The Ultimate Universe makes a triumphant return to the pages of Marvel Comics with the release of Ultimate Universe #1. However, it’s important to note that this is not the original Ultimate Universe that readers might be familiar with. It’s a new Ultimate Universe in name, not character or story. It’s a little confusing, and Marvel’s marketing hasn’t been as crystal clear on that front as one might hope. But with Jonathan Hickman at the helm, it’s safe to bet on readers showing up. Ultimate Universe #1, written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Stefano Caselli, colors by David Curiel, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna, and design by Jay Bowen, introduces readers to a brand-new imagining of the Ultimate Universe.

This series spirals out of the events of Ultimate Invasion, the recent 6-issue series that served as a springboard for bringing the Ultimate Universe back to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this relaunch. The titles announced so far have stellar creative teams attached and genuinely interesting concepts at their core. This book, Ultimate Universe #1, is supposed to be the initial building block. It mostly succeeds. New #1’s in comics are supposed to be approachable for all, friendly for any reader to pick up without any prior knowledge, and not feel as if they’re missing crucial context for the story to work. Unfortunately, this issue falters slightly in this regard.

The main thrust of the story here is that the Maker — an evil version of Reed Richards from the original Ultimate Universe — traveled to a different universe, the new Ultimate Universe readers are seeing. Upon arriving at the new Ultimate Universe, he used the knowledge he’d gained to thwart heroes from experiencing their origin stories. He effectively created a universe without any heroes. Eventually, the Maker was defeated by Howard Stark and sealed inside his future city, leaving the world in a state of uncertainty. Now there is a small band of heroes, including Doctor Doom — this universe’s Reed Richards — Tony Stark, and Thor trying to right the wrongs of the Maker.

This issue does a solid job at establishing the general motives of the Maker and what’s at stake, but it does feel like it’s missing a lot of context if readers hadn’t also read Ultimate Invasion. It’s understandable, considering that Ultimate Invasion was the setup for this series, but this issue feels slightly more context-dependent than most first issues. Readers are dropped into the world and given enough information to follow the immediate story that’s unfolding, but the larger context feels blurry. There is a data page at the start of the issue that establishes what numbered Earth this is — 6160 as opposed to the 1610 designation of the original Ultimate Universe. This is a useful distinction to have since Marvel is just going with the same name twice, but it’s only useful to fans who are already familiar with the original number for the Ultimate Universe. It’s not exactly new-reader-friendly in that regard. While it doesn’t hurt the reading experience much overall, it’s a small lack of clarification that feels frustrating.

The backbone of this first issue follows Doctor Doom and Iron Man as they recruit Thor and begin to undo the manipulations of the Maker. Hickman nails the pacing here. Ultimate Universe #1 features a fairly small cast of characters, which gives Hickman plenty of room to work with their personalities. It’s engaging to see the slight differences in characterization in these versions of the characters compared to their 616 counterparts and how they interact with each other. The world Hickman creates is fascinating. He takes a simple idea — one man manipulating if, when, and how heroes are made — and extrapolates it to a global geopolitical scale.

Hickman is doing what he does best, taking big concepts and reinventing things by coming at them from a different angle. Injecting new life and ideas into things familiar to make them bold, fresh, and exciting. What he’s doing now is only the Ultimate Universe in name, which is kind of the point. The whole idea of the original Ultimate Universe was that it presented a different Marvel Universe from the one readers knew. Hickman is doing that again, completely. It wouldn’t make sense to bring the Ultimate Universe back as the same Ultimate Universe as before. Especially not considering the fact that Hickman’s the one who destroyed it in the first place during Secret Wars.

It had to be something totally new, with new ideas to reflect how the world has changed since the first time the Ultimate Universe invaded Marvel. It works strikingly well. Readers are already invested in these characters. That’s been proven time and again, but the circumstances have to be equally interesting. It’s not enough to have a great character if the story they’re in fails to deliver. The situation presented here gets increasingly compelling with reflection. The implications are massive, and the scale is absolute, but it feels incredibly grounded because of the characters and their reactions to the world.

This issue is oversized, clocking in at 40 pages, and Caselli delivers a visual treat at every turn. The character designs are top-tier, offering slightly altered designs for heroes everyone is familiar with. It’s easy to get lost staring at the differences in this design for Doom compared to the classic 616 suit or to be left in awe of the hulking god that is this universe’s Thor. It helps set these characters apart from those readers know while establishing an instant bond. This is Doom, but not like he’s been seen before. It’s Thor, but he’s not the royalty known across the Realms. The list goes on, and it works like a charm.

Caselli consistently employs dramatic, cinematic camera angles in sequences. Mjölnir will loom larger than Thor thanks to its positioning relative to the viewer, signifying the power it holds. The action is always easy to follow, with steady, clear beats moving readers from one moment to the next. There’s a boldness to the linework that gives everything on the page added weight. This further adds to the impact during the handful of combat situations that unfold. Caselli nails the quiet moments just as effectively as the action. Character expressions and body language keep the art exciting even when no laser blasts are being fired.

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Curiel’s colors bring an incredible atmosphere to the title. The use of lighting, from the sheen of braziers to the glow of Mjölnir, consistently adds depth to the pages. The environments feel like they’re genuinely lived in. A decent amount of this issue takes place in relatively neutrally shaded areas — nondescript throne rooms or sterile labs — but the pop of colors from each character’s costume always keeps things visually interesting. Blues and reds tend to be the primary standouts on each page. The feeling of energy emanating from each shade during battles is intense and really serves to elevate the action as it unfolds.

This is a hefty script, with a few pages of pure exposition and some fairly wordy fights alongside those. Caramagna’s lettering keeps everything feeling tidy and easy to follow. Speech bubbles never overtake the art and instead work to accent it. Some characters — Iron Man, for example — receive special speech bubble patterns, lending them a different feel for their voice. The sound effects are peppered throughout the issue but remain surprisingly subtle. They feel so in tune with what’s happening on the page that it’s not noticeable. They just help immerse the reader even further into the story. Bowen’s design work shows up in a few data pages that bookend the issue, and it’s some stunning work. The pages aren’t as extensive as some that can be seen in other Hickman projects, but they do offer some valuable insight into the world through an easy-on-the-eyes graphic.

This series has a lot of pressure on it. It’s got big-name creators with a ton of history and audience expectations attached. It doesn’t shy away from the pressure and instead drives full force into delivering something worth the hype. It’s not a perfect opening salvo, but it’s more than enough to emphatically announce its presence. With Ultimate Universe #1, Hickman and the rest of the creative team deliver a worthy start to a new Marvel Universe.

The Ultimate Universe
7 / 10

THE SPOILS OF VICTORY! After the worlds-shaking conclusion of ULTIMATE INVASION, a new team of heroes bands together to save the future! From mastermind Jonathan Hickman and superstar artist Stefano Caselli, don’t miss out on this foundational issue for the new line of Ultimate Comics!

 The Ultimate Universe takes a new form in this foundational issue from Jonathan Hickman and Stefano Caselli. Here’s CBR’s review.  Read More