Review by Ian Keogh
Once established, both the joy and selling point of the Ultimate universe should have been that it wasn’t the mainstream Marvel universe, meaning that risks could be taken with characters and stories. The longer it ran, though, the fewer the differences became. Ultimate Origins is an attempt to re-establish some originality.
Marvel have a number of characters whose origins lie in World War II, and some whose origins stretch back even further, and it’s the likes of Nick Fury, Wolverine and Captain America whose past comes under scrutiny. They’re used by Brian Michael Bendis to create a history of the Ultimate universe before the millennium, with the primary focus being the super solider serum that created Captain America, never successfully duplicated. The least interesting chapter is an over-long rehash of Cap’s origin story, seen many times before, but the remainder is a fascinating exercise in construction that refines some people, Nick Fury especially. Along the way there’s a side trip into Charles Xavier’s earliest discussions on mutants with Magneto, and a gathering of the world’s scientific geniuses.
The dark naturalism employed by Jackson Guice is the ideal art style for a shadowy story where secrets are plenty and dirty deeds are expensive. He’s an exceptional all-rounder, good at people, but also at surroundings. Better still, he gives those surroundings a period feel. The lab in which Captain America is created doesn’t look like a futuristic place way out of tune with the 1940s, but by present day standards something cobbled together with wire, tin baths and lightbulbs.
Events during a patchy first couple of chapters are skilfully pulled together to deliver on the title premise, and new light is shed on old scenes, underlining why these are not the same characters as their counterparts. Along the way Bendis drops in several nice echoes, one exceptionally fine touch being how an encounter between Spider-Man and the Hulk opening the story has a resonance in the past unknown to either character. Crucially, though, this isn’t an all-encompassing filling of the gaps. There’s a good revelation concerning the origins of the mutant gene, for instance, but how it spread is hinted at without ever being explained. Perhaps that’s frustrating, or perhaps it’s just something for someone else to pick up on.
Ultimate Origins was released just prior to the world-changing Ultimatum, and a relatively feeble ending ties into that. It’s a compromised solution to a present day mystery used to generate tension, but there’s enough to enjoy without bothering too much about that.