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Idiot's Guide Weekly: The Life and Death of an Ultimate Universe

Written by Christian on Tuesday, June 28 2011 and posted in Columns

IGW sings a swan song for the Ultimate Universe.  Plus news, reviews, Mail Bag and Mammon! 

Welcome to a weekly column summarizing the good, the bad and the ugly that occurred throughout the week in comics. With fifty billion websites covering all the minutia of the comic industry and dozens of comics hitting the shelves, it's about time that someone has the stones to take it all in and regurgitate it like a mother bird to her chicks.   Idiot's Guide Weekly will cover pertinent news, the best and worst comics of the week, and anything else worth mentioning in a jovial and mocking manner.   So enjoy it while it's fresh: Idiot's Guide Weekly aims to please.

The News

Top News Story of the Week: A promotional image revealed a potential JLA lineup for the September Relaunch. In addition to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the lineup includes Green Arrow, Atom, Element Woman, Mera, and Miranda Shrieve. Responding to comments that DC was putting their top-tier characters on the team solely to drive sales, Dan Didio replied "No f*#$ing shit."

The new Miss USA was met with a wave of criticism this week when she mentioned that she was a total history geek and enjoyed Game of Thrones during the interview portion of the competition. It really surprises me that some people would be so harsh about something said during a competition that's entirely based on looks and how many golf balls someone can fit in their mouth.

Marvel finally got some mainstream press last week after weeks of DC hogging the spotlight with their blockbuster flop of a movie and their desperate attempt to drive interest by revamping their line. Marvel proudly declared that they didn't need movies or cheap relaunches to grab titles, they only needed a good ol' fashioned death of an alternate version of their most popular character. That'll show DC.

The Death of a Universe: An Ultimate Idiot's Guide Feature

There was once a time when the Ultimate Universe was easy to follow. Back then, there were only a few titles that followed a basic continuity with little carryover from arc to arc. In a way, the Ultimate Universe was in many ways like my first real relationship. It was light, fun and had a lot of teenage angst.

At the center of the Ultimate Universe was Peter Parker.   Parker's story coincided with the central theme and concept of the Ultimate Universe, namely the rise of the superhero in the modern world, in a natural, organic way. Ultimate Spider-Man epitomized the concept that the Ultimate Universe was based upon so well, it became its flagship title for twelve years.  To say that Ultimate Spider-Man was a success would be a bit of a understatement. It broke records and spawned a video game and television show and brought in a few new readers into the fold.

Awww, nostalga.
One of those new readers was me.  I used to go into Waldenbooks during my weekly escape to the mall and pull the latest issue of Ultimate Spider-Man off the rack while killing some time or avoiding my parents. My favorite thing about Ultimate Spider-Man was that it presented such a clean version of Peter Parker to readers. Peter was a teenager who not only was caught up in as much drama as the normal Spider-Man, but did so in a less whiny and aggravating fashion. The Peter/MJ relationship seemed to function so much better when neither were of an age where marriage, divorce or deals with devils were an option. Most of all, Ultimate Peter Parker presented the "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" theme so smoothly, it didn't seem corny or clichéd. Spider-Man was just a kid trying to do the right thing. He screwed up but persevered through his own inner strength and determination.

For a long, long time, Ultimate Spider-Man was one of my favorite titles. It had a tight plot, long-running subplots and a main character that was insanely relatable to the seventeen year old who Byrne-stole issues at Borders while waiting for the latest trade to come out.   In my (seventeen year old) eyes, Bendis was a god who had made a version of Spider-Man that I could relate to instead of the stuffy substitute teacher who couldn't decide if his powers were derived from a Spider-totem that JMS was butchering in Amazing Spider-Man.

When Bendis crossed over to Avengers, I followed to see what he could do with Earth's Mightiest Heroes. While Dissembled had its hokey moments, it still was a strong enough read to justify picking up New Avengers in trade. As New Avengers passed through the different spheres of the Marvel universe, my reading list grew to include stuff like Ed Brubaker's Captain America or the various X-books, which proved to be a gateway into the rest of the Marvel universe. In a way, Ultimate Spider-Man was responsible for my entire development as a Marvel reader.

Geldoff: Harbinger to the end of the Ultimate Universe
As I got more inundated with the mainstream Marvel universe, the Ultimate Universe seemed to falter as it grew beyond its initial scope. The Ultimate Universe began to get more crowded with cheap imitation versions of Marvel characters. These characters lacked the nuances or tweaks that the original batch of Ultimate characters possessed. They were simply Marvel properties thrown into the universe to give existing characters something to interact with. Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four began to suffer more and more with each new character and arc. Ultimate Onslaught was an epic mess that rehashed the worst of the 90's while the Ultimate Thanos space opera was a failure when compared to the infinitely superior Annihilation miniseries. Even Ultimate Spider-Man had its off-arcs, although the book managed to stay afloat due to the strength of Bendis' writing as well as excellent art by Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen.

