Since the destruction of the Ultimate Universe in the nearly universally despised event, Ultimatum, much has been made of what Marvel is doing with their Ultiamte division. Rarely has there ever been an event comic that was hated by so many readers and so poorly received by critics of all kinds. The stated intent of Ultimatum was to shake up and revitalize the Ultimate line. It definitely succeeded in shaking things up, but it certainly doesn't appear to have revitalized anything.
So far only two Ultimate books have come out. Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man. So far both books have been well-received critically and by fans for the most part. But in terms of sales they're a far cry from their earlier incarnations. Ultimate Avengers was the best selling Ultimate book in November 2009 with 59,023 sold. Compare that to sales of Ultimates 3, a book that also suffered from horrible critical reviews and fan response, which pulled in over 90,000 with the first three issues.
Comic sales in November
Comic Sale trends: Ultimates
As for Ultimate Spider-Man, which has been by far one of the most successful Ultimate titles, sales of issue four were steady around 49,106. That's saying something considering this book has historically sold at least 50,000 with each printing.
Now there could be a number of reasons for this. Competition with the other titles could be a factor. Events like Dark Reign and Seige coupled with events like Blackest Night from DC could definitely cut into major comic sales. But good comics, competition or not, are able to compete. So far, Ultimate Comics appears to be failing. Already, the delays that have plagued the title are setting in with Ultimate Avengers being pushed back. Ultimates 4 has been pushed back as well, which was supposed to be a January release. Yet now, the Ultimate series is hoping for another shot in the arm with a title called Ultimate X. It's supposedly going to follow the story of what happens to the mutants of the world after Ultimatum. It's being hyped as something entirely new, based around the question "What is Ultimate X?"
But the bigger question is who really cares? Ultimatum's greatest pitfall was that it brutally and callously killed a whole host of characters that fans deeply love. Characters like Professor Xavier, Cyclops (you think they would have learned from X3), Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Wasp, Giant Man, Ultimate Dazzler (who had her own little following), and many others weren't just killed. They were slaughtered with no heart, no emotional impact, and no depth. It was as if the writer was just lining them up and executing them in cold blood. Even in mediocre comics, deaths are handled with some degree of dignity and impact. This had none of that. It was all shock value, doing something they knew they could never get away with in 616. But even though they could it didn't seem to dawn on them whether or not they should. Now they think the novelty of a post-apocalyptic Ultimate world can sell without the beloved marvel characters that made it great. That's not just a fools bet. That's damn near delusional.
By killing so many characters, Marvel has killed of any chance they had to flesh them out with new stories. Characters that were underdeveloped like Ultimate Psylocke, Ultimate Emma Frost, and Ultimate Toad will never be given a chance to grow because they were callously tossed aside. It's a real tragedy because the void of these deaths cannot easily be filled. We're talking about characters that are so recognizable in nearly every medium. Fan of characters will often buy a comic solely based on whether or not their favorite character appears in it. Now that Ultimate has butchered so many of those characters, those same fans are not even going to give titles like Ultimate X a chance even if the story is well-written and well-reviewed.
I used to be excited for every major Ultimate event, even as 616 started catching up. This is the first time I find myself so completely apathetic about the Ultimate series. I stopped collecting the trades and I barely keep up with the spoilers. It's sad for me to see the Ultimate universe that I so deeply loved just die like this, but that's out of my hands. Unless Marvel starts bringing some of these characters back (which they've publically stated they won't), Ultimate Comics is going to be a hard sell. It's a tragedy of Clone Saga proportions. Ultimate was born on the eve of a new decade and now it dies at the beginning of another. It seems that obsurity is only a matter of time if something major isn't done. I suppose we'll all have to wait and see, but given how Ultimatum panned out I'm not getting my hopes up.