Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wednesday Comics: Marvel's Ultimate Line

There was a time with the exception of X-Factor, the only Marvel books I carried were the ones from the Ultimate Line. Last week I cancelled all of my Ultimate books.

Let's back up. MANY SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT READ THE ULTIMATE BOOKS. Back in the early 2000's, Marvel decided to set up an alternate comic universe in which to re-boot all or most of its main characters.

I remember when the first Ultimate book, Ultimate Spider-Man came out. I had issue one in my hand and I thought: “This looks stupid.” It seemed to me a cynical attempts for Marvel to seem hip and cool by updating the story of Peter Parker for the iPod generation. So I didn't buy it.

What a mistake. The Ultimate Spider-Man line was one of the best in comics. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley had the longest running single title collaboration in the history of the medium. The literally re-wrote the book on Spider-Man and made it even better. To this day, Bendis has written the entire series, so the comic is essential one giant story. For years, the stories were at times imaginative, heart-breaking, and laugh-out-loud funny (I still cannot get over that in the middle of a fight for his life, Spider-Man pantsed Dr. Octopus!).

Ultimate X-Men was, to my mind, a less successful reboot, where the biggest change appeared to be making everyone a little more of a jerk.

The Ultimates, however, had some of the best, most high-octane action I have ever read. With beautiful art and crisp storytelling, series 1 and series 2 slowly ramped up the tension until it exploded with and beautiful cacophony of action.

And then there was the hidden gem of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Warren Ellis did a fine job at first, but Mark Millar took the ball and ran with it and won the game, hands down. For good or ill, he is the one who introduced the Marvel Zombies, but he did it in a way that exhilarated rather than disgusted. And his “President Thor” storyline was so fun and imaginative that I cannot speak well enough about it.

Then came the Ultimatum. Writer Jeff Loeb wrote a story in which he killed off large portion of the heroes and villains. While this was admittedly daring, it also came across as often pointless. Death for the sake of shock is empty. Death for the sake of story can be powerful. Loeb chose the former.

And then there was another type of reboot.

The Ultimates became rather boring. The plot of the current storyline, where our heroes have to fight an evil enemy threatening to envelope the world, has been played out way too long, with no strong resolution. And I cannot find myself caring about the characters as I did before.

Nick Spencer took over Ultimate X-Men. I loved the idea of Kitty Prude stepping up to a leading role of outcast mutants. Spencer began this hot off the buzz of his independent book Morning Glories. But then he decided to retread the famous “God Loves, Man Kills,” storyline. In the regular Marvel continuity, this involved Revered Stryker preaching that it was our Christian duty to kill mutants. Christianity, of course, being the religion where our leaders speak openly from the pulpit about killing people they don't like. No wait-... Anyway, I never found out how that story was resolved, because I didn't feel like paying $3.99 a month for someone to tell me I'm a bigot.

But my one glimmer of hope was Ultimate Spider-Man. Bendis never let me down as a writer, and I loved Peter Parker. So of course, Bendis decided to kill him.

The story where Peter dies is amazing. It has within it all the best of the Ultimate Spider-Man series. It has sensational art, amazing pacing, and spectacular character moments. It was moving and fantastic. The aftermath stories also allowed for closure to this wonderful character. 

 But then they made a new Spider-Man.

Miles Morales is a young kid, much younger than the high school aged Peter Parker. He has no association with the original cast of characters. His powers are different. His motivations are different. Now a lot of hay has been made about the fact that the new Spider-Man is part black and hispanic. As someone who ascribes to the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr., I could care less about his ethnic background. Bendis' writing is still as sharp as ever and the art is fine. None of that is at fault. The problem is much more fundament with this new Spider-Man: he is not Peter Parker.

If this book had been called something else, Spider-Kid or Tarantuala Child, that would be fine. But I  read Peter Parker, I knew Peter Parker, Peter Parker was a friend of mine. Miles Morales, you're no Peter Parker.

Miles Morales can be something else, just not Spider-Man. Now, heroes have been replaced before like Superman and Batman, but that was untenable. Others have been replaced for longer stretches like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. But Hal Jordan at the time was nowhere near as popular as Peter Parker. And it took years for anyone to like Barry's replacement, Wally West. But with the price of comics being what they are, I am not inclined to make the long investment.

So now I am left with no Ultimate books. I have been with them since day one, but now, we must part ways. Maybe down the road we will meet up again and rekindle our connection. But like Peter Parker, the Ultimate universe will have to go on without me.

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