersoldier 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 and grafted Otto Octavius' metal arms onto his body. 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 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 supersoldier 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. Since then, 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 cancelling either continuity. However, in December 2005, Marvel began publishing a print ad campaign in titles across their company that showed all Ultimate titles and had the slogan, Ultimate Marvel: The Gold Standard.
Writers noted for their work in the line include Brian Michael Bendis, Brian K. Vaughan, and Mark Millar. Former president Bill Jemas and Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada 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 seemed to have been 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.
As of 2005, in its fifth year, sales for Ultimate Marvel have stayed strong. Most titles stay in the slipstream of their mainstream Marvel counterparts or sometimes overtake them. The following table features a timeline (figures all from Diamond Comic Distributors):
- Ultimate X-Men: 99,990 (Uncanny X-Men: 127,100)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 79,201 (Amazing Spider-Man: 68,937)
- Ultimate X-Men: 110,492 (Uncanny X-Men: 93,866)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 102,429 (Amazing Spider-Man: 93,469)
- Ultimate X-Men: 97,299 (Uncanny X-Men: 86,259)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 109,801 (Fantastic Four: 49,129)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 92,540 (Amazing Spider-Man: 84,604)
- Ultimates: 82,700 (New Avengers: 156,000)
- Ultimate X-Men: 76,200 (Uncanny X-Men: 87,600)
- Ultimate Fantastic Four: 71,800 (Fantastic Four: 61,500)
- Ultimate Spider-Man: 75,600 (Spider-Man: 67,200)
Current or upcoming titles
- Ultimate Spider-Man
- Ultimate X-Men
- Ultimate Fantastic Four
- The Ultimates (currently The Ultimates 2, soon to be The Ultimates 3)
- Ultimate Iron Man II
- Ultimate Daredevil (final part of Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra trilogy)
- Ultimate Power (Written by JMS, Brian Micheal Bendis and Jeph Loeb with art by Greg Land)
- Ultimate Vision (Written by Mike Carey and penciled by Brandon Peterson)
- Ultimate Wolverine (Written by Jeph Loeb and penciled by Micheal Turner)
- A mini-series written by Brian Michael Bendis, originally rumoured to be called Ultimate Invasion but this has since been denied
Ultimate Marvel Annuals
There has been one of each annual so far, with a second coming August 2006
- The Ultimates (First Volume)
- Ultimate Adventures (was part of a poll where readers decided which of three mini-series would become an ongoing series, this lost.)
- Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra trilogy
- Ultimate Iron Man
- Ultimate Galactus trilogy
- Ultimate Six (featuring Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates)
- Ultimate Vision (Six 4-page backup stories appearing in various issues of the ongoing titles which lead into Ultimate Extinction)
- Ultimate War (featuring Ultimate X-Men and The Ultimates)
- Ultimate X4 (official titles for the two-part series are Ultimate X-Men/Ultimate Fantastic Four #1 and Ultimate Fantastic Four/Ultimate X-Men #1 respectively.)
- 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
Other tie-in limited series
- Marvel Zombies (technically not an Ultimate Title, but the series came from the Ultimate Fantastic Four storyline "Crossover", and will tie back in to the Ultimate Fantastic Four with #30, "Frightful")
Ultimate character pages
- Emma Frost
- Green Goblin
- The Hulk
- Iron Man
- Jean Grey
- Kenny McFarlane
- Nick Fury
- Captain Mahr Vehl
- Professor Xavier
Ultimate team pages
- Marvel.Com's Ultimate Marvel Encyclopedia
- Ultimate X
- Ultimate Central
- Ultimate Marvel
- Ultimate Marvel Timeline
- Ultimate Marvel Universe