The 15 Best Marvel Ultimate Moments

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The Ultimate universe is ending.

Since its beginning with Ultimate Spider-Man #1 in October 2000, the Ultimate line has weathered an Extinction, an Ultimatum, a Doom and a Cataclysm, but dwindling sales and a long-obsolete original mission statement (more accessible continuity than the core Marvel universe) means it’s finally time to say farewell to the imprint that helped revitalize Marvel Comics and prepare them for comic market and cinematic domination.

The first eight years of the line focused on streamlined, modern updates of beloved franchises, including 2002’s The Ultimates, the S.H.I.E.L.D.-operated iteration of The Avengers that provided the template both for the modern mainstream Marvel U. version of the team and the Samuel L. Jackson-assembled cinematic squad. Following Jeph Loeb and David Finch’s graphically violent 2008 miniseries Ultimatum, which gruesomely killed many core characters, the Ultimate line adopted a nothing-to-lose mentality and wildly deviated from established storylines. While sales on most titles never reached pre-Ultimatum peaks, the imprint became a vital proving ground for current megastar Marvel creators like Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, Sara Pichelli and Mahmud Asrar, bending and breaking characters in a more open sandbox than the primary line could provide.

This week’s Ultimate End reunites Ultimate Spider-Man creators Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley to close the doors on the Ultimate universe for good. Hickman and Esad Ribic’s magnum opus crossover Secret Wars provides the perfect opportunity to salvage what’s working—like Miles Morales, the young, biracial Spider-Man who debuted in 2011 to much fanfare—and jettison what doesn’t.

To commemorate the impending demise of the Ultimate imprint, Paste took a look back at 15 of the best Ultimate moments from the last 15 years.

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Peter Parker Suits Up


Ultimate Spider-Man #3 (2001)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley

When then-publisher Bill Jemas envisioned the Ultimate universe as a way to unburden the Marvel Universe of decades of continuity, he planned for accessible, single-issue stories. Instead, Bendis outlined a seven-issue origin story that didn’t put Peter Parker into the familiar Spider-Man duds until the end of the third issue. The decompressed storytelling proved to be a huge hit, tapping into an audience drawn equally to Peter’s personal life and his web-slinging antics. Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s success on the title eventually led to them beating Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s record for longest nonstop collaboration on a comic series with 110 straight issues and becoming the figurehead creators for the Ultimate imprint.

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Hulk Smash Freddie Prinze Junior!


The Ultimates #4 (2002)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch

For all of the questionable-in-retrospect moments of Mark Millar’s Ultimate career, he knew how to write a scary Hulk. Brought to startlingly realistic life by Bryan Hitch, the Ultimate Hulk was more of a petulant man-baby turned into a force of nature than a kindhearted brute with anger problems, an interpretation that helped inform one of Avengers: Age of Ultron’s most destructive action sequences. If you can forget Millar’s unfortunate sexualizing of the Hulk’s first big rampage, the scene is likely best remembered now for the hilariously dated Freddie Prinze Junior reference. Contemporary, accessible comics at their finest.

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Hawkeye and Black Widow Shoot Everything


The Ultimates #7 (2002)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch

Fans have every right to criticize Joss Whedon’s portrayal of Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but thank god he didn’t fully copy the Ultimate trajectory for the character. Before Natasha betrayed the team and took an avenging arrow between the eyes, she and her S.H.I.E.L.D. comrade Hawkeye debuted in the coolest possible sequence, a mid-story segue for The Ultimates that defined the tone for the second half of the series. Bryan Hitch, recent veteran of Warren Ellis’ The Authority, defined “wide-screen action” in comics storytelling. We quite simply would not have Black Widow and Hawkeye on film as we know them today without their portrayal in this book.

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A-France


The Ultimates #12 (2003)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch

Is it clear yet that Ultimates was a big deal? Sigh. Let’s be honest: this moment is borderline offensive, and solidifies the Ultimate Captain America as someone who probably shares Glenn Beck quotes on Facebook. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the best-remembered and most-shared quotes in the imprint’s history. It may also be the single line of dialogue that best sums up Millar’s approach to writing superhero protagonists. (Plus it set up an awesome joke in Warren Ellis and Stuart Immomen’s Nextwave: Agents of Hate).

