Marvel's New Ultimate Comics Line Is Perfect For New Readers (Yes, Including You)

There are too many Marvel Comics out there to read them all — and I'm talking about both the current ongoing series, and the 85 years of accumulated material. The publisher is aware of this, so what's its solution to hook new readers?

In 2000, Marvel launched "Ultimate Marvel," a new series of comics set in a separate continuity from the original "Earth-616" comics. The Ultimate Marvel comics followed the classic heroes, from Spider-Man to the Avengers (renamed the Ultimates), getting their powers in a more contemporary-styled setting. These were comics written not to appeal to long-time, continuity-obsessed fans, but to hook the new generation of nerds obsessing over "Buffy" and "The X-Files." That reverberated back and Ultimate Marvel became the primary influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least in Phase 1, when things were smaller-scale).

After highs and lows, Ultimate Marvel ended in 2015. In 2024, it returned ... sort of. Rather than a continuation of the old Ultimate Universe, Marvel has just recycled the idea — a new reader-friendly reboot — and name for yet another new continuity (dubbed Earth-6160).

There is some backstory, detailed in the four-part mini-series "Ultimate Invasion" and one-shot "Ultimate Universe" #1. Long story short, an evil Reed Richards (from the original Ultimate Universe) created a new universe to call his own, intervening throughout history so there would be no superheroes to challenge him (he personally stops Peter Parker's fateful spider bite). That resultant world is the setting of the new Ultimate Marvel universe, where superheroes are just emerging. 

Luckily, the three ongoing "Ultimate" comics are more about letting each creative team tell the story they want to than trying to streamline them into a larger narrative. This, and each book being freshly started, means they're easy to pick up and dive into.

Ultimate Spider-Man

"Ultimate Spider-Man" (by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley) kicked off the original Ultimate Marvel universe, following a teenage Peter Parker who was a '90s kid, not a '60s one.

History repeats; the first ongoing comic in the new Ultimate universe is "Ultimate Spider-Man" by the creative dream team of writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Marco Checchetto. This one isn't trying to recreate Stan Lee & Steve Ditko's Spider-Man for the 21st century, though. 

Aunt May has passed while Uncle Ben is still alive (and best pals/co-workers with J. Jonah Jameson). As for Peter, he gets his Spider-powers 20 years late; before he takes his first web-slinging, he's already married to MJ and they have two kids. Hickman compared his middle-aged Spidey to Peter B. Parker from the animated "Spider-Verse" films. Checchetto's art is as good as ever (his "Daredevil" run with Chip Zdarsky is worth checking out), but this is one of Hickman's more personally-scaled books (he often writes metaphysical epics, even in his "Avengers" run). "Ultimate Spider-Man" is the superhero story as a mid-life crisis. Peter is trying to get back the life he should have had with no time to spare.

It's also a slow burn, with Peter building his Spider-Man persona piece-by-piece (with some help from his kids) while mysteries boil (just who is the Green Goblin?). This structure makes it perfect for new readers. Peter is learning the ropes too, and there are enough surprises to keep those who already know the basics of Spider-Man on their toes.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" has published three issues so far (each one corresponds to the month of the year it was published; #1 is January, #2 is February, #3 is March, etc.). There's still plenty of time to catch up before the year ends.

"Ultimate Spider-Man" Issue #4 releases on April 24th, 2024. Volume 1, "Married with Children" (collecting issues #1-6) releases on September 10, 2024.

Ultimate Black Panther

Next up is "Ultimate Black Panther," written by Bryan Hill with art by Stefano Caselli. The main cast and aesthetic of Wakanda are in line with the MCU "Black Panther" films, so if you've seen those, you can dive right in.

Like in the action-packed sequel "Wakanda Forever," the nation is at war in "Ultimate Black Panther." In this world, two dictators named Ra (God of the Sun) and Khonshu (God of the Moon), collectively called Moon Knight, control all of Africa, except Wakanda. They intend to bring the nation to heel and Wakanda must fight back.

"Ultimate Black Panther" is less of a superhero story and more of a fantasy epic. Hill said he was using "Dune" as a reference, and that shines through. T'Challa is a troubled leader forced into war after the assassination of his father (much like Paul Atreides), his wife Okoye is his conscience (like Chani), and the Wakandan priestess of god Vodu-Khan is as ominous as a Bene Gesserit sister.

Wakanda isn't the only one fighting back against the Moon Knight. Killmonger and Storm (known as the "Wind-Rider," since there are no X-Men in this world yet) are a pair of vigilantes fighting back against Ra and Khonshu's army. While these twists will be extra-rewarding for Marvel Comics fans, you don't need to be versed to appreciate the story.

"Ultimate Black Panther" has published two issues so far; Issue #3 releases on April 17, 2024. Volume 1, "Peace and War," (collecting issues #1-4) publishes on October 1, 2024.

Ultimate X-Men

The wildest swing of the new Ultimate Marvel universe is "Ultimate X-Men," written and drawn by Peach Momoko. Unlike most American comic artists, Momoko paints with watercolors. That and her manga-flavored character designs make her Marvel books look like no other on the market. "Ultimate X-Men" has none of the trappings or characters you probably associate with X-Men: no Professor X, no Magneto, no Wolverine, and no hateful hysteria over mutant civil rights. The book is set in Japan and follows teenage mutant Hisako Ichiki, aka Armor. Created by Joss Whedon during "Astonishing X-Men," Armor has the power to generate a red force field around herself, like a psionic mecha. 

"Ultimate X-Men" issue #1 follows Hisako, who is an outcast at her school and mourning the suicide of her friend Tsubasa. She discovers her mutant gift as she's menaced by a shadowy being taunting her over Tsubasa's death. The colors fade to grey whenever this demon (apparently a new take on X-Men foe the Shadow King) is on the page and his speech bubbles are color-inverted (white text on black background). The issue is like a ghost story written by horror mangaka Junji Ito, from the rural Japanese setting and teenage protagonist, to the unease that ratchets up as you flip every page. 

Only one issue of "Ultimate X-Men" has been published thus far. That means now is the perfect time to pick it up and see if it's to your liking, with no strings attached to check out the unpublished next issues. 

"Ultimate X-Men" issue #2 releases on April 10, 2024. "Ultimate X-Men" Volume 1 releases on November 5, 2024.