Leaving the regular Marvel Universe behind, we move now to the Ultimate Universe, which was intended to be a clean reboot free of pesky continuity and awkward years of confusing history, but is quickly building up its own continuity and confusing history. Most notably now, it’s starting to tie titles together and gearing up for a big crossover event.

And yeah, the title of Ultimatum: March on Ultimatum (which collects a bunch of annuals, and is enhy) was sort of a giveaway that an event’s coming up, but so was Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Origins , which goes right ahead and retcons the origin stories that they just reinvented not that long ago. The urge to retcon is apparently ineradicable among comic writers.

Leaving the world of crossovers temporarily behind, though, let’s take a look at the individual titles, starting with Brian Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man, vols. 20 and 21. Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man has been an extraordinary sustained feat, with some 128 issues to his credit, which generally range from above average to near-excellent. He continues here to deliver on his excellent mixture of teen and superhero lifestyles, though perhaps falling a bit too much on the superhero side, as Peter Parker starts to hang out with Iceman and the Torch in a kind of super-clique (not to mention talking to Nick Fury a lot). I’m hoping Bendis will bring the story back to the ground soon, though that incipient crossover thing makes that look unlikely.

Next up is Mike Carey’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, vols. 10 and 11. Carey is writing the kind of traditionally cosmic stories we associate with the Fantastic Four at their best and doing a solid job of it. Maybe his work lacks Bendis’ sparkle, but it’s still solid.

Then there’s Robert Kirkman and Aron E. Coleite’s Ultimate X-Men, vols. 16-19, which I’m substantially less enthusiastic about. The series seems mired down in its own complicated continuity already, with lots of time traveling and alternate histories and secret societies and reversals of reversals and retcons. I can’t read the regular X-Men (outside of self-contained runs like those by Whedon or Morrison) because their own continuity is too convoluted and confusing for me. Disturbingly, the Ultimate version is starting to reach that same point.

Finally, there are two disappointments for me, Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates 3: Who Killed the Scarlet Witch? and Orson Scott Card’s Ultimate Iron Man II . Earlier installments of the Ultimates were excellent, and I enjoyed the first Ultimate Iron Man volume, but both of these were subpar and uninteresting. I wouldn’t recommend either, though for all I know the Ultimates will be key in whatever the hell this “Ultimatum” thing is.


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