Hit or Miss: The Ultimate Universe Returns With Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Black Panther, and Ultimate X-Men.

Marvel Comics is doing what they do best: Recycle old ideas. With that, we are getting the Ultimate Universe repackaged and fed to us sometime in January 2024. During the NYCC 2023, Marvel Comics revealed that we will be getting three new monthly ongoing titles: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Black Panther, and Ultimate X-Men. We will also get a one-shot issue in Ultimate Universe #1 asking the question “Where are the Ultimates?”

Before we examine the merits, or lack thereof, of Marvel Comics reviving the Ultimate Universe line of comic books, we should first examine the history of the Ultimate Marvel Universe.

The Ultimate Marvel was first unveiled in 2000 with the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man. In 2011, we got Ultimate X-Men. In 2022, we got The Ultimates. Then, lastly, in 2003 we got Ultimate Fantastic Four. Ultimate Marvel was the brainchild of Bill Jemas. Jemas believed that the complicated shared continuity of Marvel Comics made the slate of Marvel Comics impossible for teenagers to read. Therefore, Jemas wanted to reboot the heroes to their original character premise and start again free from decades of complicated continuity.

The main creative team assembled to handle the Ultimate Marvel Universe were two of the biggest name writers at the turn of the century Mark Millar and Brian Bendis. Bendis handled Ultimate Spider-Man. Mark Millar was given both Ultimate X-Men and the Ultimates. Bendis and Millar shared Ultimate Fantastic Four with Warren Ellis taking over with Ultimate Fantastic Four #7.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1 debuted in September 2000 at the number 15 spot and sold 54,407 units. Ultimate Spider-Man sunk to the number 17 spot by Ultimate Spider-Man #3. However, the title climbed back up to the number 4 spot with 76,097 units with Ultimate Spider-Man #7.

Ultimate X-Men #1 debuted in December 2000 at the number 1 spot with 117,085 units. Ultimate X-Men was a sales juggernaut that consistently outperformed Ultimate Spider-Man in the sales charts in the beginning. A year in, Ultimate X-Men #12 was at the number 4 spot and sold 108,044 units. That same month, Ultimate Spider-Man #15 came in at the number 8 spot and sold 86,160 units.

Ultimates #1 debuted in January 2002 at the number 3 spot with 160,244 units. That same month, Ultimate X-Men #14 took the number 7 spot with 104,858 units and Ultimate Spider-Man #17 took the number 9 spot with 85,014 units. The Ultimate Marvel Universe was white hot with three issues in the Top 10. An impressive feat for the young universe.

In December 2003, Ultimate Fantastic Four #1 debuted in December 2003 at the number 1 spot with 173,397 units. That same month Ultimate Spider-Man #50 took the number 4 spot with 109,792 units. Ultimates #12 took the number 5 spot with 104,546, and Ultimate X-Men #40 took the number 6 spot with 104,417 units. Ultimate Six #5 took the number 8 spot with 100,264 units. Ultimate Spider-Man #51 took the number 9 spot with 96,966 units. The Ultimate Marvel Universe was firing on all cylinders and peaking with a stunning five issues in the Top 10. That is insane. I cannot emphasize enough how popular the Ultimate Marvel Universe was back then. I know I got swept up in this mania during this time.

The Ultimate Marvel Universe had its best years from 2000-2004. All of the Ultimate Marvel Universe titles were hot and everyone was excited about the Ultimate Marvel Universe. I remember how everyone at my local comic shop was constantly buzzing about the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Everyone was excited about this new universe. No doubt about it.

By December 2006, the Ultimate Marvel titles were no longer sales juggernauts. Ultimate Spider-Man #103 came in at the number 22 spot selling 76,245 units. Ultimate X-Men #77 came in the number 26 spot selling 67,33 units. Ultimate Fantastic Four came in the number 34 spot selling 55,043 units.

Ultimates 3 #1 debuted in December 2007 at the number 1 spot selling 131,322 units. However, the rest of Ultimate Marvel continued to drop. Ultimate Spider-Man #117 came in at the number 28 spot selling 60,325 units. Ultimate X-Men #88 came in the number 39 spot selling 51,602 units. Ultimate Fantastic Four #49 came in at the number 58 spot selling 40,632 units.

