After over ten years of publishing, it seems to me that the Ultimate Marvel Universe is almost as heavy in complex continuity as its mainstream counterpart. I mean, the Ultimate Marvel's raison d'être was to allow new readers to pick up a comic without having to read up on years of stories and characters, but after looking into buying some Ultimate Marvel TPB's I'm becoming convinced that Ultimate Marvel is just as bad as regular Marvel. I loved the first Ultimate X-Men TPB, and I was planning to read all of the Ultimate publications, but I cannot find a definitive reading order for them, nor can I find anything which convinces me that I wouldn't be better off reading the older comics. What with the crossover events it's not like I can just read X-Men, then move onto Ultimate Spider-Man, then Ultimate Fantastic Four, then The Ultimates, etc, so is it actually any better to read Ultimate comics than mainstream ones? X-Men seems to from what I know merely toy with old Claremont-era ideas and twist them into new settings and "modern" contexts, so is it just better to read the old stories? I'm not asking which is better written or drawn, but which would be easier to read while avoiding the confusion of continuity?
Is Ultimate Marvel even worth reading?
what's complex about the continuity? there have been no resets or anything like that...you read from point A to point B and you've got the entire story...there has only been one major crossover event in the entire 13 years of publication and for most of the series you don't need to read anything other than that series....you can just read one series and that's it....I just reread Ultimate Spider-man from the beginning until the current issue without having to read any other series and I was fine...you can do the same with Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-men and the Ultimates are just a series of minis that you just read in order...what is so difficult about that?
You can read most books and ignore the majority of mini-series (because they have no affect on anything), there are cross-overs and I'll actually provide you with the ones that actually matter if you care for the information. There are some reading orders out there but they are unnecessary, the Ultimate books actually can be read all in one go for one series (I'd personally say that this is the best way to do it), it’s great that way. I’ll give you the basic order of everything important that came in Pre-Ultimatum. If you want to know about Post-Ultimatum (outside of the very few things I’ll be mentioning here) then say so and I’ll help you there as well. I’ll be keeping this spoiler-free, so don’t worry about that.
Something to keep in mind is that you stated you were interested in purchasing the books in trades, so you should keep in mind that Annuals and Wizard #½ books are all included in the trades in their proper place in the series.
Ultimate Spider-Man #1-133, Annuals #1-3, Wizard #½
Ultimatum Spider-Man Requiem #1-2
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1 #1-15
Ultimate Spider-Man #150-160
Ultimate Fallout: Death of Spider-Man #1-6
Ultimate Six #1-7
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #1-16
Read them in the order I’ve posted them until #46 of Ultimate Spider-Man, this is the point where Ultimate Six takes place and although the Ultimates are present in the story it has no bearing on them in any way. Also, unlike every other book, Ultimate Spider-Man is completely unaffected by the "Full Universe Cross-Overs" that I mention further down the list with the exception of Ultimate Origins (it doesn't affect his story, but it gives detail to certain events that involved him, some info on his parents, etc) Ultimatum and the Ultimate Doomsday Trilogy.
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up all takes place before #27 of Ultimate Spider-Man, so it started approximately around #11 or 12 (it’s been so long, but I checked some outside sources to make certain and I am correct). This entire series is almost complete garbage, #9 isn’t in continuity at all (the continuity of a few of these issues is in question, but Bendis has stated that all but #9 are in continuity). Even then you can completely ignore this series and what you miss is rather negligible (with the exception of one or two books) and I’ll give a spoiler-free explanation of why certain books may be relevant and what impact they have on the overall story. It’s a lot of information, so I’ll put it in spoilers.
- · #1 has Spider-Man and Wolverine’s first meeting, the two make comments to each other in subsequent meetings about how they’ve met before (nothing of consequence).
