You may be wondering why. Why take a look at this oft-reviled comic? Why resurrect the worst time period of the Ultimate Marvel experience? Why would you do this to me?! Well, it just so happens that “Ultimatum” turns 10 this year and nobody’s talking about it! Multiversity Comics also turns 10 this year so it seemed appropriate. The Ultimate Marvel universe turns 20 next year and this is sort of the really awful halfway point. People have been talking about resurrecting that world and I feel it my civic duty to remind us of the “dark ages” so we know the full consequences of our actions. Plus it’s Holy Week, so something, something, theology, darkness, etc. Anyway I’m not ready for Wasp to get eaten again, but here we go.
Written by Jeph Loeb
Penciled by David Finch
Inked by Danny Miki
Colored by Steve Firchow (#1, #2, #3), Peter Steigerwald (#3, #4, #5), and Guru eFX (#5)
Lettered by RS & Comicraft
Covers by Finch, Miki, and Firchow
Magneto’s children are dead, and everybody must now pay the ultimate price! Jeph Loeb and David Finch change the Ultimate Universe forever in this cataclysmic series featuring Spider-Man, the Ultimates, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and more! Nobody is safe!
Ho boi. Alright so that experience was much worse than I remember. You’re just kind of dropped into all the dynamics, everyone sucks very much, and then BOOM! Millions of people dead. You’re not really led at all through the story, the tie-ins contain important bits and there are story components that pop up out of nowhere (Sue coming back from near-death, Johnny and Dormammu, etc.). I did not read the tie-ins for the purposes of this review. I’ll be upfront about that. But dang I should’ve. There’s a reason the IGN review for issue #5 ended with “Ultimatum is one of the worst comics I have ever read.” It’s nah good kids.
So full disclosure, I have read all the Ultimate Marvel comics. Every single issue. My entry into Marveldom was reading all the Ultimate Marvel stuff on Marvel Unlimited (gosh so many terms) and then I read “Secret Wars” and got current with All New, All Different Marvel. I loved “Ultimate Spider-Man” and had a pleasure reading through it. Most of it still holds up. “Ultimates” was the first series I worked through on MU, and while it has pretty Bryan Hitch art, it too is really awful (and far less clever and nuanced, to the point of parody, than you probably remember). There’s so much before this that’s good, and so much after this that can happen because this event pretty much reboots the universe by murdering 30+ heroes and millions of people. That Jonathan Hickman “Ultimates” stuff is wild and Miles is now a cultural icon. I have fond memories of Ultimate Marvel. This event, though, is awful.
So the meat of it. The five-issue series starts off with all the usual suspects doing alright in the ol NYC. Things are disrupted as Magneto decides to literally shift the axes of the Earth so that natural disasters plague the planet one another. This is written off as something, something magnets. Nothing is clear in this series. Magneto’s pissed cause his twincest kids were killed (which we learn was orchestrated by Doctor Doom, or maybe that they weren’t dead, again who’s to say). So many heroes die right off the bat: Dazzler, Beast, Nightcrawler, Emma Frost. Well, maybe just the X-Men die.
The rest of the series is all the usual suspects killing each other and trying to pick the pieces up. Thor goes to Hel to save his wife Valkyrie and meets Captain America who is also sort of dead. Yellowjacket and Hawkeye try to search for Wasp who, and this is the kicker I didn’t remember, FOR NO APPARENT REASON IS LITERALLY BEING EATEN BY BLOB. I seriously thought I remembered that maybe Magneto wanted Blob to be in New York, but nah he just eats women. Hank goes all eye-for-an-eye and bites his head off. Magneto kills Xavier in a rage and then goes back to his floating sky castle. Reed, Doom, and some other Squadron Supreme lady travel to another universe to get Nick Fury cause apparently they needed him? Valkyrie and Cap come back to life. Hank dies warding off Multiple Man suicide bombers (also very problematic and definitely Islamaphobic). Some people try to assault the sky castle. Sabertooth violently kills Angel. Magneto kills Wolverine. Magneto learns from Fury’s memories that mutants came from super soldier experimentation not evolution. Cyclops violently kills Magneto. Cyclops is assassinated in D.C. a week later. The Thing kills Doom in Latveria for being Doom. Oh and maybe Quicksilver and Wanda are alive. Also Spider-Man goes missing and people think he’s dead, but that doesn’t happen til a later book. End scene.Continued below
Most of that is fairly incomprehensible, incorporates secret histories and other side events and snippets from the Ultimate Marvel universe. The seeds for this story were planted in “Ultimates 3,” “Ultimate Power,” and “Ultimate Origins,” and if you haven’t read those, plus the current series at the time, you’re also pretty lost. It’s been awhile since I’ve touched any of those, so it was a hard learning curve. There’s no hand holding in this event. You’re dropped into this awful scenario and guided through with awful, “edgy” dialogue like “You think you can rape my brain? Xavier tried that and failed?,” or “…if you’re God–then God is dead.,” and so many men yelling “THE WOMAN I LOVE.” Hank, Reed, Warren, Hawkeye, Namor, and then some, have some version of that. It’s very stilted and only makes sense if all of them are taking patriarchy pills laced with extra testosterone. It’s hard at times to believe the same Jeph Loeb who wrote “Batman: The Long Halloween,” and is the current Marvel Television head wrote this thing. I would love, LOVE, to get an oral history of Ultimate Marvel and to know what shenanigans spawned this comic.