Eventually, it was decided by the powers that be at Marvel that the Ultimate Universe had become a pale imitation of the mainstream Marvel Universe and needed to be stirred up. As the Ultimate Universe began to stagnate, Marvel decided to send a wave of change via the Ultimatum event. Over half of the Ultimate Universe was wiped out in one beautifully drawn, shittily written event. In the end, the X-Men and Fantastic Four were gone and the Ultimates were replaced with More Ultimate versions of Iron Man, Hulk, the Wasp and Black Widow.  After all, nothing says easy to understand with secret smarter brother of Iron Man or Clone of the Hulk.

Ultimate Spider-Man survived the Ultimatum Wave relatively unscathed, even gaining a new setting as Spider-Man dealt with the fallout of the disaster's effect on the city. If anything, Bendis scooping up Iceman and the Human Torch and moving them in with Spider-Man was inspired and presented a fresh new dynamic to the book. For the next two years, Bendis continued to grow the Ultimate Universe and establish new villains and threats to Spider-Man and his friends. It looked like the Ultimate Universe was shaping up nicely with a new mysterious villain (Mysterio), a couple of subplots (Spider-Woman, the Watchers) and even some new characters (that mother/daughter villain team whose name escapes me). For a bit, it looked like Bendis was laying the groundwork for an excellent second chapter dealing with the continued growth of Peter and his friends.

My single favorite issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. I got suspended from work for two days for reading this on a break.
However, Bendis did not plan out one threat to Ultimate Spider-Man, the threat of editorial mandate. During a creative summit focusing on the Marvel universe, Mark Millar pitched the idea of killing Ultimate Spider-Man in a crossover with an Ultimate miniseries to bring in new interest to the universe and shake things up only two years after the last world-altering event. Despite years of planned storylines, Bendis agreed to the storyline and wrote Peter Parker's last stance.

As spoiled by the New York Post last Tuesday, Ultimate Spider-Man died saving his friends and family from a collection of his villains. While the Death of Spider-Man didn't have the world altering scope of Ultimatum, its effects have a far larger consequence on the Ultimate Universe. For the last twelve years, Peter Parker has been the main human element in a world deliberately created for larger than life heroes and the tie that connected every corner of the universe together.

With Parker gone, the Ultimate Universe has lost not only one of its strongest and relatable characters but also a thematic element that tied together the X-Men, Ultimates, Fantastic Four and countless other heroes and villains.  In addition, Parker's death represents the last of the Ultimate character that still held true to the original principles that guided the Ultimate Universe at its founding. With all the recent changes in the Ultimate Universe, Ultimate Spider-Man was the only book featuring a classic iteration of a Marvel character set in the modern age. For the last twelve years, Ultimate Spider-Man has been the flagship of the Ultimate Universe and now that book is gone.

A Marvel Universe where neither Spider-Man nor Wolverine is alive?! But who will be on the Avengers then?
With the death of Peter Parker, one could make the argument that the Ultimate Universe that fans have experienced for the last twelve years is dead as well. After all, neither Ultimate Spider-Man nor the Ultimate X-Men exist in a fashion recognizable to the casual reader and the Ultimates have become an unholy union of Michael Bay like explosions and EXTREME heroes and villains.  Whatever the Ultimate Universe is, it's no longer a world featuring Marvel characters free from built-up backstory and continuity, which is precisely what it set out to do twelve years ago. To be honest, I think Marvel knew this going into the storyarc and decided that wiping away the last vestige of the "Old Ultimate Universe" was precisely what was needed to make way for the "New Ultimate Universe".

I'm not going to pretend that I'm not a little intrigued by the future of the Ultimate Universe. Marvel has brought in two of its hottest talents into the Universe to rebuild the world after the aftermath of the Death of Spider-Man. Both Nick Spencer and Jonathan Hickman have the ability to really take the ashes of the old Ultimate Universe and form it into something radically different than its mainstream counterpart. With the death of Ultimate Spider-Man, it's the only route the Ultimate Universe can go in now.

Mail Bag!

Last week's column caused a bit of a stir as I received two separate hate emails expressing that I should kill myself due to my disdain for Congorilla. I pondered what to say to the President and Vice President of the Congorilla Furries Society and whether to make it public. Several journalistic type friends of mine encouraged me to let it pass and not lower myself to their level. But what would be the fun in that?