- · #2 and 3 contain the first appearance of Ultimate Hulk (this is directly referenced in Ultimates when they bring up the Hulk and why the character of Bruce Banner is in the series (Although this is somewhat major it’s all covered in the Ultimates and I’d personally say that the way everything is referenced in that series is better without having read this, but the actual event is here if you want it). Outside of this explanation at the beginning of the Ultimates this event isn’t referenced in any real way again and has no impact at all on Spider-Man’s stories.
- · #4 and 5 contain the first meeting between Spider-Man and Iron Man. Some arguable continuity that can be explained away by saying that the life-story of Stark that’s portrayed in a film was “spun” by his PR team. This is never referenced anywhere and the two characters never mention it and behave as though this never happened.
- · #6, 7 and 8 has the first meeting between the characters of Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Punisher. In later books Daredevil dislikes Spider-Man in general and indicates that these events are the reason why. This is the introduction of the Punisher; he appears for a very brief moment in later books where he’s practically a joke in his ineffectuality. Before knocking him out almost instantly Spider-Man mentions that he’s gotten out of prison since he was put in there. The punisher also appears in the Post-Ultimatum Ultimates stories that go up until the “Death of Spider-Man” as a member of the team, after which he is no longer a member. This has little bearing on him there, although it’s in continuity.
- · #9 is a joke and out of continuity (officially, not just because it’s made of fail). It’s also the least funny thing that has ever existed.
- · #10 is the introduction of the Lizard, this is actually relevant to the main series and is one of the only book from the series that isn’t lazily written and I’d actually tell you to bother with.
- · #11 is just a character piece where Spider-Man and the X-Men hang out in a mall (out of costume). It refers back to #1. Although I giggled a little when Wolverine made Pete feel like a tool when he figured him out (He smelled Peter and figured out his identity) it doesn’t have any real bearing on things.
- · #12 and 13 introduces Doctor Strange. Has no bearing on things outside of the fact that when the characters meet later they’re aware that they’ve met before.
- · #14 introduces Black Widow. It’s never referenced again and if it weren’t for the comments made by Bendis I’d say this was out of Continuity. It seems as though this was written by Bendis as a lead-in to the Ultimates series (there’s a tiny blurb on the last page that mentions readers can see her again in the Ultimates), but he wasn’t given any details as to what that series would be like at all. She acts out of character, her backstory/motives are wrong (although due to her being a spy you can argue that these points are merely a way to throw people off her trail) and even Nick Fury is seen at the end and they used the MU Nick Fury (the white guy) instead of the UU version that looks like Samuel L. Jackson.
- · #15 and 16 and the characters introduced in these books are never seen and/or referenced anywhere ever again.
Spider-Man does appear in a handful of other books, but his appearance in those stories does not affect his book in any way.
Ultimate X-Men #1-100, Annual #1-2, Wizard #½
Ultimatum X-Men Requiem #1
Ultimate War #1-4
Ultimate War Takes place directly after #27 and finishes before #28. Although This is a crossover with the Ultimates it has no affect on the Ultimates at all, in fact if you were reading the Ultimates on its own you would have no reason to even know this existed, although it is of major importance to the Ultimate X-Men.
Ultimate Fantastic Four:
Ultimate Fantastic Four #1-60, Annual #1-2
Ultimate Fantastic Four Requiem #1
Outside of the Full-Universe Cross-Over mini-series this books stands on its own (although in my opinion it was unreadable during #33-57 because of the Mike Carey run, but that’s irrelevant.
Ultimates 2 #1-13, Annual #1-2
Ultimate Captain America Annual #1
Ultimates 3 #1-5
You’ve probably heard it all before, only the first two are worth a damn. Everything you’ve heard is true and I say that with no hyperbole. Whilst reading you will definitely feel as though you’ve missed a lot of information and that you must not have read something important, that’s not you, the book is just really bad and Jeph Loeb did no research at all before writing this, he quite literally didn’t even read the first two volumes on the Ultimates. That Ultimate Captain America Annual simply explains away who and what the Black Panther is, outside of a minor and utterly pointless plot point in Ultimates 3 this has no purpose and is easily ignored.
