THE COMIC COMPENDIUM #35: Ultimate X-Men (2001-2004)

Mutants supreme. 

First issue.

First issue.

Who made it?: Written by Mark Millar (#1-12, 15-33), Brian Michael Bendis (#34-45), Brian K. Vaughan (#46-49) and Chuck Austen (#13-14). Art by Adam Kubert (#1-4, 7-8, 10-12, 15-17, 20-22, 25, 29, 31-33), Andy Kubert (#5-6, 50-53), Tom Raney (#9), Tom Derenick (#12), Esad Ribic (#13-14), Chris Bachalo (#18-19, Ultimate War #1-4), Kaare Andrews (#23-24), Ben Lai, Ray Lai (#26), David Finch (#27-28, 30, 34-45), Brandon Peterson (#46-49).

Who’s in it?: Wolverine, Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Magneto, Colossus, Storm.

Original run: Ultimate X-Men #1-49 (Collected Volumes 1-9), Ultimate War #1-4. 

Released: February 2001- September 2004.

Marvel’s Ultimate Universe was originally created to convince new readers to pick up their comics without having to worry about all that infuriating continuity. It can be both the bane and lifeblood of comics. Without it, you wouldn’t care about these super beings quite so much, and the knowledge that a character once overcame cancer, returned from the dead, or saved a cat from a tree gives you a connection to them that would be impossible otherwise. However, readers still bitch and moan about any event that may accidentally contradict another, no matter how small or inconsequential. The problem with the modern-day Ultimate Universe is that Ultimatum was written by that talentless hack Jeph Loeb, which basically killed off half the UU and sent the plotlines into disarray, making series like The New Ultimates and Avengers only a small part of their rebooted line. It became too much, especially when in previous years there were only a few on-going series at any one time. Marvel rebooted the UU two years later as Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn, thankfully without Loeb, and with far fewer titles to solve the issue of over-saturation. If you’re eager to read more from this world, say hello to Ultimate X-Men, which I have read up to issue #49. It may seem like a fairly random place to stop in a series that reached 100 issues, yet with #49 being around the halfway point, it seemed like enough to recommend the series.

As you might expect from the first issue of a new run, we see the formation of an X-team, the brainchild of one Professor Charles Xavier. The group is originally formed from a standard line-up of familiar mutants such as Marvel Girl, Colossus, Beast, Storm and Cyclops, although they are joined almost immediately by Iceman on their first mission. Before we even meet the X-Men, however, we are shown a small taste of the way the Ultimate Universe deals with mutants. In this case, it is by sending Sentinels into heavily-populated cities such as Los Angeles and killing anyone with the mutant gene. This is in response to a terrorist attack by a single mutant organisation. We are then shown press conferences and televised excuses made by both sides. The Ultimate Universe has always seemed a bit more realistic than the normal Marvel continuity, and while this may be subjective due to the appearance of giant mutant-hunting robots, futuristic technology such as the Blackbird and even the the reactions of both the X-Men and those around them, be it the military or ordinary civilians, are more grounded than usual comics. It’s a shame that the “knee-jerk reactions” and crappy reasoning on both sides of the equation ring true. This mutant terrorist group just so happens to be known as the Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy, with the “Evil” part thankfully left out. What terrorist group would actually refer to themselves as Evil when they believe that their cause is just? To be fair to the main Universe, this has been described as Magneto being ironic, but it’s still always been a ridiculous moniker. Adding “Supremacy” does make it appear more honest, as it sounds as idealistic as the villain intended it to be.

As well as the themes of racism, bigotry and idealism, we can’t forget that Ultimate X-Men is still an action comic, and what good is an action comic without a bit of violence? And who’s better at violent action than the one and only Wolverine? Logan brings style to his entrance, his humour and a past that’s more widely explored from issue #7 onwards. As you may have realised from previous reviews, I’ve never been Wolverine’s biggest fan. Once again, Logan seems to receive far more attention than he actually deserves, with many stories focusing on him and his origins. The rest of the team do, however, get plenty of recognition. We learn a decent amount about Beast’s poor self-esteem and trust issues, Jean Grey’s difficulties with her mental health (the interplay of her dark side, the Phoenix, is never shown to be real or not), Professor Xavier’s past relationship problems, Iceman’s confidence issues despite being loyal to the team, and Storm’s gradual improvement in the use of her powers. There’s also Cyclops growing in confidence and leadership despite being unable to express his feelings to women. And believe it or not, Colossus has a use here, too. Out of all of the X-Men, he is the one ignored the most, tending to be part of a little side-story rather than the main plot. This is even referenced by writer Mark Millar himself when Colossus feels unloved and leaves the team, but even a storyline that sees him become an international star is overshadowed due to a story arc involving Proteus. Being a fan of Colossus, the lack of attention paid to his past and even him as a person continues to be disappointing, as while we find out details about his family and sexuality, they’re so sparse and infrequent that Millar appeared to slot him in for the hell of it. It takes up until issue #49, with Brian K. Vaughan taking over the writing duties, before we even meet a potential partner for Colossus, whilst the others have been off pairing up willy-nilly.

