Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli’s Spider-Men II ended much like it began: full of action and shrouded in mystery. Though the comic never quite got around to answering its central question, its finale did feature the surprising return of Marvel’s Ultimate universe.
The Earth-1610 universe was biggest casualty of Marvel’s most recent Secret Wars event—the culmination of a year’s long storyarc in which multiverse decay threatened to destroy reality itself. By its end, Earth-1610 (and all of its characters like the Ultimates) died so Earth-616 (Marvel’s prime reality) could be reborn with a couple of new players like Miles Morales hopping over to join Marvel’s most popular heroes.
After that, it appeared as if Marvel was entirely done with Earth-1610, given that all of the publisher’s Ultimate titles had been cancelled and its most famous hero (Miles) has been incorporated into other Marvel books. But in Spider-Men II, Miles’ Earth-616 counterpart manages to create an interdimensional portal to another Earth where he hopes to find the love of his life, who’s already dead in his reality. His search is successful, but what was really surprising was that the reality Miles stepped into appeared to be a slightly updated version of Earth-1610, featuring a new team of Ultimates including Ironheart.
This narrative decision was certainly an interesting one especially considering that Bendis, a longtime Marvel fixture and architect of the original Ultimate universe, is leaving the publisher for rival DC later this year. With that in mind, Tumblr user Alex Chung asked Bendis point blank if he knew he’d be leaving Marvel when he first decided to bring the Ultimate universe back. Bendis said no, and explained that he’d always planned to bring the universe back because of the fans:
I brought the Ultimate universe back because so many people brought up to me that supporting it for all those years and now having it gone was just a bummer. I agreed. Not for ego, Even though I’m sure there’s a little in there, but as a fan I agreed with the sentiment.
I hope Marvel realizes what the Ultimate line means to so many fans and finds a way to re-embrace it.
Looking at Marvel’s portfolio now, it can be difficult to forget where the company was during the late ‘90s when it was struggling to stay afloat and barely dodging bankruptcy by the skin of its teeth. Of the many initiatives the publisher took to save itself, the Ultimate imprint is by far one of the most important.
Books like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, and The Ultimates breathed new life into Marvel comics and gave readers an opportunity to drive into multiple new stories at their inception. What’s more, the Ultimate universe has served as something of a template for much of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as the company has shifted its focus to big-budget films. In a way, the Ultimate universe was the key to Marvel (the company’s) survival, specifically because it was the gateway into comics for many, many readers.
Bendis may be leaving Marvel behind, but at the very least his legacy will live on... in the form of the multiverse’s most dysfunctional team of Avengers you’ve ever seen. Seriously, go back and read that stuff. It’s wild.