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Ultimate Failure?

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The Ultimate line failed to be the continuity-free alternative to the Marvel universe. Ultimatum was meant to fix this. But did the fix work? We find out this week.

You’ve heard it a thousand times. The Ultimate line was supposed to provide a continuity free entryway into Marvel’s characters for all the people enchanted with Marvel’s film successes. It was a new direction for the characters, as all were restarted from scratch and taken in new directions.

The new directions ranged from subtle changes to the norm, such as making Peter Parker a teenager again and having Mary Jane become a classmate of his, to the extreme, such as making Hulk a cannibal and Wolverine the type of person who would kill a teammate who was a rival for the affections of a woman.

And while the idea behind the Ultimate line was accessibility, a fascination with taking the classic Marvel characters down divergent paths hampered that mission. Creators wanted to leave their stamp on the legendary heroes and villains, and fans were anxious to see how the same would be changed.

As time went on, more and more Marvel characters were given the Ultimate treatment, causing more and more additions to the once pristine continuity. Once you got to the point where lower tier characters such as the Serpent Squad and Ka-Zar were making an appearance, it became clear that a shake up was needed. That shake up was provided by Jeph Loeb and David Finch in the form of the Ultimatum series.

In the interest of fairness, I did not pick up Ultimatum. This could be summed up by two words—Jeph Loeb. I am not a fan of his writing and believed he would be woefully lacking in the task of rebooting the Ultimate universe. And reviews of the series seemed to bear me out. The majority were negative and most reviewers took special glee in savaging the series.

Ultimatum, from recaps and reviews I read, was less a comic book than an abattoir—characters would walk into the series whole and leave as mangled corpses. It was relentlessly violent and bloody and, by the end, the Ultimate universe was lighter by at least 30 characters.

What the series did not do, it seems, is hit the reset button. The revamped Ultimate line comes tomorrow with Ultimate Comics Avengers and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and will deal with the post-Ultimatum Ultimate universe. So, while the amount of characters in the universe might be significantly decreased, there is still the convoluted continuity to deal with. People picking up these number ones will have to be brought up to speed on the critically lambasted Ultimatum and the nearly 10 years of stories that came before it.

Granted, these two comics will be written by the men who helped build the Ultimate universe—Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis—so you know the stories will be good and the authors will be writing characters they are familiar with. But the problems that existed before are still around and still need to be addressed.

If the Ultimate line was supposed to be the more welcoming alternative to the regular Marvel books, it failed. If it is supposed to provide good stories, judging on reaction to Ultimatum, it failed. The result is that instead of Ultimate Comics Avengers and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man being a fresh start and great jumping on point, they have become series that will have to make up for the Ultimate line’s failings. In other words, the Ultimate line might just be in worse shape than it was before. Good luck to Millar and Bendis.

Also out this week:

Blackest Night: Batman #1

You know what? Someone should sit down with the DC Editorial staff and give them a stern talking to regarding making sure their big events match up, especially when it comes to the deaths of their characters. It appeared that Hawkman and Hawkgirl were supposed to die in Final Crisis yet they popped up in Blackest Night. Aquaman actually made several on-panel appearances in Final Crisis, yet is among the dead in Blackest Night.

And then there’s Batman. At the end of Final Crisis, he was seen back in caveman days alive and well. Yet, there is a corpse that is buried in the Wayne family plot that plays a major role in, you guessed it, Blackest Night. So, is Bruce Wayne really dead? Are the remains from the future? Will we get answers in this series? The answers to most of these questions probably will be no.

Peter J. Tomasi (W), Adrian Saef (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Starstruck #1

Few comics have the history that Starstruck has. It had it’s beginnings on the Off-Broadway stage. A comic prequel was serialized in the legendary Heavy Metal magazine and later reprinted by Marvel’s Epic imprint in the 1980s and Dark Horse in the 1990s, each time the story was expanded.

