During Marvel’s Next Big Thing Panel at New York Comic Con 2023, the publisher revealed plans for the titles in their newly relaunched Ultimate Universe line of comic books. In addition to the previously announced Ultimate Universe #1 coming November 1, 2023 from writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Stefano Caselli, and Ultimate Spider-Man from Hickman and artist Marco Checchetto on January 10, 2024, Marvel announced an upcoming Ultimate Black Panther and Ultimate X-Men. Ultimate Black Panther, the publisher’s first-ever ongoing for the character in the Ultimate line, will be written by Bryan Edward Hill with art by Caselli, and will be released on February 7, 2024. Ultimate X-Men #1 will round out the launch titles, written and drawn by up-and-coming superstar Peach Momoko, with a scheduled release date of March 6, 2024.
It has been 24 years since the original Ultimate Universe debuted with Ultimate Spider-Man #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in September 2000, with Ultimate X-Men #1 by Mark Millar and Andy Kubert following suit in December 2000. Eventually defined as Earth-1610, the Ultimate Universe offered Marvel Comics a chance to update their most well-known characters for the new millennium, returning Peter Parker to his origins and high school days, and fitting the X-Men and Ultimates (this verse’s version of the Avengers) into a post-9/11 America gripped by terror. Although two of the launch titles remain the same, there are several reasons to believe the relaunched Ultimate Universe will vary greatly from the original. In large part, the perceived differences offer a lot of promise for an exciting slate of comics to come.
For starters, while Jonathan Hickman has an established reputation both with Marvel as a whole and the Ultimate Universe specifically (Marvel even has an upcoming Ultimate Marvel by Jonathan Hickman omnibus slated for spring 2024), the other announced creators do not and can bring unique, modern viewpoints and styles to the line. Peach Momoko in particular is an inspired choice to head Ultimate X-Men, as the Japanese illustrator’s Demon Days saga is very much an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Marvel Universe through Momoko’s distinct style. We have not yet seen Momoko play within a shared universe, and allowing her to define what mutants will look like represents the kind of genuinely open-ended potential that only the Ultimate Universe can deliver.
Likewise, in 15 years of the original Ultimate Universe, Black Panther was relegated to an inconsequential bit part, primarily written by controversial Ultimate Universe contributor Jeph Loeb (Ultimatum) in the pages of Ultimate Captain America Annual #1 and Ultimates 3. This Ultimate Black Panther was quite literally given no voice, suffering mutism from a vicious injury to his vocal cords. By making Ultimate Black Panther one of three ongoing launch titles, the relaunched Ultimate Universe is declaring the importance of the character and Wakanda in modern appreciations of the Marvel Universe, both in the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If this Ultimate Universe is to reflect where Marvel is at now in 2023, the commitment to Black Panther is a must. With Bryan Edward Hill writing the title, Marvel also commits to a Black writer leading Black Panther, and a Japanese woman leading X-Men, signifying a diversity of creators; a defining failing of the original Ultimate Universe, especially in its formative days.
Narratively, the groundwork Hickman and artist Bryan Hitch established in their recent Ultimate Invasion miniseries sets up a very different foundation for a new Ultimate Universe. While the original Ultimate Universe often retained the foundations of the primary Marvel Universe (Earth-616) – A radioactive spider still bites Peter Parker as a teen; Professor Charles Xavier still assembles a group of teen mutants to fight against the mutant terrorist Magneto; Hank Pym still sucks – Hickman and Hitch’s building blocks are a lot more complicated. Instead of a mere modernization, the new Ultimate Universe (Earth-6160) is a creation of The Maker’s (a Jonathan Hickman favorite from the original Ultimate Universe; the long story short is The Maker’s an evil version of Reed Richards with a big long hat), remade as a world largely devoid of the heroes who had opposed The Maker in the past. So in Ultimate Invasion, we see The Maker prevent the radioactive spider from biting a teen Peter Parker, Asgard is subdued and Thor is imprisoned, and this universe’s Reed Richards is held prisoner wearing the mask and attire of Doctor Doom, with the remaining members of the would-be Fantastic Four listed as deceased. Nonetheless, there are familiar Marvel names who have survived The Maker’s vision, including the likes of Hulk, Colossus, and Illyana Rasputin, all of whom are involved in a global collective working with The Maker to shape geopolitics.
By book’s end, it’s ultimately (heh) a young Tony Stark, working to avenge the original Iron Man, Howard Stark, who disturbs The Maker’s plans and sets the stage for a potential formation of a new Ultimates, and an Earth-6160 that can grow into its own Marvel world full of heroes and villains. This is where the universe sits heading into November’s Ultimate Universe #1, both tied to the existing shared universes of 616 and 1610, but with the potential to carve its own path forward as the Marvel Universe most aligned with the world of the 2020s.
How this manifests will reside with the trio of talented creative teams assigned to launch titles, but we do already have some clues. During the NYCC panel, Hickman stated his Ultimate Spider-Man would be a “Peter B. Parker situation” (referencing the Jake Johnson voiced character from Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse) teasing a main character in mid-life rather than the familiar teen origins. At the same time, Marvel’s teaser trailer for the new Ultimate Universe shows a web-slinging Spider-Man with costumes shifting from the standard red-and-blue to the black symbiote to Miguel O’Hara’s Spider-Man 2099 look, calling to mind the multiversal Spider-Man story Hickman and Checchetto delivered for last year’s Amazing Fantasy #1000. How these elements will interact is anyone’s guess (it’s hard to imagine Hickman and Checchetto will want to imitate Into the Spider-Verse too heavily), but it makes for an exciting early premise.
All these clues have one thing in common: they’re teasing stories and approaches to the Marvel Universe we haven’t seen before. What more could you want from a new Ultimate Universe?
Popverse will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of New York Comic Con 2023, with an all-star crew of writers, editors, and video producers there all four days (and nights), as well as in advance of the show. You can follow along to this coverage as well as the panels we’re streaming with ourNYCC Popverse coverage guide. Launch titles and creative teams have been revealed, which gives us plenty of info to start theorizing what Marvel’s ne… Read More