Marvel’s Ultimate Universe ends not with a bang, nor with a whimper, but with a very loud raspberry.
Fifteen years and hundreds of comic books later, Marvel has finally ended their most popular imprint line, Ultimate Marvel, in conjunction with Marvel’s current (and endlessly dragged-out) summer crossover, Secret Wars. Granted, this alternate, more modernized version of Marvel’s classic superheroes and villains should have had its swan song during its last big crossover, Ultimate Cataclysm, and the line stopped being relevant years ago, but given the impact it had on comics, it makes sense for it to have a big send-off. And having the very last Ultimate Comic series being done by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, the creators of the very first Ultimate Marvel series, Ultimate Spider-Man, is more than thematically appropriate. So with Ultimate End #5 being the very last issue of the very last Ultimate Marvel comic book series ever, how does it fare as the grand finale to this world and its characters? Well, get ready for some SPOILERS, ladies and gentlemen, because its bad. Really, really, really bad.
Remember how during the climax of Ultimate End #4, where the heroes from both the 616 Marvel Universe and the 1610 Ultimate Universe were coming to blows, and that Miles Morales, the Ultimate universe Spider-Man was about to arrive? Remember how you came to that part and thought, “Gosh, what’s Miles going to do? How is going to save the day?” Well, Miles shoot webs at them and tells them “stop!” Yep, all that dramatic build-up, even from the very first issue, and its all resolved with Miles literally swinging in from out of nowhere and asking them nicely to “please stop fighting.” Then, thanks to the psychic powers of Emma Frost, Rachel Summers and the teenaged Jean Grey of the X-Men, Miles is able to show everyone the truth: that everything that happened was all because of Doctor Doom, that he’s not really God, and their real worlds were destroyed along with the rest of the multiverse and its remnants accumulated to create Battleworld—basically everything you already knew if you’ve paid even the least bit attention to what was going on in Secret Wars.
It gets worse. Just as everyone reacts to this with shock, denial and anger you’d expect our heroes to have, who should conveniently be there to back up everything Miles says but Old Man Logan, who even Iceman literally asks, “Has he been here the whole time?” The way Logan does this is to tell everybody about how he traveled all over Battleworld and found out all about these crazy realms, which pretty much amounts to Bendis telling his readers, “Hey, kids! Instead of reading this crappy comic, you’d ought to check out my other Secret Wars tie-in series, Old Man Logan, which is far superior and a lot more fun than this piece of you-know-what.”
It gets even worse. The Thors, the cops of Battleworld, arrive to put an end to what they regard as blasphemy against Doom. However, Magik from the X-Men teleports all the heroes away to her “safe house,” leaving the Ultimate version of the Punisher behind to deal with them. He dies, of course, but not before he’s able to take most the Thors out with a bazooka. Because so what if they’re the literally variations Norse god of thunder, right? Oh, and by the way, we get no explanation about how Frank Castle was able to kill or maim super powered beings with nothing but guns and bombs over the course of the series. Guess he really did have magic ammo all of a sudden.
And it gets even worse. Once our heroes accept the fact that their worlds are really gone and that everyone they ever knew is dead, they decide to take the fight directly to Doom. But do we get to see this fight? Of course not, because only the main Secret Wars series can do that. So instead, we have to settle for the beginning charge of the heroes against more Thors in front of Castle Doom, followed by page after page of the heroes fading from existence, as Peter Parker, Miles Morales and Tony Stark say good-bye to their respective loved ones on their answering machines.
And it gets even worse than that. After Battleworld’s destruction and the return of the multiverse, Miles gets waken up from bed by none other than his mom, who you may remember was killed by Venom way back in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 2 #22. So much for making Miles grow as a character, I guess. Also, waiting for him outside are his friends, Genke, Judge and Bombshell. And the Triskeleon, the headquarters of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Ultimate Universe, is in New York, too. And Miles and the other original Ultimate Universe characters word balloons are in all-caps like the those from Earth-616. And, as if he just woke up from a dream, Miles starts forgetting everything that happened leading up to and during Secret Wars and Ultimate End. Which also means, considering how the Ultimate versions of Peter, Mary Jane, Aunt May, Gwen, Jessica, Jonah, Nick Fury, Maria Hill etc. likely no longer exist anymore, Miles’ entire history has been rewritten along with who knows how many other characters. They haven’t just been “One More Dayed,” they’ve been “New 52ed.” Anyone who has read any Crisis-style event over at DC just know this could wind up becoming a logistical, storytelling nightmare for Marvel going forward.
But if you think the plot sounds awful, so is the dialogue, which unusual because this is typically one of Bendis’ stronger qualities as a writer. With a few exceptions such as Miles, Peter, and Logan, everyone reads exactly the same after a while, which is definitely not something you want to have in comic with literally dozens of characters to keep track of. Not to mention it’s also verbose and repetitive, as almost every single conversation and exchange is boiled down to either “No, it can’t be true!” or “Everything we knew is gone, what do we do now?” or “Doom is a bad, horrible person and we have to stop him because we’re the good guys.” If anything, Ultimate End #5 is an exercise in how to say the same thing with different words and phrases for pages and pages on end and hope the reader will be too distracted by the pretty pictures to notice. Knowing Bendis is capable of much stronger writing than this, I’m convinced that because the story was so dependant upon whatever Jonathan Hickman was doing over in Secret Wars, that Bendis lost interest in his own story and just phoned it in. Because I can’t think for the life of me why Bendis would come up with something this mediocre.