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There Will Be Six


Ultimate Six #5 (2004)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Trevor Hairsine

Ultimate Six wasn’t the first Ultimate crossover, but it’s one of the best, feeding naturally out of Ultimate Spider-Man’s long-form plot and The Ultimates’s preoccupation with government intervention. Bendis and Trevor Hairsine truly put Peter Parker through hell as Norman Osborn blackmailed Peter into joining a cadre of genetically modified foes in an attack on the White House. Osborn took an unhealthy—you might say “sinister”—pride in the Oscorp genetic tampering that led to Peter’s powers, claiming to be, in essence, Peter’s “true” father. It’s been over a decade since Ultimate Six wrapped, but the hopeless look on Peter’s face as he relents to Osborn’s threats stands out as one of Bendis’ most harrowing moments with the character.

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A Sinister Twist


Ultimate X-Men #47 (2004)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Brandon Peterson

While critics occasionally accused the early-era Ultimate books of sticking too closely to established Marvel Universe stories, certain twists stand out as particularly inventive. Brian K. Vaughan and Brandon Peterson’s Mr. Sinister is the perfect example. In the Ultimate X-Men arc “The Tempest,” the somewhat goofy Victorian geneticist in a Liberace collar is reimagined as a schizophrenic street thug gunning down mutants to please his Lord Apocalypse (who is, in reality, an effigy Sinister has constructed out of trash). Robert Kirkman would later bungle this fresh take by resurrecting Sinister and introducing a “real” Apocalypse, but the four chilling issues of the X-Men chasing down a delusional mutant-murderer were some of the best from Vaughan’s extended run.

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Fantastic Zombies


Ultimate Fantastic Four #21 (2005)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Greg Land

Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t as fondly remembered as its long-running siblings Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, but this arc, from Millar’s return to the title, kicked off a cottage industry of undead stories that Marvel has been expanding for a full decade now. Falsely teased as a crossover between the Ultimate universe and the core 616 Marvel continuity, Ultimate Reed Richards is duped into opening a doorway to an alternate universe populated by flesh-eating versions of familiar heroes. Millar is credited with a great many things in the modern comic landscape, but paving the way for the Marvel Zombies franchise (which plays heavily into Secret Wars) is not often one of them.

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Colossus Comes Out


Ultimate X-Men #65 (2005)
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Stuart Immomen

One of the jokes that hound the X-Men franchise is that the original team is a metaphor for discrimination as expressed by five conventionally attractive affluent straight white kids. Of course, founding member Bobby Drake’s recent coming out changes that joke a bit, but the Ultimate universe version of the team beat him to it by a decade. Millar frequently made ham-fisted suggestions that Piotr Rasputin might be gay during his run on Ultimate X-Men, but it took 65 issues and Brian K. Vaughan’s more nuanced hand to finally have the big metal Russian say it out loud, leading to a relationship with Northstar and tension with deeply religious pal Nightcrawler.

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Gah Lak Tus Hungers


Ultimate Extinction #2 (2006)
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Brandon Peterson

Some things were never going to fly in the more “realistic” Ultimate universe, a big purple-clad dude who eats worlds chief among them. Warren Ellis’s Ultimate Galactuc Trilogy, comprised of Ultimate Nightmare, Ultimate Secret and Ultimate Extinction, took some bizarre turns and was perhaps too cerebral compared to the general tone of the line at the time, but his reimaging of Galactus as an all-consuming, unstoppable swarm of sentient ships stretching across 100,000 miles of space is still one of the most inspired changes made to a classic Marvel concept to make it work in the modern day. Galactus can be reasoned with—Gah Lak Tus cannot. Unfortunately, the taint of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’s cinematic version of this concept likely ruins this memory in the minds of fans.

