(Panini)

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THE majority of my reviews looking at the Ultimate line of comic series have tended to initially explain the slight divergences between the imprint and the mainstream Marvel Universe. It’s a more grounded reality, where mutants are the result of government experimentation, Spider-Man is still a teenager, and superheroes are usually in the employ of the military, etcetera, etcetera.

The thing is, that over the past few years so many far-reaching changes have been wrought on the Ultimate characters that there are now only the vaguest similarities between them and their more well-known Marvel counterparts.

From the mutant terrorist Magneto devastating the US Eastern Seaboard with a tsunami, resulting in the deaths of various key characters, to the recent death of Peter Parker and his replacement by a new Spider-Man, the Ultimate U seems reluctant to sit still for a minute.

This latest incarnation of The Ultimates picks up in the wake of Parker’s death, former Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards going rogue, and Captain America quitting the team, but the lack of any sort of synopsis at the beginning could leave new readers flailing immediately. Panini used to be very good at providing this sort of additional detail to their trades, but these seem to have disappeared in recent months.

That said, there’s nothing that you won’t find out from a quick Wiki-search, and writer Jonathan Hickman does his best to ensure any unfamiliarity with recent continuity won’t dampen your reading experience.

The events of Ultimate Hawkeye (see separate review) are referenced, but the main thrusts of this story are the unveiling of the Dome, a futuristic city populated by superhumans, the actions of the Kratos Club, a cabal of billionaires prepared to wreak mass destruction in order to manipulate the stock market, and the shocking destruction of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.

There is obviously a long-term game plan for the whole Ultimate Universe being seeded here, and the issues collected are part of a much wider strategy to thrust this alternative reality in an entirely new direction. That this means some of the real-life grounding which made the imprint stand out on its original launch will be lost is perhaps inevitable, but that need not be a bad thing if Hickman is given the opportunity to develop his multi-layered vision properly.

The widescreen superheroics which have characterised the Ultimates up until this juncture are no longer in play here, despite the extreme threats presented, but that was a riff which was gradually wearing thin, and it’s nice to see the characters being used in different ways during the course of this opening arc.

After some failed attempts to revitalise the Ultimate U in recent years, with Jeph Loeb’s Ultimatum storyline perhaps the nadir of these, there is a sense of optimism about this latest relaunch, with a new team of high-profile creators on board to inject a different dynamic into the concept.

Events here end on a cliffhanger, but it’s not a disappointing resolution to this volume, and promises a positive new direction for not only the Ultimates, but this sideways world in which they inhabit.

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