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They were the team that started Marvel Entertainment’s Ultimate line before killing Peter Parker years later — Well, one of the Peter Parkers; the other one died a year later in another comic (Don’t ask) — and now Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley appear to be gearing up to end the universe altogether.
Cataclysm, a series announced at this weekend’s Comic-Con and launching later this year, has Bendis and Bagley telling a story that Marvel describes as “The Ultimates Last Stand.” That’s not an errant “s,” however; it’s the last stand of the Ultimates, the alternate world Avengers that exist in Marvel’s “Ultimate universe.”
There have been rumors that Marvel has been looking to close out its Ultimate line for some time. If true, it makes some sense; the line hasn’t been a significant sales force for some years, and as the publisher has put more focus on its core titles, the original intent of the line as an easier entry point for new readers offering some of the most popular new creators in the industry has been lost.
From a story perspective, the conclusion of the Age of Ultron series has set in motion a “collapse of reality” narrative that could easily explain away the end of that particular fictional universe if the Powers That Be decreed it (Also, Galactus, the familiar planet eater of Fantastic Four fame, has just shown up in a tie-in series ominously called Hunger). Basically, everything is in place for Marvel to pull the plug if editors so wish — but are they going to go that far?
The Ultimate line has a strange place in Marvel’s fortunes, with early issues of The Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four and, to a lesser extent, Ultimate Spider-Man informing the characters’ movie portrayals. Since its creation in 2000, the line has featured the first Marvel work for creators who have gone on to become particularly important to the publisher as a whole, including Bendis himself, who now serves as part of Marvel Studios’ creative committee.
If the Cataclysm series is to end the Ultimate line — Editor Mark Paniccia will only tease that “there are going to be some tears shed” by readers as a result — it’ll be interesting to see if Marvel will replace it with another print version of its characters for readers who feel overwhelmed by the larger “main” Marvel universe, or whether that work is being done by the movies and animated series these days. Have comics had their day as the feeder medium for Marvel?
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