Every once in a while in comics by DC or Marvel, writers will get it in their heads that they need to clean house, so to speak, by getting rid of characters who left a mess in their respective books. This purging might also be to deflect the annoying questions from fanboys like “whatever happened to Alpha Flight?” or “Where are the New Gods?” Alpha Flight had their own series for years until they disappeared for a while, only to be very quickly killed off in just a few pages of New Avengers. After Jack Kirby passed away, nobody at DC knew exactly how to write for his Fourth World franchise; some valiant efforts were made, but eventually they were killed off in a short mini-series titled appropriately “Death of the New Gods.” A similar mentality went into the schlockbuster film X-Men 3, where it seems the studio wanted to get rid of the “boring” characters to try and make the franchise more exciting (hence the lamely plotted deaths of Cyclops, Charles Xavier and Jean Grey). Instead of creating a leaner, edgier group of mutants that audiences wanted to see, X-Men 3 more or less ruined the successful franchise, and no amount of prequels can seem to undo the damage, not even the excellent flick X-Men: First Class.
Ultimatum, written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by David Finch, sets out to clean up the whole Ultimate universe, and does so very hastily by killing off all of the characters the writers had lost interest in. What makes this series so weird, and what gives it its ranking as #3 on my list, is that all of the deaths are staged to be somehow ironic, like in the movie Seven or the Saw series. The irony is so heavy handed at times that even Rod Serling would say Jeph Loeb was laying it on thick.
(Spoilers ahead). A shocking amount of characters are killed, and every death is gruesomely depicted. There’s no panning to the shadows technique like in movies when a hero is about to be murdered. David Finch seems to take a sadistic glee in showing the horrible deaths of beloved characters. Near the beginning of Ultimatum, Charles Xavier is killed by Magneto. He dies when Magneto snaps his neck. Is this meant to be some sort of irony? The poor guy has been crippled all his life then dies by getting his spine twisted? If that churns your stomach, then you shouldn’t read the five-part series, as there are more deaths ahead.
Jeph Loeb very well could have been giggling uncontrollably when he decided to have the fattest character in the Marvel Universe kill the lightest. The Blob not only murders Wasp, but also eats her like fried chicken. The Blob forgets though that there’s someone bigger than him, and that man is Hank Pym, Wasp’s on-again-off-again lover, who tracks down the Blob and is shown biting his head off.
Speaking of major headaches, one of Marvel’s most powerful characters Doctor Strange has his weakness revealed in a startling way: yes, he can conjure up some cool sorceries, but only if he can say the magic words. His archnemesis Dormammu then defeats Doctor Strange by squeezing his body until his head pops like a zit. It made me wonder then, why didn’t Dormammu do that a long time ago?
As if all the deaths I’ve mentioned so far weren’t enough, the event that starts all the bloodshed involves thousands of New Yorkers being killed when Magneto uses his abilities to move the actual magnetic poles of Earth itself, causing the tides to go wonky and turn into a major tsunami.
Did killing off so many characters reshape the Ultimate universe in a positive way? Nope. Instead, much of the Ultimate universe was rebooted.
Jeph Loeb is usually a writer I have a lot of respect for. He did, after all, write one of the greatest Batman stories ever with The Long Halloween. He renewed my interest in The Hulk with the whole Red Hulk epic. He also helped create Heroes back in the early seasons when the show was actually good. What was he doing here? Did he watch Hostel and think to himself “This is where we need to take superhero books”?
For its higgledy-piggledy plotting, its flagrant disregard for the fans’ sentimental attachments to characters, and for its decision not to be a non-canonical “What if” story makes Ultimatum the #3 weirdest story from Marvel in the last decade.
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Check out my #5 pick: Shanna The She-Devil.
Also read my #4 pick: Deadpool: I’m Your Man.
If you liked this article on Ultimatum, check out my post about my adventures in the Marvel universe.