Now, Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta’s series is once again being reprinted, this time by IDW. The series will be re-colored by Lee Moyer and the Galactic Girl Guides back-ups inked by the legendary Charles Vess to provide the best package for today’s audiences. Since it has been 18 years since it has appeared, this is an excellent time for new fans to discover the unique and legendary series and old fans to reconnect with it.

Elaine Lee (W), Michael Wm. Kaluta (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Thirteen-Issue Miniseries.

Escape from Wonderland #1

Zenescope’s line of fairy tale books has been called “Fables with breasts” due to similarities in source material. But don’t be confused with the nuts and bolts of each. Fables uses classic nursery rhyme characters as its cast and creates stories about their lives in the present day. Zenescope offers horror-themed interpretations of the classic tales with a continuity all its own. Oh, and characters like Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood wearing low-cut blouses and Wonderbras.

The latest edition of Zenescope’s twisted look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland hits stores this week. Calie Liddle, daughter to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, is trapped in Wonderland and is witnessing the madness of the magical land seeping into reality. The only way for her to stop it is to escape Wonderland, a feet that is all but impossible. 

Raven Gregory (W), Daniel Leister (A), Zenescope Entertainment, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

G-Man: Cape Crisis #1

Most Marvel fans have fallen in love with Chris Giarrusso’s Mini-Marvel’s comic strips, which have appeared quite frequently throughout Marvel’s comics. They work as all-ages fun and witty satire, often featuring laugh-out loud gags throughout.

Marvel, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to become stingy with the Mini-Marvels, preferring to focus the kid-strip audience to its toy-line tie-in, Marvel Super Hero Squad.

Well, that could be the best thing that ever happened to us, because while Giarrusso has cut back on Mini-Marvels, he is bringing us G-Man stories. While he won’t have miniature versions of Iron Man and Thor to work with, all of comics are not an open target. Which is a good thing.

Chris Giarrusso (W/A), Image Comics, $2.99. Five-Issue Miniseries.

Hero Comics: A Hero Initiative Benefit Book

If there was one comic book in today’s column that I would say is a absolutely must add to your comic orders, it would be this one. As the title says, proceeds from this book benefit The Hero Initiative, a charity that aids comic creators in need. It’s a great cause and one which I support whenever and however I can.

If it being such a great cause isn’t enough to get you to act, then consider the fact that this issue will feature a brand new American Flagg story from Howard Chaykin (which, believe you me, is a BIG deal) and superstar artist Art Adams will be giving his interpretation of classic Marvel covers. On top of that, you get stories from some of the biggest names working in comics today. How can you resist?

Various (W), Various (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. One-Shot.

Red Herring #1

For those of you who don’t know, a red herring is an idiom usually found in mysteries and thrillers which is used to divert the audiences attention from true culprit and to keep them guessing to the very end. That being said, you should be careful how you interpret the clues in this conspiracy thriller, because there might be a couple false leads thrown your way and the lead character might not be the only Red Herring you find.

This series focuses on a shadowy conspiracy between a race of invading aliens and a bunch of big businessmen. It’s written by David Tischman, who wrote the excellent Greatest Hits series for Vertigo. So, odds are this will be one mystery you will want to uncover.

David Tischman (W), Phillip Bond (A), DC/Wildstorm Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.


Dominic Fortune #1

I might be alone in this, but I love it when creators come back to characters they have created or helped define. John Byrne brought one of the first characters he worked on, Iron Fist, in the pages of Namor. Chris Claremont brought Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel/Carol Danvers, Rogue and many others into the pages of Uncanny X-men. And they are not alone in this.

This week, Howard Chaykin returns to a little known creation of his—Dominic Fortune. He created the pulp-like hero for Marvel back in 1975. Since then, Chaykin has gone on to bigger and better things, and the character has been relatively untouched since then.

Now, Chaykin is back on his creation, writing and drawing this miniseries. Warning: It is a MAX book and Chaykin is a master of adult material. If you shy away from graphic sex and violence, well, shy away from this one. 

Howard Chaykin (W/A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine 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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