Even Bagley, with his otherwise excellent pencil work, also phones it in from time to time. Oh sure, there are some very good-looking scenes and images; when you have a close-up of Doctor Doom’s face taking up the entirety of a double-page spread, and thus allow all sorts of fine details and textures, then how could it not look great? The moment where Old Man Logan backs up what Miles is saying, and tells Storm that he really is Wolverine from “a long time from now,” its one of the best looking depictions of older man in comics I can remember seeing. Even the scene between Miles and mom also looks fantastic, as Bagley is able to depict genuine-looking emotional reactions and responses in both characters. But then you get something what Bagely does to show how each hero are fading from existence during their battle with Doom. Three times he copies and pastes a double-page spread from earlier in the comic that depicts seventy panels showing different heroes, each time having fewer and fewer panels, until it concludes with a double-page spread of blank pages. Some might call this a creative way to show Battleworld being destroyed and the multiverse being reset without spoiling Secret Wars; I’d just call it being lazy.
In truth, the Ultimate Marvel Universe stopped being relevant years ago. The fans knew it, and as you read Ultimate End #5, both Bendis and Bagley knew it, too. What’s sad is that it didn’t need to have end this way. Like it or not, Ultimate Marvel were some of the most influential line of comics in more than a decade. It was responsible for renewing interest in Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers during a time in which many thought those characters were no longer relevant. It forced the mainstream Marvel Universe of comics to adapt and up their game in terms of creativity and storytelling. It featured, and some cases introduced, readers to such creators as Mark Millar, Warren Ellis, Brian K. Vaughn, Robert Kirkman, Jonathan Hickmanm, Byran Hitch, Sara Pichelli, and Joshua Hale Fialkov. It not only influenced several video games and animated projects, it’s legacy continues to live on in the now very popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. It gave us a new Spider-Man with own devoted following who is now being brought into the 616 along with the original Spider-Man. With all that in mind, was it too much to ask Marvel to give their Ultimate line a better send off than this, that it deserved a better send off than this? I sure don’t.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks
- Far be it for me to complain about comics not coming out on schedule, given how back-logged I am with my own comic book reviews (don’t worry, I promise I’ll catch up). And I understand that, given the delays of the main Secret Wars series and how close Ultimate End is tied to it, it’s understandable that this issue had to be postponed. But still, Ultimate End #4 came out back in the beginning of August; that’s four months ago! You’re telling me that, in all that time, when both Bendis and Bagley knew this comic would be delayed because of Secret Wars, they didn’t at least try and improve Ultimate End #5? Or here’s an even more troubling thought–what if this comic is the improved version?
- It turns out everyone from the Ultimate universe, plus the 616 Spider-Man, still remembers Miles, even though he was on Cabal’s life raft in Secret Wars #1 during the destruction of both Earths. So if Miles was not on his Earth and thus not brought into the Manhattan region when Doom created Battleworld, how is still remembered by people from his Earth and the 616 Spider-Man?
- In addition, we also know that the real 616 Spider-Man was on board the 616 Reed Richard’s life raft, and yet there’s been another version of 616 Spider-Man in the Manhattan realm of Battleworld throughout this series. So why wasn’t there also another version of Miles on Battleworld, too?
- Also, if all the heroes both the 616 and Ultimate universes are “real” but from “different dimensions” as both Peter and Miles allege, then this also has to mean these are both alternate 616 and Ultimate universes. How else to explain why there’s another 616 Spider-Man, an Ultimate Captain America who is still alive, a 616 Tony Stark who didn’t become “The Superior Iron Man,” or that the events of Ultimate Cataclysm never seemed to have happened.
- Okay, so Ultimate Hulk cannot be harmed by Ultimate Punisher’s bullets. Fair enough. So then how could Ultimate Punisher have killed the Wrecking Crew, who are also bulletproof, in Ultimate End #3? Or, as I pointed out in the review, killed a bunch of Thors with a bazooka? Guess some folks are more bulletproof than others?
- So the heroes know about Doomstadt and that this is where “God Emperor Doom” resides. Which also mean they know its a separate place from “Manhattan” and is somewhere on “Earth.” And yet, they don’t know about the other kingdoms of Battleworld, or that they’ve been on a place called Battleworld? Then again, that’s Secret Wars for you, in which making everything complicated and confusing is the name of the game.
- Wait a sec, Tony Starks. You say that your family members, friends and loves ones are really “long gone.” Which implies that the people who you believe are your family members, loved ones, friends, etc. are not real, just creations of Doom. And yet, it was just established mere minutes ago that all of you are real, but from different realities. So why doesn’t this apply to your family members, friends and loved ones, too? Why aren’t they considered “real” but you guys are? Or are you just trying to find some way to justify your potentially wiping them out when you take down Doom without feeling guilty? Again, thanks Secret Wars for making things more complicated and confusing than necessary.
- Um, why is Peter calling Ultimate Aunt May to say good-bye to her and not the 616 Aunt May? Does the 616 Aunt May not exist in Battleworld’s Manhattan? And what about the other people he cares about like Mary Jane?