Full Universe Cross-Over Mini-Series:
Ultimate Galactus/Gah Lak Tus Trilogy:
- · Ultimate Nightmare #1-4
- · Ultimate Secret #1-4
- · Ultimate Extinction #1-4
Ultimate Power #1-9
Ultimate Origins #1-5
Ultimate Doomsday Trilogy
- · Ultimate Enemy #1-4
- · Ultimate Mystery #1-4
- · Ultimate Doom #1-4
The Ultimate Galactus trilogy, although broken up into 3 seperate mini-series is actually a single 12-part story that was broken into 3 arcs (in fact the most popular trade/HC of the books is actually sold as the ultimate galactus trilogy with all three books combined), many say that Marvel was testing whether or not selling 3 4-part arcs would sell better than a single 12-part mini-series. Everyone except for Spider-Man is involved in this story, it’s a very solid read and has some noticeable affects on everyone’s attitudes towards each other. This takes place at approximately after #53 in Ultimate X-Men and #20 of Ultimate Fantastic Four, After Ultimates 1, but before Ultimates 2.
Ultimate Power and Ultimate Origins take place directly before Ultimatum (although Ultimate Power is before Ultimates 3 and Ultimate Origins explains things that happened earlier, reading it directly before Ultimatum is when it is meant to be read). Ultimate Power doesn’t amount to much, but is a lead-in and influences Ultimatum.
Ultimatum is King S*** of Turd Mount. It happens after Ultimates 3 and all the ongoing series tie in to the series. Ultimate Spider-Man #129-133, Ultimate Fantastic Four #58-60 and Ultimate X-Men #98-100 are all the tie-ins.
After Ultimatum (but before the Death of Spider-Man relaunch) there were only two book series printed; Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man Vol. 1 (which was renamed back to Ultimate Spider-Man for #150-160 after #15 of that series for the Death of Spider-Man arc) and the Ultimates (although that was all told in mini-series that often had different names and changed between mini-series, like Ultimate Avengers, etc). Every other series was cancelled following Ultimatum.
The Ultimate Doomsday trilogy is like the Ultimate Galactus trilogy in that it’s one full story broken into 3 arcs. It occurs around Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 1 #15. It directly influences the Fantastic Four, a number of the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Ultimates.
Now, there are some parts of continuity that are downright broken during this period that you'll have to ignore, that's down to a couple of things that I'll explain here, I'll put the one minor spoiler in blocks (it regards a romantic relationship between major characters in multiple series) so that you only see it if you care to:
- Time length, some series, like the Ultimates, take place over a couple of years, some take place over incredibly short periods, like Ultimate Spider-Man, leading to impossible to explain time lapses, but that's one of the near unavoidable problems with shared universes, so you gotta live with it.
- Kitty Pride's relationship with Spider-Man; the two are in a relationship for a while, however Spider-Man breaks it off in Ultimate Spider-Man #105/106 (so approximately 28 issues prior in all series) and Kitty joins the book as a member of the supporting cast (she's no longer in Ultimate X-Men after this point as she is expelled from the school the X-Men run and now joins Peter at his high school). Every other book in the Ultimate line (until Ultimatum) recognizes that Kitty is now going to Peter's school and is a member of his supporting cast, however they do not recognize that the characters are no longer in a relationship and behave and portray the two as though they're still dating. I assume that such a large mistake is because there was an editorial edict that was passed down, but Bendis had plans and this was during a time when no one would dare mess with any plans Bendis may have had with Ultimate Spider-Man (the books sales figures were amazing).
I hope I've helped you in some way and shown you that the Ultimate line is infinitely less convoluted than the main line as you seemed to originally think. I plan to update this very shortly with an Ultimate trade reading order regarding what I've listed thus far. If you want to know about post-Ultimatum, then just say so and I'll add that in.
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