Marvel has never been shy about filling their publishing calendar with at least one big event or crossover taking place each month. Entering 2023 Marvel announced Avengers Assemble, Spider-Man/X-Men: Dark Web, Sins Of Sinister, Captain Marvel/X-Men: Revenge of the Brood, Captain America: Cold War, Summer Of Symbiotes, and Fall Of X would fill their calendar by going into the fall. That is a stacked year of big events and crossovers.
But as Marvel recently revealed, they weren’t done there with announcing big comic book events. That is because they save what is their biggest event for last as they surprised us with the announcement of Ultimate Invasion by Jonathan Hickman and Bryan Hitch. At first glance, Ultimate Invasion seems to have come out of nowhere and leaves many asking why is the Ultimate Universe returning. But when taking a look at Marvel comics history over the last decade Ultimate Invasion was an event that has been built towards for quite a while now.
WHAT IS ULTIMATE INVASION?
As explained in the exclusive Entertainment Weekly story, Marvel revealed that starting in June Jonathan Hickman and Bryan Hitch are working together on a new event called Ultimate Invasion. This new event will be four issues long and pitched as “a surprising new chapter for Ultimate Comics and bold new strides for Marvel’s iconic heroes.”
As part of the announcement Jonathan Hickman had the following to say in the EW story:
“I think it’s fair to say that both Bryan and I have already put in our time doing Ultimate books, so when Marvel laid this project in front of us, we both knew there needed to be a good reason to revisit the idea of ‘Ultimate Comics’ beyond telling a cool story or just getting to work together, which is something we’ve been trying to do for years. So with that in mind, it couldn’t be replicating or revisiting what Bryan did in the original Ultimates — creating a streamlined, modernized version that would eventually become the spine of the MCU — and it certainly couldn’t be what I did, which was a final chapter of a pre-existing universe.”
Artist for the series, Bryan Hitch added to what Hickman said with the following:
“It’s been more than 20 years since I started work on The Ultimates, a project that would have a big impact on my own career and beyond, so when Marvel came to me with the idea of revisiting the Ultimate Universe with the man who so brilliantly and spectacularly destroyed the last one, I was both feet in! Jonathan is a terrific writer of big, sprawling epics and we’ve talked about working together more than once so for this new Ultimate Universe adventure to unite us is very exciting. I get to bring two decades of new experience as an artist and storyteller to this. It’s new, different, and familiar. It’s big-budget, high-concept, widescreen storytelling. I feel right at home.”
Hickman would go on to explain how The Maker, the name Ultimate Reed Richards took on, and Miles Morales Spider-Man will be taking lead roles in the story. Joining them will be a reunion of former Illuminati members Iron Man, Black Panther, Mister Fantastic, Charles Xavier, Black Bolt, and Namor. Additionally, when pressed about The Maker’s similar design to the Krakoa Era’s Charles Xavier all Hickman would say is “well, they do look cool.”
ULTIMATE INVASION OVER A DECADE IN THE MAKING
The announcement of Ultimate Invasion was certainly a surprising one but not completely unexpected. At least not unexpected if you’ve kept up with several sub-plots since Hickman’s Secret Wars ended. There have been many key events in the last six years, such as Absolute Carnage and Spider-Men II, that laid out the foundation for Ultimate Invasion to take place.
For those not aware of who The Maker is, he is what the Ultimate Universe version of Reed Richards became after his life fell apart in the aftermath of the 2009 Ultimatum event. His descent into a full-time villain can be seen in the Ultimate Enemy, Ultimate Mystery, and Ultimate Doom trilogy of mini-series. After that, The Maker would play a major role in Hickman’s Secret Wars event that would end with The Maker ending up in the main Earth-616 Marvel Universe.
Since then, The Maker has been positioned as an Avengers and Fantastic Four villain. In those stories, he has done a lot to tamper with the Multiverse, including recruiting a version of the Ultimates to work for him in the 2017 Eternity War storyline. That storyline took place at the very end of the main Marvel Universe’s version of the Ultimates ongoing.
But where The Maker’s role in headlining the newest Marvel big event comes from the pages of Donny Cates’ Venom run. In that Venom series, specifically during the Absolute Carnage event, The Maker made big moves to use the Ultimate Universe symbiote he had in his possession to return to his universe. The Maker would form a friendship with Eddie Brock in order to perfect the Ultimate Universe symbiote.
As revealed in 2018 Venom #20 this was something that The Maker was not hiding from everyone. The Maker would make a pitch to use the symbiote, which he discovered is capable of surviving multi-dimensional travel, to the Interdimensional Council Of Reeds, a Hickman creation from his Fantastic Four run. The Council Of Reeds agreed to let The Maker move forward with the promise he can join their Council as long as he could bring the Ultimate Universe back in a stable condition.
The Maker would ultimately be successful in Venom #26, where he bonded with the symbiote he created to make it back to the Ultimate Universe, which had the multiverse designation of Earth-1610. When The Maker arrived on Earth-1610 he found the Ultimate Universe apparently destroyed with the Ultimates nowhere to be found. Rather than being sad, The Maker was happy to see the state of the Ultimate Universe.
Now this state of the Ultimate Universe that was shown does not appear to be The Maker’s doing. Because before The Maker’s return, we did see at the end of the Spider-Men II mini-series, which also establish that Miles Morales did in fact have an older Earth-616 counterpart, in 2018 that the Ultimate Universe survived Secret Wars. Or at the very least reformed into a version of the Ultimate Universe post-Secret Wars. Not only that but an older Peter Parker Ultimate Spider-Man was seen as part of the active Ultimates team.
