Debuting a few months after Ultimate Spider-Man in 2001 came a modernized version of Marvel’s mutants, Ultimate X-Men, from rising creator Mark Millar. Keeping inline with the mission statement for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, this title saw a reinvention of the characters by changing their motives and personas in new and interesting ways. X-Men stories in the mainline Marvel books have a long and convoluted history, more so than any other comic book characters. The Ultimate books rectify this, telling some of the best X-Men stories in the characters history while avoiding devices like supernatural and magical elements. Unfortunately, like nearly all the Ultimate books, this too eventually whimpered and died.
Brian Michael Bendis, who was writing Ultimate Spider-Man, was originally offered the Ultimate X-Men book as well. He turned it down, uncomfortable with writing a team book (hahaha, ya, okay). Instead, Mark Millar was hired to kick off the series. Millar took the job, admitting he knew little about the characters, using only the first first movie, X-Men (2000), as a reference point. Normally, this would be a cause for concern, but when you’re starting over, being unbeholden to the past is the perfect ingredient.
Professor X assembled a team of mutants, who were heavily persecuted in this world, to combat Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutant Supremacy. The initial team lineup consisted of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, Beast, Colossus, and Iceman, though other mainstays like Wolverine, Rogue, and Nightcrawler were quickly introduced as well. The influence of the movie was readily apparent by their costume design, consisting of leather. Many of the characters motives and personalities differed significantly. One of the biggest changes introduced Wolverine, working for Magento, infiltrating the X-Men to kill Professor X. Another difference was Colossus’ sexual orientation, now portrayed as homosexual. Millar ended is run at issue #33, culminating in a arc that saw the X-Men battle the Ultimates (Avengers essentially), and finally the Brotherhood once more.
Bendis came aboard for a year next, writing two arcs. He introduced Emma Frost, who created her own team, consisting of Havok, Dazzler, Karma, and Beast. His run ended with Frost’s and Xavier’s team fighting, and the death of Beast. Issue #41 featured a boy whose mutant powers emitted poison, killing everyone around him. Wolverine was sent to deal with it. Read this issue. After, Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Private Eye) took over for 20 issues. His run was easily the best of the series, even considering he was preceded by heavy weights like Millar and Bendis. While there were many creative ideas in his run, the best was the introduction of Ultimate Apocalypse, who was merrily a hallucination of Mr. Sinister.
Brian Singer, writer/producer/director of the X-Men movies was set to come on after Vaughan for 12 issues, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Superman Returns. Instead, Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead – before it was popular, Invincible) took over with issue #66. Originally, he was set for nine issue. During this time, he opted to not adapt another regular X-Men story, instead introducing a new character, Magician. His run was extended, ending with #93. This is where the series began to flounder.
The X-Men disbanded just as Bishop came from the future to prepare them for some upcoming battle (nothing new for the X-Men). There was some good setup initially, but the finale didn’t pan out well. Kirkman continued to added elements from the original books like Cable and the Legacy virus, before undoing what Vaughan set with Apocalypse, making him a real character in his last arc. This finale also saw Professor X and Cable return from the future, dressed as Onslaught and Stryfe, two 90’s relics best left forgotten. Issue #89, a stand alone story, saw Storm battle the Shadow King, and is in my opinion, the last good issue of the book.
Aron Coleite (Heroes) finished the series. His first arc, Absolute Power, was decent, dealing with Alpha Flight and the Ultimate version of Banshee, which was a drug instead of a person. Finally, there was Ultimatum, ending the series. Many X-Men died during the event, forcing a change in the line. But that’s a story for another time.
Ultimate X-Men was a great book that sadly fizzled out. Between Millar, Bendis, Vaughan, and even a bit of Kirkman’s work, these were some of the best X-Men stories, especially after the tumultuous 90’s stories. The refreshing change for the characters was welcome was a decade of nonsense and stagnation. Behind Ultimate Spider-Man and the first two Ultimates series, Ultimate X-Men is one of the best books the line has to offer. I’d stop at issue #89 though.
Who had the best run on the book? Think the ending became derivative? Comment below!
Still own all the trades.