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The Ultimates and 616 Review

ultimate avengers 001 cover by carlos pacheco danny mili laura martin 0a7It would give me indescribable happiness to learn that the readers of this article had any notion whatsoever about what I am about to discuss. Granted, I’m banking on a few people to read enough Marvel comics to get the gist of it, but I’d like to start off by giving just a little background before committing any reader to lengthy diatribes of intense geekdom.


Within Marvel Comics, there are two universes which have coexisted (peacefully) since the year 2000. The original is now called the 616 universe and is what most people are directly, or indirectly, aware of. The 616 series consists of Spider-Man, The X-Men, Iron Man, and The Avengers; they have existed continuously since their conception decades ago. In an effort to draw a larger audience in 2000, Marvel launched several classics books in an entirely new universe called the Ultimate. This isn’t entirely unheard of for Marvel, as they tried a 2099 series, a 1603 series, and Universe X. Still, the Ultimate line did remarkably well, particularly the Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Spider-Man comics. All of the recent comic movies that you have seen are generally considered to be based on the storylines of 616; however, several events and even direct excerpts of dialogue have been lifted from the Ultimate.



In what I can only describe as a mad, greedy rush for more subscribers, the Ultimate morons at Marvel decided to rush out as many Ultimate characters and books as possible, adding the Ultimates (a half-ass version of The Avengers), Ultimate Iron Man (a book which sold so poorly that we only got ten issues that made many a reader cry with despair), and, of course, Ultimate Fantastic Four (grunt, moan) just to name a few.


See, the problem that Marvel never considered was that their original attempt to draw in new readers by creating a new, separate universe was that the new universe functioned well because of its simplicity. After so many years, the 616 continuity is so backwards and so polluted by events that it makes it nigh impossible to simply pick up a book and know what’s going on. The Ultimate line drew in a large crowd, myself included, but within eight years, they had created another overly complex universe; a universe in which every character has interacted with all of the other characters, and where – without having read every single story – you will inevitably get references to events that you don’t remember.


When I first started reading Ultimate Spider-Man, it was because of pure curiosity. I found myself completely unwilling to try and figure out what was going on in the 616 universe. Having just read Gaiman’s Sandman books, I really wanted something that I could casually enjoy on a month-to-month basis: something simple with good art, decent writing, and a certain sense of familiarity. Voila! Ultimate Spider-Man saves the day.


Until he didn’t.


Eventually, the natural course correction drew Marvel to expand beyond what it was capable of. I mean, when you consider giving Ultimate Daredevil his own book, you’ve pretty much hit rock bottom. Deal with it.


At the same time, the writers of the 616 universe decided to do something so epic, so damn…awesome, that everyone would know about it.


Civil War.

God, I love seeing those words. I mean, not historically, because that would be weird and creepy, and I love America and yada yada yada, but the Marvel Civil War was so groundbreaking in terms of its inherent strength and simplicity that it captured both me and some of my friends who didn’t read comics. I want to stress the simplicity here. We have a very simple issue which forces a reaction out of everyone in the entire continuum and trust me: there are a lot of people in this continuum. What it boils down to is this: superheroes must register with the government. Do you support it, or not?


We saw heroes fighting heroes, heroes killing heroes, and heroes struggling with their own essential natures. They were not only trying to discern right from wrong, but what it actually meant to be a hero. This concept is nothing new as it’s easily the best “go-to” for any comic hero who needs some internal struggle, but again, we got to see it across the entire Universe. 616 actually did something I enjoyed.


Then they screwed it up. Again.


This is getting lengthy, so let me try to break it down for you evenly. The Ultimate universe is essentially dead. The set of the Ultimatum line, which killed a number of heroes and cancelled several books, left only the most popular in their stead. But my issue is that if the Ultimate books recover and start selling again, all that will happen will be a recitation of previous events. Indeed, what we are going through now has already happened before; in the 1990s, we saw the total collapse of almost every Marvel book in print. Marvel staggered until they could recover, but I was hoping that they might learn from their mistakes.


Jim – “Gee, Bob, do ya’ think we should make it impossible for new readers to pick up a single, damn issue of Spider-Man?”

Bob – “Sounds good, Jim. But let’s pretend like it will be really easy for them to know what’s going on. That way, they’ll buy more comics, just so that they don’t feel stupid!”


Actually, most of us just stopped reading comics. It really sucked to be honest.


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