By December 2008, Ultimate Spider-Man #129 was in the number 40 spot selling 51,064 units. Ultimate X-Men #99 was in the number 51 spot selling 44,354 units. Ultimate Fantastic Four #59 was in the number 74 spot selling 34,009 units.

In 2009, to help rejuvenate the flagging sales numbers of the Ultimate Marvel Universe, Marvel Comics rebranded Ultimate Marvel as Ultimate Comics. Ultimate Comics: The Avengers #1 debuted at the number 5 spot and sold 94,885 units. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1 debuted at the number 11 spot and sold 85,917 units.

By December 2010, Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #5 took the number 41 spot and sold 34,483 units. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #151 took the number 42 spot and sold 33,707 units.

In response to slipping sales, Marvel Comics did what they do best: cancel all the Ultimate Comics titles and relaunch them. Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #1 debuted in August 2011 by taking the number 23 spot and selling 47,630 units. Ultimate Spider-Man was relaunched as Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and starred Miles Morales. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1 debuted in September 2011 coming in at the number 9 spot selling 87,237 units. Ultimate X-Men was also relaunched as Ultimate Comics: X-Men #1 which came in at the number 22 spot and sold 62,080 units.

By December 2011, the Ultimate Comics rebrand was already failing in the sales chart. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #5 came in at the number 30 spot and sold 48,308 units. Ultimate Comics: X-Men #4 came in at the number 52 spot and sold 37,115 units. Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #5 came in at the number 53 spot and sold 35,396 units.

By December 2012, the Ultimate Comics titles were sliding toward the Dead Titles Walking part of the sales charts. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18 came in at the number 57 spot and sold 36,944 units. Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #18 came in at the number 80 spot and sold 26,971 units. Ultimate Comics X-Men #20 came in at the number 87 spot and sold 24,789 units.

By September 2013, the Ultimate Comics line was dead. Marvel Comics canceled all of the Ultimate Comics titles. Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #30 came in at the number 160 spot and sold 19,420 units. Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #28 came in at the number 85 spot and sold 31,462 units. Ultimate Comics X-Men #32 came in at the number 149 spot and sold 17,921 units.

Secret Wars in 2015 mercifully put the Ultimate Universe out of its misery. The only title that survived was Miles Morales with Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man #1 which debuted in May 2014 at the number 36 spot and sold 45,864 units. This title sank like a dead duck as Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man #3 came in at the number 103 spot and sold 29,318 units.

For some reason, Marvel Comics has decided that it is time to resurrect the Ultimate Universe. Why? Probably because nostalgia is a powerful drug. It has been 23 years since the Ultimate Marvel Universe. 16-year-old comic book readers who fell in love with the Ultimate Marvel Universe back in 2000 are now about to turn 40. Most of them probably abandoned American superhero comics when Marvel Comics attacked and chased away their readers with the All-New All-Different initiative in 2015 and with what has followed since then. What better way to try and rebuild your shattered readership than to roll out an old popular concept wrapped up in a warm blanket of nostalgia?

Rokk’s Excitement Level: 5 Night Girls out of 10. I am pretty neutral on the rebirth of the Ultimate Universe. On one hand, we are getting talents like Jonathan Hickman, Marco Checchetto, Stefano Caselli, and Peach Momoko. On the other hand, you have the largely incompetent Marvel editors still in charge and I lost faith in them years ago.

Let’s hit the three Ultimate Universe titles and predict what kind of success they might have in the sales charts.

Ultimate Spider-Man 01
Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate Spider-Man

Of the three new Ultimate Universe titles, Ultimate Spider-Man is the one that I think will be by far and away the most successful title in the sales charts. This is also the title that has the best creative team. However, this is also the title that I have the least interest in reading.

Jonathan Hickman and Marco Checchetto are an all-star creative team. There is no doubt about that. This is the strongest creative team of the bunch with these new Ultimate Universe titles. I do not doubt that Hickman will craft a quality story. I am confident that Checchetto will deliver plenty of wonderful artwork. I do think that Hickman’s name alone will be able to draw readers to this title.