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The God of Thunder


Ultimates 2 #13 (2007)
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Bryan Hitch

While most pre-Ultimatum Ultimate stories took direct inspiration from Marvel plots of yesteryear, creators were under no obligation to follow the source material faithfully. So when Millar and Bryan Hitch began to suggest that Thor was not a true God of Thunder but a disillusioned dropout of a European super soldier program, readers couldn’t be sure if what they were reading was setup for more or an outright reveal of a sobering truth. That sense of uncertainty, too often absent from the core Marvel universe which seems destined to always snap back into place, made the eventual exposure of Loki’s mental manipulation and Thor’s lightning-powered retribution all the more impactful.

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Peter Parker Dies…


Ultimate Spider-Man #160 (2011)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Mark Bagley

The Ultimate Universe long held fast to “dead is dead,” making Peter Parker’s demise an immensely emotional moment for readers who had followed this version of Spider-Man for a decade. While Bendis eventually brought Parker back (to much fan concern), his heroic death and its fallout on his friends and family is one of the best examples of how to successfully pull off an overused plot in superhero storytelling. His final words to his Aunt May say it all: “I couldn’t save him. Uncle Ben. I couldn’t save him… No matter what I did. But I saved you. I did it. I did…”

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…and Miles Morales Arrives


Ultimate Fallout #4 (2011)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sarah Pichelli

A few years before the primary Marvel Universe replaced Peter Parker’s mind with Otto Octavius’ and stacked an Avengers team with legacy inheritors of their biggest icons, Bendis and Sarah Pichelli introduced Miles Morales, a biracial teenager who took on the immense duty of being Spider-Man in a world where the web slinger died a hero. Miles is easily the most exciting and well-received original character to come out of the entire Ultimate imprint, with Bendis and a small team of artists using the character to explore the great power/great responsibility adage in fresh new ways. It’s no surprise, then, that Miles is the first (and currently only) confirmed survivor of Ultimate End, taking a well-deserved spot on Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar’s upcoming Avengers team.

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Meet Your Maker


Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates #4 (2011)
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic

Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates introduced a lot of bold ideas, including a rethinking of one of modern-day Marvel’s most reviled retcons, the Xorn brothers. The biggest change during his run, though, was the establishment of Reed Richards as The Maker, the late-era Ultimate Universe’s greatest villain (a development that looks to play heavily into the duo’s Secret Wars tale). Villains frequently take heroic turns, but seeing a beloved Marvel icon turn his super-genius intellect to acts of mass destruction remains a chilling high point for the imprint.

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Pryde of the X-Men


Ultimate Comics: X-Men #19 (2012)
Writer: Brian Wood
Artist: Carlo Barberi

Ultimate Kitty Pryde was a lot of fun for the first decade of the line. She neatly fulfilled the young, emotional teen role on the X-Men squad and even dated Spider-Man before having nearly everyone she knew and loved taken from her during Ultimatum. Brian Wood, coming off of a big vacation from superhero comics, took over Ultimate Comics: X-Men and promptly gave it a revolutionary makeover, diving into an intensely political tale of government oppression, a mutant reservation, and a battle-hardened Kitty Pryde stepping up to lead her displaced people. Wood’s version of Pryde is a big change from what we knew before, but her radical mission for mutant safety made sense in the ravaged Ultimate world and was one of the last great changes to emerge from the line’s constant status-quo rejiggering.

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Amazing Spider-Men


Spider-Men #1 (2012)
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sarah Pichelli

Former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada infamously said that the mainstream Marvel U. and the Ultimate Universe would only crossover when Marvel “had officially run out of ideas.” Three years of extremely successful publishing later, it seems safe to say the company managed to survive this mini-series. While not technically released under the Ultimate banner, Spider-Men represented the first full, official incursion between the two universes, putting 616 Peter Parker face to face with Miles Morales—not to mention his alternate universe doppelganger’s death and a very-much-alive Gwen Stacy. Ultimate prefix or not, this meeting proved Bendis’ knack for writing Spider-drama in any universe and will no doubt remain relevant once Miles joins the main Marvel universe full-time.

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