The relevance of the Ultimate line cannot be understated or ignored, for it both reinvigorated a fan base and brought in new readers. Myself? I fell somewhere between those two categories. Hit the jump to read my experience with the Ultimate line.
I had always read comics, my father made sure of that. He bought me trades early on in my life, things that no little boy could resist reading, such as DC vs. Marvel (or is it the other way around?), The Death of Superman, The Dark Knight Returns, and Lobo (yes, I was exposed to ultra-violence early on) among many others. I was a comic reader, but only of whatever he would buy me. I had no idea of much of the surrounding universe or the extended character stories, although I knew they were out there. I would always be left off a little confused because I couldn't find out the rest of the story behind these characters and I always wanted to know everything (yes, I was that kind of child). A strange side effect to all of this was that I missed out on some of the 90's more maligned stories, such as The Clone Saga and Knightfall that to my knowledge were never properly collected. My reading habits would pretty much stay the same for several years because of this.
The Ultimate Age
Flash forward to somewhere around 2002 (I was 14 or 15 at the time), and I find myself in a KB Toys, of all places. I don't remember what I was doing in there, exactly, probably accompanying my family on one of the many mall trips, when I found a spinner with various magazines. Inside it, I found some comics that were priced at $1 each and on that spinner were books with the X-Men and Spider-Man on the covers, so, being free to buy on my own for once without my father doing the choosing, I decided to buy them. These comics were Ultimate Spider-Man #1, #11, and #13 and Ultimate X-Men #7 and #9. And that's how my relationship with the Ultimate Universe started with just 5 measly dollars and a random encounter in the spinner of a toy store.
Small side note: In case you are wondering, I found out today that the version of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 that I have is actually a reprint exclusive only to KB Toys, which is printed on cheaper paper. I'm not sure if this makes the comic more or less valuable than a regular copy.
Let's talk about these issues for a little bit, as they left quite an impression on my young, teenage mind.
Ultimate X-Men just blew my mind away! Issue #7 is very Nightcrawler-centric, where he attempts to escape the Weapon X complex, and also features Wolverine investigating an older facility of the same organization.
Issue #9, on the other hand, had Nick Fury doing his best James Bond impression as he infiltrated an enemy complex while the entire X-Men team was captured and being used as living weapons.
I missed the transition from one issue to the other, but one thing was clear: these were not the X-Men I knew from 90's animated series (I don't remember if I had see the X-Men movie at this point or not), nor the ones I knew from my previous reading experience, which, admittedly, didn't include that many X-titles at the time. The way they acted was different, yet these were the characters I knew. The cynic in me now would see this as a blatant attempt to make these characters more movie-ready (specially considering Mark Millar's track record, although he barely had a 'record' to speak of at this point), but, at the time, it did it's job graciously, bringing another reader into the fold.
The same thing happened with Ultimate Spider-Man. I, like everybody else, knew the origin of Spider-Man, but seeing it retold in issue #1 had a profound effect on me. Watching it happen in a modern setting made it all the more real, more dangerous, especially with Norman Osborn's machinations against poor 15-year old Peter Parker.
Issue #11 had Spider-Man go after Kingpin, only to get his behind handed to him by Electro and, while I didn't know how the fight ended for some time (because I was missing issue #12), I knew he made it out alive because he was just fine in issue #13. Still, I wasn't accustomed to seeing Spider-Man lose or being as green as he was in these issues, which made them all the more refreshing and new to me.
In case you are keeping track, issue #13 was the "Confessions" issue where Peter revealed his best friend, Mary Jane, that he was Spider-Man and, in the process, led Aunt May to believe they were actually having sex. Many people argue that this is one of Brian Bendis's finest comic writing moments and I'd be hard pressed to disagree. It's such a wonderfully choreographed scene with great dialogue that feels absolutely real.
When my father saw that I was so interested in these comics, some time later that year, he bought me the first trades of both series and I was beyond hooked. I didn't follow the series in single issues because I had no idea where to buy them (I would only find out years later that there were a couple of comic book shops in my city), so, instead, I read the collections as they came out. I'd read these collections over and over again, to the point of almost memorizing each book.
About two years later, with my ultimate comic reading in full boom, I found out that the library also had these collections available for free, among several other Ultimate books. It was through these comics that I started to care about who wrote and illustrated the stories, something that I had never cared for before. I started to see what other works Mark Millar, Brian Bendis and Warren Ellis had written, which led me to the Ultimate Galactus trilogy. It was completely foreign to me, something unlike anything I had ever seen or read before: the scale of the threat , the gut wrenching reality of the events and the desperate reactions of the heroes. Despite some people disliking it, claiming it to be one of Ellis's worst efforts, it still holds a special spot in my comic reading heart.
With my comic addiction at full throttle, I started to look for information online about current stories and characters. I even started to join discussions with my growing knowledge of comic books. In a matter of months, I had devoured all that there was to read from the Ultimate line and made my way to the rest of the Marvel and DC Universes that I had left years ago. Soon enough, I was hunting garage sales and book faires for back issues that looked interesting,and I started to catch up on some of the events that I missed. Eventually, once I had my own money, I started buying single issues again.
For all intent and purposes, the Ultimate line turned me into the heavy comic reading person that I am today. They were my gateway drug into this addiction that now takes up most of my time (and money), and I am sure that I'm not the only one that was equally affected by the Ultimate line. Feel free to share your stories regarding the Ultimate universe, and how they affected your reading habits, and your thoughts and hopes for the future of the line as it transitions to Ultimate Comics.