After seeing the Ultimate Universe was confirmed to still exist we did get a hint that not all turned out well in the years that followed for Earth-1610. That hint came from the Ultimatum storyline that took in Miles Morales: Spider-Man #10 to #21 in 2020. In that story, we saw the older and evil Miles Morales from the Spider-Men II event return. Not only did this version of Miles return but he assumed the name Ultimatum and used all the weapons from the Ultimates to fight Spider-Man Miles Morales.
While never confirmed, the fact that the evil Miles was using all of the Ultimates’ weapons did tease that things not turning out well for the Ultimate Universe. This is where the state The Maker finds the Ultimate Universe in during Venom #26 a full confirmation everything went wrong for Earth-1610.
Confirming that Ultimate Invasion was an inevitability was Venom #35, released in June 2021. In that issue, Eddie Brock used his powers as the King In Black to discover that The Maker did in fact return to the Ultimate Universe. Not only that but Eddie figured out that The Maker is in contact with the Council Of Reeds and attempts to make the Ultimate Universe stable in order to join their ranks.
Knowing this would lead to another Incursion, Eddie would go on to warn the Avengers, Krakoa’s Quiet Council, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Silver Surfer that The Maker is likely returning to Earth-616. While unsure when The Maker would attack Eddie surmised that The Maker would replace Earth-616 with the Ultimate Universe of his making.
MARVEL DIVES INTO THE MULTIVERSE
When it comes to the target of the announcement of Ultimate Invasion it wasn’t simply to attract comic book fans. If that was the case Marvel would’ve either announced it on their website, a comic book-specific outlet, or waited until the C2E2 convention at the end of March. That was not the goal here as Marvel went to Entertainment Weekly to make sure Ultimate Invasion would also capture a mainstream audience that doesn’t normally read comic books.
It is also why Marvel likely did not talk about all the comics that built The Maker and Ultimate Universe return narrative. It would just overcomplicate things when trying to have an announcement with more mainstream appeal.
But as I explained above, Ultimate Invasion is something that was just a matter of time before it happened. For whatever reason, it took them two years to actually have Ultimate Invasion happen after it was fully teased in 2021 with Venom #35. It’s tough to say why Marvel showed this uncharacteristic restraint. Marvel did have several creative options with Brian Bendis, Al Ewing, Donny Cates, Saladin Ahmed, and others all involved in building the foundation of Ultimate Invasion.
No doubt that Jonathan Hickman and Bryan Hitch are an A+ creative team. Hickman has specifically been the most important creator when it comes to what Marvel’s Multiverse looks like today. From how he talked about it in the EW article, Ultimate Invasion will be added to Hickman’s greater Marvel run that includes Fantastic Four, Avengers, and X-Men. Ultimate Invasion will just be the latest saga in Hickman’s Marvel work.
While the Multiverse has become a major deal for Marvel thanks to the MCU’s Multiverse Saga they don’t aren’t known for that like DC Comics is. Specifically, when it comes to the Avengers. Marvel’s development of the Multiverse over the last decade has been heavily reliant on Spider-Man’s Spider-Verse. Beyond that, we have seen the X-Men and Fantastic Four deal with Multiverse concepts but that’s been with alternate futures or timelines rather than Multiverse crises like Spider-Verse.
Arguably the biggest Multiverse story other than Hickman’s Avengers run was Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s Avengers Forever from 1998. Beyond that, the Avengers haven’t been tied to telling Multiverse stories. Ultimate Invasion will certainly fill this gap in the Avengers library for Multiverse stories. Miles Morales pushed to the forefront as a key player will also help integrate some Spider-Verse concepts while Hickman keeps this focused on the reformed Illuminati dealing with The Maker.
With Ultimate Invasion happening there is the question of what is going on with the project Hickman is working on with Valerio Schiti. Announced back during New York Comic Con 2022 we learned that Hickman and Schiti are working on a secret Marvel project. Outside the original announcement that included character and technology designs, we don’t know what Hickman and Schiti’s comic book is.
Given how Hickman likes to have ongoing plot threads throughout all his Marvel work, Ultimate Invasion may end up leading to this secret project. With Ultimate Invasion only being four issues that could mean that Hickman and Schiti’s project will begin in October. That is as long as Hickman and Hitch have the majority, if not all, of Ultimate Invasion done given the delays Hitch’s Ultimates run was known to have.
There are a lot of questions about Ultimate Invasion that will be answered by Jonathan Hickman and Bryan Hitch when it begins in June. No doubt, there are concerns about whether this event and the return of the Ultimate Universe were needed at this point. The Ultimate Universe was already not as well received by the end of its original run when Secret Wars rebooted everything. The most successful Ultimate Universe character in Miles Morales has long been integrated as a key part of the main Marvel Universe.
That said, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at the very least intrigued. When it comes to the comics side of things, the Ultimate Universe played a key role in discovering comic books after growing up watching the Batman and Spider-Man animated series. Ultimate Spider-Man, both the Peter Parker and Miles Morales eras, is one of my favorite comic books of all time. Having the creative team be Hickman and Hitch is the biggest selling point for Ultimate Invasion. Now, all we can do is wait until June to see how Ultimate Invasion will turn out.