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The Final Ultimatum?

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The reason the Ultimate line of books came into existence has become the stuff of legend from the numerous times it was covered. The powers that be at Marvel wanted a way for new readers to jump onto comics featuring some of their favorite characters. But the mainstream books came loaded with the baggage that almost 40 years of continuity would bring. The books were almost totally inaccessible for any but the most dedicated fan.

Marvel had several options. They could have ignored the decades of prior continuity, which they tried on a limited basis, raising the distain of long-time fans. They could have rebooted their entire line to day one, which could very well have angered fans even more. They chose a third option—they started a new line.

The idea is to take Marvel’s greatest characters and restart them from the ground up. Readers would be presented with books that started at the beginning. There would be no need to know prior continuity because you would be reading the continuity as it developed. This accessibility was seen in the first offering of the Ultimate line, 2000s Ultimate Spider-Man.

This Spider-Man wasn’t married, had never been a clone, and never met Gwen Stacy, let alone watched her die. He wasn’t truly a man. He was still a teenager in high school.

But it was also clear from the get-go that this new line wouldn’t be a rote rehashing of the classic Marvel stories. Sure, what came before was a loose guideline for this new universe, but the creators were free to go in their own direction, and the Ultimate Universe created versions of the characters quite different than the mainstream Marvel ones.

Ultimate Spider-Man was soon followed by Ultimate X-Men, then the Ultimates. Soon, more series’ and miniseries’ came about to flash out the universe even more. More and more characters were given the Ultimate treatment, and, over eight years, the line that was supposed to be the continuity-free alternative to new readers became home to a continuity of its own. What was meant to be accessible has becomes as muddled as the regular Marvel Universe.

Rumor has it that Ultimatum will address that. It seems like the miniseries will act as a modern day Crisis on Infinite Earths, and untangle the knots created over the years in in Ultimate continuity.

But it is not know if the miniseries will act as a restart button or a stop button. Outside of Ultimate Spider-Man, which is guaranteed to stick around, every other Ultimate title is rumored to be cancelled. And if they are cancelled, it is not known what, if anything, will take their place.  

So, to say that this is a time of uncertainty for the fans of the Ultimate line would be an understatement. And adding to that uncertainty in the minds of some fans is the man tapped to clean up this mess—Jeph Loeb.

Loeb, who is known for his TV and film work, had brought over-the-top plots and flashy writing style to comics, the type of things you’d expect to see in your summer blockbuster. But they also think he’s not good at subtlety or, frankly, paying all that much attention to continuity.

His work on titles such as Superman/Batman, The Ultimates 3 and the “Hush” arc in Batman were big and brash stories, but had plot elements that didn’t jive with continuity at the time they were written.

This results in many questions for the miniseries. Will Ultimatum be the end of the Ultimate universe? And if so, is Jeph Loeb the man to write it? I guess we’ll find out the answers to these questions in the coming months.

Also out this week:

Sandman: The Dream Hunters #1:

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it has been 20 years since Neil Gaiman began his seminal work on The Sandman. Millions of fans believe that this is an anniversary well worth celebrating. And Vertigo is going to do just that with a miniseries reinterpreting a famous Sandman work of Gaiman’s from the past.

The Dream Hunters originally appeared as a graphic novella in 1999. The paperback paired Gaiman’s words with the art of the legendary Yoshitaka Amano. The original version of the story features Amano drawings accompanying Gaiman’s text. Now, it is getting the full graphic novel treatment in an adaptation by comics legend P. Craig Russell. This isn’t the first time Russell has adapted a Gaiman work. He has also adapted the author’s “Murder Mysteries” short story and did a graphic novel for his children’s book, Coraline.

Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell (W), P. Craig Russell (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Invincible Iron Man #7:

I have to say, I am a fan of Matt Fraction’s work. He is quickly becoming one of those writers that I will follow almost anywhere. The kind of writer where I’d love to see what he would do if he got his hands on this character or that one.

One of the characters in question would be Spider-Man. I think that Fraction would rock at writing the web-head. This week, I’ll get the chance to see if I was right, because the web-slinger visits Iron Man in this title this week.

Granted, a guest appearance won’t tell much about Fraction’s ability to write Spidey. But it might give a taste of what he could do with the character. And that’s what I am looking forward to.

Matt Fraction (W), Salvador Larroca   (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Kull #1:

Dark Horse continues its slavish devotion to all things Robert E. Howard this week as it brings arguably the author’s second-most well known character back to comic pages. Kull has starred in a Marvel adaptation and a feature film. Now, he comes back to comics with a six-issue miniseries.

