There was a time when the idea of the Ultimate universe seemed lunacy. Failed attempts at getting that wacky ‘reinvention/back-to-basics’ approach on Spider-Man failed miserably before with ‘Chapter One’ and restarting all these tiles with all new backgrounds and histories and stories, well… who wants to reread a bunch of stories that made their mark the first time?
And then we got the books. Reading Bendis’s very natural take on an updated Spider-Man and seeing a rather sexy and slick new X-Men stick to almost more ‘rational’ explinations of their origins and basic concepts silenced a lot of naysayers. The Ultimates and the breakneck storytelling that Mark Millar set the bar for has nerly become standard as to how the Avengers formed in both animated and possibly movie form. The Ultimate universe has been nothing but a playground of reinvention and creativity with the idea that the character’s truths were being told no matter how they deviated. Sure, Peter Parker was a webmaster for the Daily Bugle, but it’s the fact that he’s a kid working in the news business for J. Jonah is what counts. Sure, it was a ‘genetically engineered’ spider and not a radioactive one, but the lessons learned are just the same. we bought it enough for the House of Ideas to steal one of there own and had ‘classic’ Peter try out some organic webshooters for a time. The denizens of Marvel Universe are fantastic character studies as very few heroes (or villains for that matter) actively chase their destiny. Happenstance occurs, a quirk of genetics, fate Itself intervenes and its up to the person with the great power to accept their great responsiblity or turn towards something else.
It may be a change but it’s one that’s couched in familiarity and a certain amount of sincerity towards the original origins, so to speak. It was new and fresh but didn’t exactly move from the rock solid ideals we all loved about the Marvel U. The Ultimates line had just enough of this to keep the Marvel style and keep their individuality, while at the same time uniting them in the Mighty Marvel manner. Cautiously at first, the Ultimates and the Fantastic Four and the X-Men and Spider-Man all started to interact, share plotlines and team-ups.
You might have noticed I’m using a lot of ‘past tense’ verbs here. Today, Ultimate Origins #3 comes out and when Bendis said this was going to be huge, he was not joking. Ahead, we’ll look at a sudden turn in direction for Marvel’s Merry Mutants and what this could mean for Ultimatum and those rock solid ideals.
WARNING: Really, we’re talking about Ultimate Orgins #3, so go grab your copy and read along. Spoilers ahead.
Okay, so from 2001, Bendis has been laying the groundwork for a big united ‘it’s all connected’ universe for the Ultimate characters. Ultimate Team-Up #2 and #3 had a decidedly green Hulk do some damage while Bruce Banner planted the seeds of the story we’re getting today. So far (since we all known Bendis is tricky enough to pull any red herring he wants after ‘Echo in a Dude Suit’ Ronin), we have learned that James Howlett, Nick Fury and a mohawked man named ‘Fisk’ were in World war II together, get caught trying to fence some goods off the battlefield and at least Fury and Howlett are ‘volunteered’ for the Super Soldier project of their respective countries. Nick Fury escapes as a super-man and, according to one Dr. Cornelius, James Howlett becomes a man-made mutant, the first of his kind.
While Nick Fury’s new origin has all the right shades of Marvel’s ‘Truth’ mini-series, the concept of mutation is taking an entirely different turn. Instead of being a natural process of human evolution, we learn that, not Celestials, but Canada is to blame for the creation of the X-Men, the Brotherhood and the divide between man and Homo superior. Mankind has taken their future into their own hands and created a weapon by which they can survive.
If you read a lot of science-fiction, you know how well this turns out. Nothing good can ever come of man playing God in modern fiction and it’s still a hot debate in our lives too, as technology allows us to reach further out than ever before. If all mutants were man-made, then there would have to be an equal and opposite reaction from nature. The Super Soldier project is one thing as it never left the man Fate intended it for, so to speak. In Ultimate Origins #2, history plays itself out as Steve Rogers takes the stage and becomes the Setinel of Liberty we all know and love, but yet… I find myself still dwelling on the mutants.
Ultimate Origins #3 brings us more history in the form of the first meeting of Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr. Eighteen years ago, Xavier has written a book about mutants that catches the eye of the soon-to-be self-proclaimed Master of Magnetism and they discuss the effects of Xavier’s findings and future of mutants on a college campus in San Fransciso. It’s all very leisurely, less fearful and desparate than a psychiatric hospital near Haifa, both men having seen horrors and atrocities that would forge strong concepts of survival and peace. A few years later, we catch up with the two in the savage Land, soon to be the first all mutant society. Here is where Erik Lensherr admits to having parents who not only experimented and held prison the infamous Mutant Zero, but were Canadian Weapon X agents to boot. Did Magneto get his powers through their intervention? Did we just lose one of the key factors that mad Erik Lensherr the man who grew to one of Marvel’s top villains?
Magneto’s story was full of pathos, a man who had witness the atrocities that mankind could inflict on a very personal and ugly way and remained bound and determined to see it never come to pass. His ‘by any means necessary’ approach is what created the villain, but his motivations were very real and very true. In the Ultimate line, he seems more spoiled, someone who realized his parents weren’t that great and offed them as a gesture of judgment rather than desperation. Mutants are a scholarly study that can at least fund one book rather than a secret shame that can be shared with another, creating bonds of friendship that devistate when they are broken. There’s something in the heart of the story that’s lost.
Instead of leaning on the original ideas of these classic characters, Bendis is officially starting to shoot off into another direction for modern readers. Let’s face it, the Ultimate Universe so he really can do any darn thing he well pleases; it’s the whole point of the imprint to be daring and new. As of now, the X-Men aren’t the ‘Children of the Atom’, by-products of the new Atomic Age but rather the children of mankind’s own reach for godhood, to remake ourselves with artifical dvinity in genetic form. It’s a virus that spread, a ‘disease’ that could be cured, something developed against nature by shady government forces.
It’s nothing new; a lot of popular TV shows and movies have dabbled in the idea that authority uses people like tinker toys and creates them into monsters or heroes. If the Ultimate universe is for the ‘modern’ reader, a fear of the government and the shady things that go on in the current administration is a natural breeding ground for relatable stories that could come from today’s headlines. We can’t use radiation as an excuse anymore and so we turn to secret government organizations. But why dump natural genetics? Why change evolution in understandable and attainable science-fiction? By giving it to cold scientists and military forces, do we lose the heart of natural progress? Do sides become more clear in the divide between man and mutant and therefore lose a certain amount of philosophical edge that made the X-Men champions of equality in gender and race?
It may not have been up-to-date with today’s headlines, it might have been impossible with how old the original stories were, but Ultimate Origins has taken a huge chunk out of the fight for humanity’s… well, humanity in the face of the natural born Outsider. This is no longer a fight for the future, but a fight against our past trespasses. You really shouldn’t lay all the blame against the Canadian government.