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Monday, November 03, 2014 

More about the possible end to the Ultimate line

Newsarama wrote an "eulogy" for Marvel's Ultimate line, which might be seeing its last gasp next year, and talks about some of the effects it led to or precipitated, damaging much of the industry's approach to storytelling in the process. It begins thus:
Comics are a business first and foremost and the creation of the Ultimate Marvel Universe was a decision made in that vein. In the industry's endless quest to acquire new and younger readerships, Marvel devised a plan to shed decades of continuity, often claimed to be intimidating to new readers, while not upsetting their loyal and extremely vocal fans. Rather than hold a 'Crisis-style' event and reset everything, then Marvel President Bill Jemas and veteran Marvel talent Joe Quesada tapped an up and coming writer named Brian Michael Bendis, who had attracted a large following with his small-press work, and veteran Spider-artist Mark Bagley to not only 'relaunch' the company's signature character, Spider-Man as the kind of person that is more like the young readers of the day, but also to reach them in new ways including an, in the end unsuccessful, strategy of printing comics in a slick, rack-ready magazine/periodical format to reach readers who might not broach the threshold of their local comic books store.
Indeed, there was initially an attempt to launch an anthology-style magazine printing a few of these together, to no avail. But it was long demonstrated Quesada and Jemas were aiming for anything but a younger audience, and chances are the venture would've failed even after a few years as parents discovered the content was not very kid/family friendly at all. Certainly not in the Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men.

If comics are primarily a business, that could be just the problem. If there's no heart, no huge audience. IMO, sincerity should take some priority to building a business. And today, it's long become clear even Marvel doesn't care about younger readerships. I think the claim new readers would cower at decades of continuity is also exaggerated, because older stories from decades past can be just as engrossing to new folks, and it can help to understand how the origins of the heroes were first conceived. There's only so many archives for Golden/Silver/Bronze Age material today everybody can read, and you can be sure there's many new readers who're charmed by the classics, and have no problem with potentially dated ideas featured.
Today, the relaunching of comic books is a common practice. Even if the whole universe isn't reset (or it is, in the case of DC's New 52), the practice of restating a comic from that eye-catching issue #1 has been largely accepted by comic readers. Each of these 'softer' resets (like Marvel NOW!, All-New Marvel NOW!, and now… Avengers NOW!) allow new talent teams the freedom to take familiar characters in new directions that have found a good middle-ground between slavishly following the past and throwing it all out the window.
Accepted? Maybe, but that's just because many concluded this is all the publishers care about in their desperate attempts to stay afloat in the sinking ships. But those brand-new numero unos aren't so eye-catching anymore. Some of them are drawn by artists whose style is dull compared to past masters. I also take issue with slavish devotion to the past. What if that happens to involve consistent characterization? That's when slavish actually works. Now as for stories involving supervillains, maybe that's where they don't have to be as slavish, but then, why don't they conceive more villains who don't wear all those gaudy outfits and instead are more like the Kingpin?

They're not taking "familiar" characters in new directions anymore either. Rather, as in Captain America and Thor's case, they're replacing them for the sake of diversity without even respecting what came before, and building to the moments with very weak, implausible setups, as Original Sin's proven. And that's how truly, they've tossed everything out the window.

The article continues to focus on how the Ultimate line precipitated writing for trade paperbacks:
The Ultimate Marvel Universe was the first national showcase for the storytelling technique derisively referred to as “decompression.” The classic example is the origin of Spider-Man himself, told within a handful of panels and pages by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee in 1962, but taking six whole issues in the Bendis/Bagley year 2000 iteration. As the Ultimate Universe grew, the practice became more and more viable within the line (the infamous two page long, nearly silent discussion about how The Thing poops in Ultimate Fantastic Four), and outside of it.
Oh, how gross! That's something better discussed in real life, not in the tales proper. But there you have it, that's another hint the line was anything but suitable for children.
The debate that this technique started still rages today. Writers who use this style could well argue that slowly paced stories allow them to build their worlds better, allow big moments to land and to portray their characters as more than spandex-clad punching machines.
If they're going to aim as low as Ultimate FF did with writers like Mark Millar in charge, then they've only rendered them far less than that. These days, Millar and his ilk are far more concerned with how crude they can write than creative character interactions on a simple level.

Interesting they speak of slowness, because Bendis churned out a number of stories that were pretty slow and talky without being very interesting. If they really wanted to make the tales worthwhile, they would have allowed the writer to do it in just 2-3 issues like it was done in better days. Bendis ruined everything. Even the lowercase lettering seen in some Marvel books since the turn of the century is very uninspired.

So what are the odds now the Ultimate universe has come to an end? It probably won't be long before that does happen, as it's become far less profitable. And if so, it won't be missed.

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Actually, I think that one problem with contemporary comics (and TV shows) is that the creators don't appreciate that it is "first and foremost a business." Instead of saying, "We will try to produce something that a lot of people will like, so they will buy it," the attitude is, "I'm a genius, I refuse to compromise my artistic integrity, and if the peasants out there in flyover country don't like my work, it just means they are too dumb to appreciate Great Art."

Those "eye-catching #1" issues show how the market has changed. Believe it or not, in the Silver Age and earlier, they would try to avoid numbering a comic at #1 if they could. So Hulk (second series), Thor, and Doom Patrol continued the numbering from Tales to Astonish, Journey Into Mystery, and My Greatest Adventure, respectively. Supposedly, first issues did not sell well, because they were an unknown quantity. The theory was that if a kid saw Hulk #102 or Thor #126 (or Flash #105 or All American Western #103) on sale, he would assume it must be a good comic, since it had evidently lasted over a hundred issues.

Today's constant reboots and relaunches, with their emphasis on new #1 issues, shows how comics are now aimed at collectors and investors, not readers.

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