This miniseries adapts Howards’s story, “The Shadow Kingdom.” It tells of a newly crowned King Kull looking to unite the whole of Valusia under one banner. Unfortunately for him, dark forces are conspiring against him to make sure that doesn’t happen. And it’s not just the opposing forces of Count Areyas. Kull’s dream of unity might be over before it ever begins.

Arvid Nelson (W), Will Conrad (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

LiquidCity:

Comic books today are an international medium. Not only are they popular all over the world, but also the people who create them live all over the world. Some of the hottest creators in American comics have never set foot in the country. Technological advances have made the globe that much smaller.

Large contingents of today’s artistic superstars live in the regions of Southeast Asia. This anthology graphic novel is a celebration of these artists. It features stories done by some of the regions biggest names and also stories about the countries they call home. Any comic fan who wishes to broaden their comic book cultural horizons should check this book out.

Various (W), Various (A), Image Comics, $24.99. Anthology Graphic Novel.

Adam: Legend of the Blue Marvel #1:

When it comes to meshing its publishing history into its continuity, Marvel has lagged slightly behind DC. After all, in the 60s, DC reintroduced their Golden Age characters into their shared universe full force and began building stories around them. Marvel tapped their Golden Age heroes in dribs and drabs and only recently tapped their lesser known characters from the 40s.

What Marvel has excelled at is creating new heroes that supposedly came from the “Atomic Age.” They first established the concept in 2000s Marvel: The Lost Generation, which detailed the adventures of a group of forgotten heroes of the late 1940s forward. Marvel returns to that concept again this week as this miniseries tells the adventures of yet another forgotten hero, one not seen since 1961.

Kevin Grevioux (W), Mat Broome (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion #1:

I don’t know about you, but it just doesn’t seem like a Sgt. Rock story without Joe Kubert doing it. Yes, I know that DC holds the rights to Sgt. Rock and can have any creator work on him that they choose. And I also know that Kubert was not first or only artist to work on the character. But there just aren’t that many characters and creators as linked as Mr. Rock and Mr. Kubert.

And this is not a shot at Billy Tucci. It is obvious that this series is a labor of love for the former Army veteran, who did research at Normandy and the Vosge Mountains where the story is set. And Tucci’s shining a light on the contributions of Japanese-American soldiers during World War II is a good thing. But it just doesn’t seem the same.

Billy Tucci (W/A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Michael Turner: The Tribute:

In the grand scheme of things, Michael Turner had a brief career in comics. He had been working in comics for about 13 years when he passed away earlier this year, which is not a long time to be an artist. And some might say that he was just hitting his stride when cancer took his life.

Turner had a great effect on comic book fans with his work for various companies, but he might have made a bigger impression on his coworkers and colleagues. It is hard to find a creator who had met him that didn’t call him a friend. Now, these friends are paying a final tribute to him in this special volume. Michael Turner might be gone, but his memory and legacy remains. 

Various (W), Various (A), Aspen Comics, $8.99. One-Shot.

Weapon X: First Class #1:

I have a question: haven’t we all reached a saturation point with Wolverine? Seriously, if the character isn’t featured in 8 Marvel books each month, I begin to fear that the apocalypse is coming. How much will come to be too much? Have we reached that yet? If not, how many more books must Wolvie be in before we get there?

Well, if the Clawed Canuck isn’t over saturated after this week, he never will be. If the Diamond website is to be believed, this is one of four books being released this week to prominently feature Wolverine or his back story. And that’s not counting his appearances in other X-Books or any Avengers titles. That’s four all by himself!

I eagerly await Marvel’s “Wolverine” month where he appears in each and every title Marvel puts out in that given month. You know it is coming, right?

Marc Sumerak (W), Mark Robinson (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Terra #1:

DC’s fascination with the character named Terra is, well, fascinating. The character first appeared during the now legendary “The Judas Contract” arc in The New Teen Titans. She was a teen who pretended to be a hero to infiltrate the group only to betray them to the Terminator. It was a great arc and she was written well by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. From that arc, she became a permanent member of DC’s pantheon of memorable characters.

Her impact was so great that DC returned to Terra again and again to try to cash in on the character. But each incarnation was missing something the Wolfman/Perez version had. But DC seems to think that the character’s history will make each new incarnation a winner. This latest version was supposed to appear right around One Year Later but was delayed. It’s got good creators behind it. Maybe this one will capture the magic that was Terra.

Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray (W), Amanda Conner (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also is the comic review editor for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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