My response: Congorilla sucks and if you enjoy the character so much that you feel the need to wish AIDS upon me, you probably have a stuffed golden gorilla in your closet that you lay with in a biblical sense when your mother is out playing bridge. Congorilla remains a lame Golden Age character that should have lingered in limbo with Ghetto Man and Ultra the Multi-Alien. I'm sorry that your only gorilla fix comes from comic books, but maybe you shouldn't have gotten banned from the zoo after you exposed yourself in the gorilla hut.

The Book of Mammon: Licensed Comic Books We Don't Have (Actually, Yes We Do)
Game of Thrones is freaking awesome, watched episode 1, must watch more soon! It's also got me in a craze to both read the books and play the board game.

But enough of that, this is a comic book site anyway.

This has got me thinking of what sort of comics i'd love to be reading.

1. Game of Thrones. (nobody saw this coming)
This story would be great is comic book form and I'm really surprised it isn't already being done yet.
(IGW Editor's Note: It is being made by IDW)

2. Caesar's Gallic War.
I cannot think of many things cooler than seeing Caesar siege Alesia, or his battle with Ariovistus. Caesar's purple cape would make for some iconic shots.

3. Starship Troopers.
Great book, great movie... great comic? I would bet money it would be if done right. I want my bugs going to town on the M.I. and Fleet. (IGW Editor's Note: Already been made by Dark Horse)

These are but the top three, I have so many other ideas floating around in my mind but with so little patience to write them down, i'll stop there. If anyone has other ideas for comics that I might/would like to see you should leave a post with your ideas!

The Comics (There Be Spoilers Below!):

Moment of the Week: Peter Parker dies saving his friends and family. (Ultimate Spider-Man #160)

Comic of the Week: Mystery Men #2: David Liss expertly ups the ante in the sophomore issue of his noir miniseries. Liss has created fleshed out characters in the span of two issues what other writers have failed to do in thirty.

Surprise of the Week: Gates of Gotham #2: This may be just a set up miniseries for Scott Snyder's upcoming run on Batman, but this has been one of the stronger depictions of Batman's supporting casts of late.

Body Count of the Week: The Outsider #1: James Robinson, we missed you and your good writing. It's good to see the old man still has it.

90's Alert: New Mutants #26 has interestingly followed Uncanny X-Force into Age of Apocalypse territory.   Expect pouches to start popping up any time now.

Other comics of note:

Iron Man 2.0 #5: Monkey Kings? Immortal Weapons?! Hammers!?! Dr. STRANGE!?!? I don't know what any of this has to do with Iron Man 2.0, but I really could care less.

Black Panther: Man Without Fear #520: Best depiction of Black Panther and Storm's relationship EVER. Whatever they're paying Liss to write these books, it's obviously not enough.

Action Comics #902: If I had a nickel every time Superman did something super in Cornell's Action run....I'd have one nickel.

Secret Avengers #14: I'm beginning to think that there's a common theme in Spencer's Fear Itself tie-ins....and that theme is that America's the shit....even when it's getting attacked by Nazi robots.

Search for Swamp Thing #1: I had to pull out my British translator to understand this one. Oy, mate! This book caused quite a ruck in me pullbox, guv'ner. Also, bollocks.


Donna Troy (JLA #58): Finally, James Robinson did something right with his League of Substitute JLAers. Goodbye and stay dead this time.

Ultimate Peter Parker (Ultimate Spider-Man #160): For all the fuss and hubbub this issue caused this past week, I will admit that this might be one of the most fitting and appropriate deaths that I've read in a comic book. Peter Parker died doing exactly what he wanted to do when he put on his Spider-tights: he saved the people he cared about. This was not a shock death nor was this a needless casualty. This was a fitting end to a story about a character who sacrificed his very life because he had the ability to protect others. Well done, Bendis. Well done.

Everything Else (Musings and whatnot):

Next week, IGW is actually doing midyear awards (there was some confusion as to the date last week.  I forgot there were four weeks in June) They will probably not be serious.   If you'd like to nominate a book for consideration (For Instance, Brightest Day is a shoo-in for Most limbs chopped off in a series), share them in the comments below.

Sorry for the lack of scans this week.  The scanner was being used to make emergency invitations. I grow more grateful by the day that I chose the open bar route for my reception.

Ultimate was used 59 times in this week's column. Bollocks was used twice.   Hornswaggle was used once.

Next Week: Insert witty feature that will probably never happen here!

Written or Contributed by: BlueStreak

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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