For all that we were promised an explosive, exciting finale to cap off the fifteen-year-long run of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, Ultimate End has not delivered said end with a bang, a whimper, or even a weak fizzle. Rather, this ending can best be described as landing with an ignoble and wholly ungraceful splat, embarrassing both its readers and its creators in the process.
And — to be quite honest — for a book called Ultimate End, it spends surprisingly little time dealing with or talking about the Ultimate universe, which is a bit of a problem.
If you’re a little out of date with what’s been happening in Ultimate End, the Secret Wars tie-in miniseries that promised to bring Earth-616 and Earth-1610 together for the first and last time, well… you haven’t missed very much. Issue #4 dropped all the way back in the beginning of August, and here we are a full five months later with the concluding issue of the series. And yet, in that whole span of time, what has this series accomplished?
- The main Marvel universe and the Ultimate universe got slapped on top of each other.
- Spider-Man angsted a bit about the fact that everyone in the Ultimate universe knew his secret identity.
- Heroes butted heads.
- The Hulks broke a prison.
- 1610’s Punisher escaped from said prison and set up to shoot all the heroes. ALL of them.
- Heroes butted heads again.
- The Iron Men had a disagreement regarding research (seriously) that led into…
- Heroes butting heads (and fists, and energy blasts) yet again.
But never fear, gentle reader! The knock-down, drag-out, battle-for-the-ages you were promised between these two universes…
Never actually happens. (Thanks, Miles.)
Yes, really — all it takes to completely derail the huge battle is for the pre-Battleworld Miles Morales to swing into the picture, share his memories of the world with help from some telepaths, and let everyone know that the world they currently live in is a deep, depressing, existential lie.
After all of that, the book doesn’t even give us a properly depicted Final Battle of All The Heroes vs. Doom as a payoff for completely skipping over what was marketed as the entire point to the book itself. Instead, we get three identical splash pages featuring seventy panels of talking heads, repeated in sequence as one by one the heads fade to white (obviously indicating their death in the battle). If that’s not bad enough, the splash page isn’t a new one drawn for the battle scene, but a repetition of an earlier page used when the heroes were arguing over Miles’ revelations.
(Are we never going to see someone punch Doom in the face? That’s been the only thing I’ve asked for through this entire frustrating run of Secret Wars, and we haven’t seen it even once. I’m thoroughly disappointed.)
It’s no secret that at times, Brian Michael Bendis’ writing can get bogged down in characters talking instead of doing, and when presented with a large enough cast, the individual character voices can often sound the same. Ultimate End #5 is probably one of the best examples of this I’ve seen yet, with most of the issue consisting of nothing but talking, some attempts at making the premise behind Secret Wars (which I personally think is idiotic) try to sound grand and menacing and philosophically meaningful, and overlapping monologues from 616’s Spider-Man, 616’s Iron Man, and 1610’s Miles Morales that end up sounding like the same person repeating their last conversation with a loved one three times in a row.
Beyond all this, there’s a frightening lack of plot coherency and narrative consistency that surprises me from Bendis’ work. Plot threads are introduced with no reasoning behind them and abandoned with no further explanation (why did the Punisher change his mind about killing the heroes? Why did he want to in the first place?). Characters are dropped in from nowhere with no explanation of where they came from nor why they’re here now (Old Man Logan, I am looking at you).
Strangest of all, there are blatant instances of ignoring the continuity of both universes, which is made even stranger when you realize that some of the work that’s being ignored is work that Bendis himself wrote. I could go through so many examples, but there’s one from each of the universes that particularly stands out in this final issue. For the Ultimate universe, 1610 Captain America is alive again, despite Bendis writing his death and funeral in the Cataclysm arc and Survive one-shot. (We’ve talked about this before.) For the main Marvel universe, 616 Iron Man calls up and professes his love for Pepper Potts, of all people. This is, of course, ignoring the fact that the two have not been romantically linked in the 616 universe for a really long time. In addition, Bendis is currently writing not one but two 616 Iron Man titles, neither of which have included Pepper as a character. (MCU, stop infringing on my 616 comics. Just stop it.)
In a twist I’m still not sure if I like or not, the restoration of the universe (somehow, anyway — of course we can’t know how because Secret Wars wants to hear itself talk for yet another issue) also restores Miles’ mother, Rio Morales, back to life. While I’m very pleased to see Rio again, since she’s been one of my favorite supporting characters from Miles’ book for a long time, I can’t help but worry that she’s been brought back from death only to be fridged once again in a future issue, like so many of the friends and family of a Spider-Man often are. Beyond that, it negates the growth and development Miles has had since her untimely death, and may lead to yet another retreading of a character arc like we’ve seen so many times before in Marvel’s comics.
Rio’s return also breaks a strange unspoken rule that was present in the Ultimate universe comics — death was permanent. It’s an unusual thing for superhero comics, but was one of the things that made Ultimates comics unique to me (apart from Miles, who was the reason I started actually enjoying that imprint in the first place). In Ultimates comics, characters really didn’t come back from the dead. The characters that died, whether it was during one of the first three Ultimates books, during Ultimatum (and no, we still will never speak of that comic), or in other stories didn’t show up in future books. With the notable (and inexplicable) exception of Captain America (and a possible clone of 1610’s Peter Parker, but that was never adequately resolved), characters that were lost did not come back. With Rio’s return (and Cap’s, really), that pattern is broken, and something that made the Ultimates universe unique in the field of superhero comics is lost.
But really, if we’re honest with ourselves, the entire Ultimates universe was lost a long time ago, and Ultimate End is just the final nail being driven into its coffin.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Ultimate End is an absolute joke.
As a whole, it’s an extremely weak send-off to a section of Marvel that was near-revolutionary at the time of its inception and led the way for the advent of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a piece of writing, it’s even weaker, with little to no respect for the continuities of either universe, no overall story arc, and no adequate climax or resolution to the tension and intrigue it attempted to build up.
It even does a disservice to its artistic team, who have done their very best with some truly uninspiring subject material. Bagley, Hanna, and Ponsor have been with the Ultimate universe for a very long time, and to go out on a book like this, filled with identical pages literally copied and pasted three times in a row, unnecessary splash pages, as many heroes shoved into a page as humanly possible, and a complete and utter lack of an exciting battle scene… well, it almost feels like an insult to their time and their talents.
Ultimate End ultimately wasted our time from beginning to end, and completely failed in its original purpose as a send-off to the Ultimate universe. I’m disappointed to see something so terrible come from creators who normally produce solid, enjoyable work, but this entire thing is a complete mess that only serves to raise a middle finger to the Ultimates universe before setting its crumbling remains on fire.
Ultimate End #5 was written by Brian Michael Bendis, with pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Scott Hanna, colors by Justin Ponsor, and lettering by VC’s Cory Petit.
Images courtesy of Marvel
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Eve is asexual panromantic, a graduate student with no time for sleep (but always time for comics), a senior contributing writer for the Rainbow Hub, and an avid consumer of any type of media she can get her hands on. When not perusing her incredibly large collection of Marvel comics, she can be found reading, knitting in front of the TV, or on her laptop.