In September 2007, Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (by Brian Michael Bendis, Bill Jemas, and Mark Bagley) arrived in comic stores and altered the course of pop culture for generations. Not only did Marvel’s Ultimate Universe reimagine the publisher’s most iconic characters in exciting new ways, but it also made them more grounded than they had ever been before.
This makes it all the more surprising that only a few months before the Ultimate Universe debuted, another alternate timeline took to the exact same premise in a very different direction. While the presence of other iterations of the Marvel Universe had long been a staple of comics in general, the introduction of Marvels Comics was more than another What If? style series of stand-alone stories.
The Stars of Marvels Comics
All released the same week in May 2000, the Marvels Comics line consisted of six one-shot titles that were only loosely connected. Thisline was intended to be the titles that the inhabitants of the Marvel Universe would read for themselves. This led to some particularly interesting creative possibilities in the real world, such as being able to credit characters like Rick Jones and Steve Rogers as writers and illustrators of Marvel Comics: Captain America #1 (by Peter David, Ron Frenz, and Mark Bagley). Like Captain America, Marvel’s First Family, aka the Fantastic Four, were able to see themselves translated in Marvels Comics: Fantastic Four #1 (by Karl Kesel and Paul Smith).
The stories told in the six Marvels Comics titles were as varied as those titles themselves. For the Fantastic Four, this meant being able to catch a glimpse of adventures that were absurd and embellished to make up for the lack of insider perspective. Similarly, other Marvel characters were lampooned in the pages of Marvel Comics, with Namor being paired up with the Mole Man and Thor being treated with a definitively uncertain reverence. Unfortunately for the majority of the Marvel characters given the Marvel Comics treatment, their in-world comic book counterparts were hardly family friendly, let alone respectful of their supposed source material.
Marvels Comics Pushed the Envelope Beyond the Ultimate Universe
While Captain America, Thor, and the Fantastic Four all managed to hang on to some amount of their dignity in being transcribed into the fiction of fiction, the other stars of Marvels Comcs weren’t as lucky. For Daredevil, this meant being portrayed as a man named Jimmy Fyre who, possessed by a literal demon desperate to get into Heaven, patrols Hell’s Kitchen in search of divine intervention and death at the same time. On the surface, this might be the kind of portrayal that Matt Murdock can appreciate considering his motivations and motif. Looking deeper, however, and it becomes clear that Marvels Comics: Daredevil #1 (by Tony Isabella and Eddy Newell) was “written” out of a genuine fear of who and what its titular hero could be.
Marvel Comics: Spider-Man #1 (by Paul Grist and Kyle Hotz) did much the same for its titular hero, if not worse. Not only was this version of the hero portrayed as a literal cannibalistic monster, the characters of Jay T. Thomas (aka Spider-Man) and his father T.T.Thomas were directly based on John Jameson and his father, J. Jonah Jameson. As such, the portrayal of Spider-Man being a monster was not only a pointed bit of fantasy, it effectively made the series a mockery of the events of the primary Marvel Universe in which John Jameson almost lost his life aboard a space shuttle mission. If that weren’t bad enough, Marvels Comics: X-Men #1 (by Mark Millar and Sean Phillips) was explicitly designed as a piece of in-universe propaganda, which both elevates it beyond any mere comic and adds a disturbing layer to the story within its pages.
Does the Marvels Comics Universe Deserve Another Chance?
As a concept, there was never any real chance for Marvels Comics to last beyond its handful of introductory issues. However, things are much different today. Between the in-universe revelations regarding numerous heroes’ identities, mantles changing hands openly and in secret, and the myriad of major events like Judgment Day that have taken the Marvel Universe by storm, there are countless directions in which those could all be reinterpreted within the confines of the mainstream universe.
That being said, there likely isn’t much room for that kind of exploration in today’s comics. On top of the fact that the real Marvel Comics would have to dedicate so much time and so many creators to such an endeavor, there is the question of how much different a line like thiswould even look today. While there is no doubt that mutants would be depicted as murderous terrorists all over again, there is no telling how that would be received. Based on the way the popular zeitgeist has shifted since the last turn of the century, it is hard to imagine that the tastes of the inhabitants of the Marvel Universe haven’t similarly changed to appreciate stories that are more fiction than fact from where they are sitting.
The year 2000 saw the Ultimate Marvel Universe change comics forever, but it also introduced another different take on fans’ favorite heroes. Read More