Of course, the biggest reason that I think Ultimate Spider-Man #1 will be a sales hit is not just because of Hickman. it is because this title stars Peter Parker and Petey is white hot in the sales charts. There is no other character that sells as well as Peter Parker. Yeah, even the sales juggernaut Bruce Wayne struggles in head-to-head battles in the sales chart with Peter.

The big hook for Ultimate Spider-Man is that this version of Peter Parker is married to Mary Jane and is the father to a son and a daughter. It is as if Hickman is giving Joe Quesada the middle finger with this comic book!

Marvel Comics has been infamous for maintaining the belief that they could not have Peter Parker remain a viable character in the long term if he stayed married to Mary Jane. This led to the controversial One More Day storyline written by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada published back in 2007.

It feels like it was just yesterday. I completely loathed that damn One More Day storyline. It turned me off of the Spider-Man franchise for a long time. One More Day has remained one of the most disliked storylines by a large percentage of Spider-Man readers.

Well, fellas, it looks like Hickman is here to make everyone happy! Hickman is going to be delivering the Spider-Man comic book that many readers have long wanted to read. Combine this with the fact that many readers are unhappy with the current Amazing Spider-Man. Well, I should rephrase that. Readers who are vocal online are unhappy with the current Amazing Spider-Man. The fact remains that Amazing Spider-Man dominates the sales ranking like no other title every month.

At any rate, Hickman’s decision to center Ultimate Spider-Man on a married Peter Parker with kids is going to bring a ton of readers to this title. I do not doubt at all about this fact.

While I am glad that Hickman has decided to prove Joey Q wrong, I am still probably going to pass on getting Ultimate Spider-Man. The biggest reason that Ultimate Spider-Man leaves me cold is that the entire Spider-Man gimmick has been run into the ground with the Spider-Verse and the endless different versions of Spider-Man that have flooded the market. At this point, we have roughly a billion different versions of Spider-Man running around.

I fully acknowledge that plenty of readers like the Spider-Verse. But, the “anyone can be Spider-Man” approach has gotten out of hand and has completely devalued whatever uniqueness and sense of specialness that the Spider-Man gimmick once had. Once everyone can be something then it ceases to be special or of any great accomplishment or importance. In every aspect of life rarity and uniqueness are what make things special and of high value. Ubiquity is what makes things in life of little value or importance.

This is the problem with having a billion Spider-Men running amok that it reduces Spider-Man from being a unique and original character into basically just a common mantle like being a Green Lantern Corps member or a Nova Corps member. The Spider-Man mantle then becomes a generic mantle that is slapped on an endless number of faceless characters that come across as expendable grunts.

Rokk’s Prediction: C’mon. This is Hickman plus Peter Parker. Ultimate Spider-Man is going to be a massive sales hit. Hickman’s name alone was going to make Ultimate Spider-Man a strong seller. However, the fact that Hickman is literally giving many readers their dream Peter Parker story?! Oh, sweet baby Jesus! I think readers are going to flock to Ultimate Spider-Man in massive numbers! If Hickman’s Ultimate Spider-Man does not bring back lapsed readers that Marvel Comics drove off during the All-New All-Different initiative then nothing will.

While I am burned out on the overwhelming number of alternate Spider-Men and will be passing on this title, I will keep an open mind. If certain people whom I trust tell me that this title is a must-read then I will give it a chance when it comes out in trade format.

My prediction? Hickman’s name and the fact he is delivering Joey Q’s worst nightmare means that Ultimate Spider-Man #1 is going to debut at the number 1 spot in the sales rankings. I then expect Ultimate Spider-Man to remain a consistent Top 10 to Top 25 seller every month.

Ultimate Black Panther #1 Stefano Caselli Cover
Stefano Caselli’s cover for Ultimate Black Panther #1. Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate Black Panther

The Ultimate Black Panther title immediately piqued my interest when I first heard about it. Black Panther is a character that desperately needs a reboot. Marvel Comics has done a terrible job handling Black Panther and has saddled him with clueless editors in addition to one weak creative team after another. The result is that Black Panther has been a perennial sales failure in the sales rankings. This title is almost always found languishing in the Dead Titles Walking category.