On the art side, if you’re a David Finch fan then you shouldn’t be disappointed. This is Finch coming off of ‘Disassembling’ the Avengers and being Bendis’ right hand man with “New Avengers.” He’s an Image-style guy and that’s very present. This is a v-90’s comic and all the women are hypersexualized and unrealistic. Every woman is scantily clad with a 00 waist and DD bust. If they aren’t wearing almost nothing then they just look unreal like Carol Danvers does in #2, or they’re doting over men like Kitty does with Peter in issue #1. They’re all objects with no agency reduced to death like Janet or jealousy like Sue in relation to Reed and Namor and Ben. Or they’re killed unceremoniously like Emma Frost and Dazzler, although to be fair plenty of men are also killed off-panel or in the tie-ins. Lookin’ at you Matt Murdock. Some of the men don’t fair much better with almost Liefeldian muscles. I would be disingenuous to point out though that are a lot of very attractive double page spreads in this series though, like in #2 as the SHIELD Giant Men do clean up while Spidey watches. The people might be sexist or disproportioned, but Finch draws some damn good buildings.
Ultimately, though, the reader is just left wanting in all aspects. Plot. Characterizations. I mean what even is the ultimatum? Why is this series called that? Magneto’s kids die, but he’s not demanding anything from the world. He just wants to kill people. There’s no, “Do this or else,” a lot of people just get murked. Also he just spews a bunch of poorly quoted Scripture references. We get Noah and Ecclesiastes 3 “There’s a time and place for everything” nonsense. Ultimate Magneto is never explicitly stated as a Holocaust survivor, but the guy should not ever be religiously inept. I said this in a conversation with my Make Mine Multiversity cohost Nick Palmieri the other day, but it rings true here, the expectations for what counts as a good discussion of religion in Big 2 comics is like underground parking lot level low. This passes as not awful probably and you still get poorly rendered flood references and uninteresting Malthusian genocide. Magneto isn’t the only character who gets the sort shrift by any means, just perhaps the most central. It’s more awful that Carol is reduced to eye candy, Janet is gonna get zombified as Jocasta, Sue gets put in a coma for the first two-thirds of this thing, and Jean, Storm, and Kitty barely have anything to say.
But, nonetheless here we are. We have “Ultimatum” in the middle of some good fun comics in both its past and future. We get Miles from what comes after this, and the seeds of The Maker are beginning to form here as Sue eventually rejects Reed in “Ultimate Requiem.” What fragile masculinity that one. Miles and Kamala Khan are the two most important new Big 2 characters of the last 10 years, and one of them has roots you can trace back here. One of the most interesting Marvel villains of this century has roots here. There is good on the horizon.Continued below
What would have happened if this comic would have been published in 2019? You all would be up in arms. There would anger, frustration, fan petitions signed and the comic critic community would have a field day. Twitter would be flooded in a way the fledgeling service, barely 3 years into its existence, in 2009 could never have been. While Marvel has done horrible things to its women and characters of color, both on the page and in real life, in the last decade so much has changed. “Ultimatum” could not have been published by a Big 2 company in our present moment. And that’s a good thing. While Comicsgate might point to something like this as quality, the axes have shifted (though not by Magneto’s doing) in a way to where this book would not be possible. And that’s again a good thing, although that’s a really low bar. Marvel and DC both have more queer writers, women writers, and writers of color than at other times in their history, and while it has taken such a long time, books like “Ultimatum” will never be published by the people who set industry standards again. A character played by Michelle Pfeiffer on the big screen will never again be cannibalized by one who’s been portrayed by Kevin Durand. And while that seems like that parking lot level expectations, it’s still true. Times they are a changing. Thank God no one has to read this again.