We meet other mutants along the way, with Rogue, Juggernaut, Nightcrawler and Sabretooth all appearing in the time-honoured “Weapon X” arc, and some of them eventually join the team. A “New Mutant” squad is also shown with little character development, which is hopefully rectified further on in the series. The Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy originally consists of Magneto, Quicksilver, Toad, Mastermind, the Blob and the Scarlet Witch, although we go through several incarnations of the Brotherhood with less iconic characters such as the Vanisher and Lorelei, as well as new creations like Promisian and Hard-Drive. Magneto is also the ruler of a mutant utopia based in the Savage Land, and with a nation made up of hundreds, it means that there are numerous characters we don’t learn a thing about. All we know is that they exist. This utopia is referenced frequently as Xavier and Magneto’s dream-like vision, and we slowly glean more and more details about their fallout and past relationship.

As well as the Brotherhood, several pro and anti-mutant organisations appear, such as the Acolytes and bands of mercenaries which the X-Men have to defeat. Obviously, not all of the characters and teams are going to stay the same with their transition over into the Ultimate universe, and for the most part the writers do a good job of incorporating these classic characters and stories without just aping past developments. There are a few duds, such as Vaughan’s “Sinister.” I can see what he was trying to do, and it’s not a bad storyline at all, showcasing the Police force’s contempt for mutants as well as the hatred some of them have for the X-Men. I just feel that he overstretched himself with the title character, as he appears to be more an interpretation of Scalphunter than Mister Sinister. The inclusion of Muir Island and the Hellfire Club are handled rather well, on the plus side, with Muir’s role being better explained than it ever was in the main series. The Hellfire’s function has also been tweaked, playing a much bigger part in the Phoenix Saga.

Leading scribe Millar is a major part of the UU, of course, as he is the original writer of The Ultimates as well as Ultimate X-Men. It’s his influence that prevails throughout, although Brian Michael Bendis and Vaughan certainly add their own panache to the proceedings whilst remaining true to what has gone before. That said, Chuck Austen tried to do something different by introducing Gambit, but all he managed to do is ruin what could have been an interesting rendition of the character. He is exactly the same as his mainstream Universe counterpart, yet whinier and more clichéd. He even screams “Noooo…” after something terrible has happened. The only element that really makes this version of the Cajun interesting is his ending, which is rather bittersweet.

As the art is handled by a lot of different people, some for only a single issue, you probably won’t remember it as a consistent series. As he begins the run, it’s Adam Kubert’s art that has become the style I envision when it comes to Ultimate X-Men. It’s not necessarily the greatest artwork in the world, but he does do rather amusing facial expressions. Well, two facial expressions that are used again and again. Oh well. Chris Bachalo is the artist during the “Ultimate War’” and “World Tour” arcs, and not only does he have to draw the X-Men but also the Ultimates. My word do Magneto and Thor look strange, but on the other hand, Iceman looks amazing and you’re unlikely to see any villain look creepier than Proteus. Special shout-outs must be made to David Finch, whose art is beautiful despite using the same panels repeatedly, and for Esad Ribic, who commits to the most generic artwork ever. Seriously.

Ultimate X-Men certainly isn’t perfect and it’s not the most consistent comic book run out there, since several classic storylines have been re-interpreted to a poor standard, but there’s also a wealth of gold scattered throughout. This is as good an introduction to X-Men lore as new readers are likely to get from the last decade. If you love mutants and Xavier’s School for the Gifted, you should pick up volumes one and two immediately.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • In the video games X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, the characteristic tight black-and-golden costumes of Ultimate X-Men are the default outfits of the X-Men. The traditional costumes can be unlocked as throwbacks after the player has unlocked them by completing acts within the game. Additionally, many of the other characters (such as the Brotherhood) have their Ultimate costumes as their default outfit. Characters in these games who had not yet appeared in Ultimate X-Men at the time that the games were released either appear wearing their Earth-616 (‘classic’) costumes or appear in a new costume that is in the same black-and-gold style as the Ultimate X-Men suits.
  • In the X-Men: Evolution animated series, Wolverine wears his Ultimate X-Men look from season 3 onwards. In the final episode Ascension, future adult versions of the teenage X-Men can be seen. Their normally bright, colorful costumes have changed into the dark Ultimate X-Men outfits.
  • In Wolverine and the X-Men, in the final arc, a fleet of Sentinels are sent to Genosha to attack Magneto and the mutants living there. However, like in The Tomorrow People, Magneto disassembles all of the Sentinels, reprogramming them to attack humans. He then launches an attack upon New York.
  • Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1: The Tomorrow People appears in nine parts as an unlockable in Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. Each part is unlocked after completing a specific bonus level.
  • Wolverine, Storm, Colossus and Iceman appear in the video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. In the game, Colossus and Iceman have their Ultimate costumes as the default costumes worn during all cut scenes that they appear in, although it is possible to unlock their Earth-616 costumes as alternates later in the game. Wolverine and Storm appear in their current Earth-616 costumes as defaults with their Ultimate costumes as alternates. Nightcrawler also appears in his Ultimate costume during the “Escape from Castle Doom” cut-scene, in which he features prominently. The Xbox 360 Hero expansion pack added Cyclops and Nightcrawler as playable characters; both have their Ultimate costumes as an alternate outfit.

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