There is no excuse at all for a classic Jack Kirby character to sell this poorly. But, Marvel Comics editorial has been utterly clueless on how to properly package and present Black Panther’s character over the years.

My initial interest subsided when I saw the creative team for Ultimate Black Panther and my hopes for this title dimmed. Marvel Comics has hired Bryan Hill as the writer for this title. Marvel Comics editors just love to hire non-comic book writers to handle their characters. Hill is another screenwriter/consultant who has started dabbling in comic books.

Hill wrote Batman and the Outsiders for DC Comics from 2019-2020. The title ran for seventeen issues before it got canceled. Batman and the Outsiders #1 debuted at the number 24 spot and sold 51,958 units. Batman and the Outsiders #2-11 averaged the number 94 spot in the sales rankings and sold an average of 22,944 units per issue.

Sales numbers for Batman and the Outsiders #12-17 are hard to find since we stopped getting sales numbers at that point and the only sales rankings were done by IcV2 for just the Top 100 comics. What we do know is that only Batman and the Outsiders #13 cracked the Top 100 by taking the number 100 spot. Batman and the Outsiders #12 and #14-17 were all outside of the Top 100 and in the Dead Titles Walking category.

Hill wrote the Killmonger mini-series for Marvel Comics from 2018- 2019. Killmonger #1 debuted at the number 82 spot and sold 24,242 units. Killmonger #2-5 averaged the number 147 spot in the sales rankings and sold an average of 12,864 units.

Marvel Comics has also hired Hill to write their new Blade comic book. Blade #1 had an amazing debut coming in at the number 9 spot. Then Hill drove off almost all of the readers as Blade #2 crashed in spectacular fashion falling all the way down to the number 124 spot. Blade #3 then came in at the number 122 spot.

While I am unimpressed with Hill as the writer, I do love the selection of Stefano Caselli as the artist for Ultimate Black Panther. Caselli is a talented artist who will deliver a gorgeous-looking comic book every month.

I do love Black Panther, but I have not been interested in his comics in a long time. There is so much potential for Black Panther to become a character with mass appeal to a wide cross-section of readers. It just takes packaging and delivering a version of Black Panther that will appeal to a large readership.

I would lean into the roots of this classic Jack Kirby character. I would focus more on high-concept Sci-Fi ingredients blended with elements of mysticism. I would also focus the stories on being action-adventure heavy featuring Black Panther as a strong alpha male who is the star of the show.

One thing that I do hope is that Marvel Comics avoids just turning Ultimate Black Panther into the comic book version of the MCU Black Panther. That would be a boring approach which would immediately turn me off of the title.

Rokk’s Prediction: I would love to say that Ultimate Black Panther is going to be a sales hit. However, the fact that Hill has never had any sales success at all makes me bearish on the sales success of this title. On top of that, Marvel Comics has not had any sales success with the 616 Black Panther comic book in a long time. Therefore, these two facts make me doubtful that Ultimate Black Panther is going to enjoy much sales success.

I do think that Ultimate Black Panther will enjoy a Top 10 debut. However, I think this title will quickly drop out of the Top 50 and then struggle to remain in the Top 100. We shall see. I would love for Hill to surprise me and deliver an action-heavy Black Panther story that focuses on fun escapism first and foremost.

I am going to pass on Ultimate Black Panther. I simply do not have faith in Hill as a writer or in Marvel editorial getting this new version of Black Panther right. Having said that, much like with Ultimate Spider-Man, if I hear from some people whom I trust that Hill has nailed this new version of Black Panther then I will certainly give this title a try.

Ultimate X-Men #1 Peach Momoko Cover
Peach Momoko cover for Ultimate X-Men #1. Credit: Marvel Comics

Ultimate X-Men

Marvel Comics pulled out a surprise big gun with Ultimate X-Men with the announcement that Peach Momoko would be the writer and artist for this title! That is massive. There is no doubt that Momoko is undeniably talented. I love Momoko’s artwork. It is beautiful. If nothing else, we can expect Ultimate X-Men to be a lovely-looking comic book.

