For those that don’t know, the Ultimate imprint is Marvel’s attempt to redo their standard continuity (referred to as the 616 universe), most of which was set in place in the 60s, with a more up to date, modern, take on it’s heroes. When I first heard about the Ultimate universe I didn’t like it. Captain America was too angry, Iron Man was too willfully alcoholic and Galactus was too swarmy, and so for a while I had turned my back on the it for the standard continuity. It may not have been perfect, but it was what I was used to.
Then, in 2008, along came Ultimatum. It was a story arch that tied together all of the comics under the Utimates brand, and generated quite a lot of talk from fans and critics. Almost all of that talk was negative. Throughout the course of Ultimatum over 30 major characters were, unnecessarily most would agree, killed off. Some in ways that seemed to have only been put in for the gore factor Dr Strange being strangled and squeezed to death by his own robes, and Wasp being eaten by the Blob are two cases that spring to mind. If the point of Ultimatum was to increase attention through bad publicity then it worked for me, I read it and followed it with great interest. And since then I’ve been becoming more and more interested in the Ultimates universe , specifically in the ways it differs from the usual 616 continuity.
No More (Natural) Mutants
The Ultimates universe is a lot more consistent. One of the benefits of looking back over 40 years of continuity is you can make everything fit together. As shown in Ultimates: Origins nearly everyone has a common source of their powers; meddling scientists . Where as a lot of the original 616 continuity revolves around people getting their powers from radiation (science used to be all about the radiation), the Ultimates universe is concerned with the more modern poster children of science, genetic modification and advanced technology. Pretty much everyone either got their powers from trying to genetically recreate the Super Soldier Serum that created Captain America, with even the X-Men and the mutant race being the result of the attempt by a group of Canadian scientists, or from exo-suits and high tech gadgetry.
I really like the fact that everything and everyone is linked. It gives the sense of a much larger scale to things and makes the universe feel less fragmented than the 616 one can sometimes feel. To me it feels more like one big story, and because of the commonality of all the hero’s origins it feels slightly more believable. There is obviously still vast amounts of suspension of disbelief, but slightly less so then for 616.
Realism, But Not Too Much
I’ve heard people comment on why people like Batman or Iron man keep all their amazing inventions to themselves . With all that technology surely they could revolutionize the world? This is explored to some extent in the Ultimates universe. The heroes work more closely with, and for, S.H.I.E.L.D as almost special ops teams rather than vigilantes. As such a lot of the technology or abilities they have are used by S.H.I.E.L.D.
For example, Hank Pym is a scientist who, in both the normal Marvel continuity and the Ultimates Universe, discovered a way to enlarge himself to 60ft high. Now if someone had invented a way to do this, and were dedicated to helping people, then it makes no sense for them to keep it to themselves. In the Ultimates universe Pym and S.H.I.E.L.D use this technology to create a whole team of giant men, that can help out in disasters.
The same goes for super soldiers. After the success of Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D and the Europeans are trying to replicate the science in order to mass produce super soldiers. S.H.I.E.L.D are going for genetic enhancements while the E.D.I (European Defense Initiative) going for a technological approach with exo-suits. If the technology exists and works then why not make more? Why settle for just one Captain America or Giant Man when you can have whole units of them?
Now I like the 616 continuity, but I also like the Ultimate universe. But which is better? At the moment I still prefer the 616 universe. The sheer amount of available history to get lost in is staggering and I’ve spent far more time exploring it. The Ultimate universe is growing on me more and more though. Maybe one day it will topple 616 from the top spot. Maybe sooner than I would have once considered.
As my girlfriend always like to point out, it seems like everyone in comics has at least 2 masters degrees and are always the leading experts in their fields. I guess the most likely person to be involved in a science accident or breakthrough is a scientist, but where are all the postgraduate research assistant superheroes?↩