As you know, speculating on the fate of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe is an ongoing concern around here. Initially launched way back at the turn of the millenium with the intent of providing continuity-free updates of Marvel characters to appeal to a modern audience, the imprint succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations. Not only did “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Ultimate X-Men” sell incredibly well, they were also great comics too. For a while, the imprint looked unstoppable, then… Well it’s hard to say exactly at what point things stopped looking so new and shiny, but sales started to flag and the comics stopped being better than the versions of the characters we were getting in the mainstream Marvel Universe. The company tried to jump-start interest with the reputedly awful “Ultimatum” event which saw the wholesale slaughter of a good chunk of the imprint’s characters, and after the boost from that wore off they killed Peter Parker and brought in Miles Morales as Spider-Man. While that proved to be a more creatively satisfying move than you would expect, and this latest relaunch has had its moments, it was clear from the sales that the universe had run its course at least as far as most fans have been concerned.
Now Galactus is preparing to eat the Earth in the current “Cataclysm” miniseries and I’m expecting this to be the last we’ll hear of the Ultimate Universe for now. However, Rich Johnston raised a potentially fascinating idea for where things are going to end up. It’s a great tie-in to the current “New Avengers” series, but an ignominious end for this imprint.
If you’ll recall, Jonathan Hickman’s current run on “New Avengers” involves the Illuminati dealing with the incursion of other universes into their own. While we haven’t seen a whole lot of these other universes -- except for that one which implied Magneto got everything he ever wanted -- there have been characters like the Black Swan, a new Terrax, and new threats like the Mapmakers coming in from them. Johnston’s theory basically supposes that the Ultimate Universe may wind up becoming one of these incursions.
It would certainly give a great sense of scale to the goings on in “New Avengers” and really play up the moral ambiguity of its protagonists’ actions. Of course, the one flaw in the man’s reasoning (which, I only realized as I was writing this) is that it’s established in the first volume that destroying Earth will prevent such an incursion. So if Galactus does eat the Ultimate Earth then it’s the end of the imprint and of this very idea. If the planet survives, of which there’s going to be a Bendis-written miniseries of a similar name in the aftermath of this event, then the incursion theory is still possible.
Thinking about how such an event would play out in “New Avengers” comes with a bit of perverse fascination. As I just said, it would give weight to the characters’ actions here as they’re not just killing any old world. You can have them yammer on and on about the billions of lives being lost by killing Earths in these incursions, but to have them do it to an Earth populated by characters we know and like. That’s a different matter. I can also see Hickman playing up the “meta” angle of the conflict with the Marvel stalwarts coming face to face with versions of themselves who were far more popular than them at one point only to wind up as afterthoughts. You almost wonder if it’ll play out as a kind of metaphysical “mercy kill” here.
Also important is the fact that such an encounter would allow any characters Marvel creators and editorial wanted, like Miles Morales, to survive the death of the universe. Writing it out like this, it seems like a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution to me. We get a big story that’ll undoubtedly boost the sales of “New Avengers” while giving closure to the concept of the Ultimate Universe and cherry-picking its best ideas for use elsewhere.
Still, to think that the Ultimate Universe’s fate was to wind up as a plot point? It still makes me a little depressed to think about it. There were lots of great characters and stories that sprang from this imprint, and it could also be argued that these comics informed the current “Marvel Movieverse” to a fairly significant end as well. So to have it end up as fodder for someone else’s story? All I can say is that if I do turn out to be right about this, Hickman had better well make this story a damn good one!