Graphic Novels Review: Ultimate Comics crossover: Divided We Fall, United We Stand

Ultimate Marvel Universe: Divided We Fall, United We Stand

Ultimate Marvel Universe: Divided We Fall, United We Stand - Credit: Archant

Featuring Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates

Captain America is sworn in as US President

Captain America is sworn in as US President - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

THE impact and consequences of this story arc are so crucial to the very heart of the Ultimate Marvel Universe that it would be to do it a disservice not to consider the crossover as a whole, rather than the sum of its individual parts.

Indeed, the seeds of this momentous series of events have their roots in the past few years of Ultimate titles, including the devastating Ultimatum wave unleashed by mutant terrorist Magneto on the United States’ Eastern seaboard, the destruction of otherworldly realm Asgard, the death of original Spider-Man Peter Parker and the persecution of mutantkind.

It is also not the sort of story you’d recommend to a newcomer to the Ultimate Universe, that self-contained parallel realm which is far more grounded in the real world than the mainstream Marvel U, but has differentiated itself in more drastic ways than would ever be inflicted upon the core reality.

To get the most out of this three-volume narrative you need to have been following what’s happened in the Ultimate U pretty extensively, but if you want to hit the ground running regardless then a quick trawl through past reviews on this site, coupled with a session on Wikipedia, should bring you relatively up to speed.

The United States has been torn apart by recent catastrophies, with Texas having declared independence as a nuclear-armed nation, robot Sentinels occupying New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma, Washington DC devastated, and militia hotspots across the remaining US Government-controlled zones. A push to restore order is being led by the Ultimates and the forces of SHIELD, but civil unrest threatens to tear apart what remains of America… with mass murder and extinction camps on US soil.

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Can Captain America and his allies really reunite the country before it’s too late? Hell, what do you think?! The story unfolds in the following three titles…

Ultimate Spider-Man

APPROPRIATELY for this grassroots superhero title, the focus here is on the little man, the average US citizen caught up in the crisis, with new Spidey Miles Morales striving to prove himself and live up to the legacy of his predecessor.

Picking up on previous volumes, the initial part of this book concludes the conflict between Miles and his criminal uncle Aaron, also known as master-thief the Prowler, who has been blackmailing his nephew into supporting his bid for power over the New York criminal fraternity. It was never going to end well, and the conclusion finds Miles even more at odds with his powers and responsibility.

But there’s no time for the teenage hero to brood, as not only does he come face-to-face with Parker’s aunt May, his girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson and pal Gwen Stacy, but he receives a stern warning from a guilt-stricken Captain America that he is not to follow in the tragic footsteps of the first Spider-Man.

The escalating chaos which is spreading across the shattered nation finally reaches NY, forcing Miles headlong into the conflict, and leading to Captain America eventually recognising his commitment, skills and worthiness to join the ranks of the Ultimates, an accolade which has its downside, as Spider-Man soon finds himself on the front line of the battle to save America…

Writer Brian Michael Bendis continues the themes he established more than 10 years ago with the launch of the Ultimate Comics line, grounding his characters in the face of fantastical circumstances, and never forgetting the human side to their struggles.

Ultimate X-Men

EVENTS have been far from kind to the mutant population of America in recent months. Having initially believed themselves to be the next stage in human evolution, “Homo Superior” as it were, they have discovered their origins in fact lie in genetic manipulation experiments conducted by their own government.

The death and destruction unleashed by Magneto also resulted in mutants being considered outlaws, and rounded up for incarceration in special internment camps. To make matters worse, attacks from mutant-killing Sentinel robots, anti-mutant militia forces, and the actual hunting of mutants in the southwestern states as some sort of twisted bloodsport have left the surviving X-Men with little confidence in their species’ future.

They have effectively been abandoned by the US Government, and even as America is torn apart by civil war, mutant outcasts are being slaughtered for no crime other than the fact that they are different.

Escaping New York and leaving behind their young mutant followers in the custody of Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jimmy Hudson and Bobby “Iceman” Drake head for the southwest in a last ditch attempt to save Homo Superior from extermination…

The sense of desperation and menace facing the entire mutant species pervades every page of this tense and emotive title, perhaps one of the strongest X-Men books in recent years. We’ve seen dozens of stories featuring the persecution of mutants, both in the Ultimate and mainstream Marvel universes, but it has rarely seemed so real.

Writer Brian Wood has revitalised the Ultimate X-Men as a team and title, and it has never been as exciting to read as it is now. Quite simply, awesome.

The Ultimates

FOLLOWING a self-imposed exile, Captain America is back, but is the Sentinel of Liberty too late to save the US from fracturing around him?

Spearheading a team of Ultimates including Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye, Cap prevents the leaders of the Texan secession from destroying New York with a nuclear missile, before preventing mass slaughter on the West Coast by rogue robot drones, only to find himself faced with the most unexpected result of all.

An emergency Presidential election inspired millions of Americans to vote for Captain America as a write-in candidate, leaving the star-spangled superhero unexpectedly chosen for the highest office in the land…

It’s a fascinating concept, and one which was only ever played with in the mainstream Marvel Universe, to have the living embodiment of the American Dream elected as the nation’s Commander in Chief.

But as “President Cap”, aka Steve Rogers, freely admits, he is a soldier, not a politician, and there’s no way he’s going to fight the battle to restore order to the US from behind a desk. Instead he gets out there doing what he’s always done, fighting on the front line with just a shield for protection.

Swiftly ending the conflict between the Carolinas, arresting the so-called “Dictator of Detroit”, and negotiating the reunification of the West Coast Nation, the newly-elected American President wastes no time in actively bringing the chaos under control, despite opposition from factions within the Senate Emergency Powers Committee.

But the menace of the growing threat of the anti-government forces of Hydra, combined with a surprise survivor of fallen Asgard who has their own agenda, means the Ultimates have one last battle to win before victory is assured… the invasion of Wyoming.

Offering the bigger picture on the conflict in which Spider-Man was only a part, this is literally world-defining comics the likes of which we rarely see elsewhere. Fusing political intrigue with superhero action is a tricky balance to maintain (and nobody has really done it better than Brian K Vaughan with his Ex Machina series) but Ultimates writer Sam Humphries does a pretty good job.

A signature moment for the Ultimates universe, which has now moved so far away from its original concept as a simple parallel version of the Marvel mainstream to become its own independent entity, and is all the better for it. It will be very intriguing to see where the line goes from here…