While I was not at all expecting Marvel Comics to hire Momoko for an Ultimate X-Men title, I do like her selection as the writer/artist for Ultimate X-Men. The main reason is that Momoko’s distinct style will certainly give this alternate version of the X-Men a unique look and vibe. This is critical for any Ultimate Universe title. For this new Ultimate Universe to succeed it must offer readers something markedly different from both the 616 Universe and the MCU.

We only have an extremely small sample size of Momoko’s sales history with Marvel Comics. Momoko’s prior work for Marvel Comics consists of two limited series. The first was Demon Days which was a five-issue series of #1 issues published 2021-2022. Demon Days started white hot with Demon Days: X-Men #1 snagging the number 8 spot in the sales rankings. Demon Days: Mariko #1 slipped to the number 19 spot in the sales rankings. Demon Days: Cursed Web #1 came in a tick lower at the number 22 spot.

At this point, I was convinced that this five-issue series would conclude in the Top 25. However, Demon Days: Rising Storm #1 dropped down to the number 49 spot. Then the series concluded with Demon Days: Blood Feud #1 which fell to the number 65 spot.

The second limited series was Demon Wars which was a three-issue series of #1 issues published 2022-2023. Demon Wars: The Iron Samurai #1 took the number 39 spot. Demon Wars: Shield of Justice came in at the number 70 spot. Demon Wars: Down in Flames #1 took the number 58 spot. These sales rankings were far weaker than Demon Days.

Rokk’s Prediction: Of the three new titles, Ultimate X-Men is the toughest title to try and predict what kind of sales success it is going to have. There is no doubt that Momoko is an outstanding talent. But, Momoko’s prior two titles did not exactly light up the sales charts. The fact is that Demon Days averaged the number 33 spot in the sales rankings. Demon Wars did worse and averaged the number 56 spot in the sales rankings. The sales performance of Demon Days and Demon Wars makes me hesitant about being too bullish on the possible sales success of Ultimate X-Men.

On the other hand, the X-Men brand is strong, and any title that has “X-Men” on the cover stands a good chance of getting good sales rankings. But, just having the name “X-Men” on the cover does not guarantee success. It is necessary that the title also stars the A-list and B-list mutants from the X-Men franchise.

The fact that Ultimate X-Men #1 is going to center on a D-list character in Armor could be a real anchor around this title’s neck when it comes to performance in the sales rankings. We do not know the rest of the roster for the Ultimate X-Men. If Momoko bolsters Armor with several A-list and B-list mutants then Ultimate X-Men might do well in the sales rankings. However, if Momoko surrounds Armor with a roster full of C-list and D-list mutants then I think Ultimate X-Men will be a failure in the sales rankings.

Momoko’s decision to focus on Armor as the new lynchpin for the X-Men franchise is certainly a bold one. But, it is a decision that does nothing for me at all. I could not care less about Armor.

Having said that, the big question is going to be the rest of the roster for Ultimate X-Men. I can’t decide if I am going to give Ultimate X-Men a try or not until I see the rest of the roster for this title. if Momoko does not use some of the A-list mutants from the X-Men franchise then my interest in this title will completely evaporate.

No matter the roster, I think that Ultimate X-Men will score a Top 10 debut. If the roster for Ultimate X-Men has some A-list characters then I think Ultimate X-Men will remain a constant Top 50 to Top 75 seller each month. However, if the roster is a bunch of C-list and D-list mutants then I think Ultimate X-Men will quickly slide out of the Top 100.

Conclusion: It certainly will be fun to track the performance of these three Ultimate Universe comic books. Hopefully, Marvel Comics practices patience and does not add even more Ultimate Universe titles too quickly. Of course, if Marvel Comics does want to expand its lineup of titles, I would strongly suggest rolling out a new ongoing Ultimates title before delivering the Ultimate Universe version of any of its other franchises.