As fans eagerly await the official title of Jonathan Hickman’s mystery Marvel project with Valerio Schiti, Marvel shocked everyone by announcing another 2023 project from Hickman: Ultimate Invasion with Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch. The four issue event launching summer 2023 marks Marvel’s first official return to the “Ultimate” line of comics since 2015’s Secret Wars ended the universe.
We know from Marvel’s announcement that the event will focus on Miles Morales and The Maker, two Ultimate Universe favorites who’ve continued their stories in Marvel’s “prime” Earth-616, as well as the Illuminati, aka Iron Man, Black Panther, Reed Richards, Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, and a returning Professor X (throughout Hickman’s use of the Illuminati in New Avengers, Beast filled this role). The return of the Ultimate Universe has been a long time coming (although I’ve been advocating for it, I honestly assumed Marvel would wait for the 25th anniversary!), and this is one of the most exciting ways it could come back.
The Road to Ultimate Invasion
Now, the simplest and most comprehensive answer to prepare for Ultimate Invasion is of course to read all of what came before via Comic Book Herald’s Ultimate Universe reading order. Since the Ultimate Universe is significantly more streamlined than Marvel’s sprawling Earth-616, this 15-year history is realistically bingeable (or you could always check out the My Ultimate Year podcast where we binged and discussed the whole thing!).
That said, people keep telling me isolating themselves from all human contact in order to read as many comics as possible is not “ideal,” and although I do not understand that sentiment at all, I hear you! So below you’ll find the curated fast-tracked road to Ultimate Invasion, with only the 10 most essential reads included.
You can make a healthy case that Ultimate Spider-Man is the better launch series, but Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates undeniably shaped the tone, style, attitude and purpose of the Ultimate Universe more than anything – not to mention the outsized influence it’s had on Marvel-616 and the MCU since launching in 2002! Hitch’s wide-screen cinematic realism didn’t originate here – that visual transformation really begins in DC/Wildstorm’s The Authority – but in modernizing the Avengers, Hitch cemented his fingerprints on the visual aesthetics of superheros of the 2000s.
So, if you want to get know the team, and Ultimate Universe Nick Fury, nothing will indoctrinate you better than Ultimates. Love it or hate it, it’s an absolutely crucial part of Marvel history.
A significant number of ideas, characters and concepts that fans think of as Jonathan Hickman’s all actually began from the pen of Brian Michael Bendis. There’s Marvel’s Illuminati, Bendis and Hickman co-writing the launch to Secret Warriors, and the transformation of Ultimate Universe Reed Richards into The Maker, which happens here in the “Ultimate Doomsday” comics.
Bendis’ influence is all over the Ultimate Universe – particularly across Ultimate Spider-Man and the co-creation of Miles Morales – so it’s easier to forget that he also sets the stage for the descent and return of Reed as The Maker.
Speaking of Bendis, his “Illuminati” miniseries with Jim Cheung is hugely influential, and frankly great fun. Since we know The Maker will be working alongside a reformed Illuminati in Ultimate Invasion, this is worth a revisit.
Miles gets his first ongoing series by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli, following the “Death of Spider-Man” arc. Given Miles prominence in media and this event, you could certainly just jump straight from here to the complete Comic Book Herald Miles Morales reading order.
Apart from the origins, it’s also worth checking out Spider-Men, a crossover between Miles Morales and Peter Parker of Earth-616. Great read, and one of the earliest examples of the universes crossing over.
For about a year-and-a-half, Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic were given the keys to the Ultimate kingdom, and all they did was create the most interesting comics the Universe had seen in a decade! Unfortunately, due to poor sales and some bad timing (the book launched right into DC’s New 52 which ate up a lot of attention!), Ultimate Comics: Ultimates only lasted twelve issues before changing creators.
Nonetheless, in the span of those excellent comics Hickman and Ribic developed The Maker, one of the most captivating villains in the Ultimate U, and expressed a clear vision for what the Ultimates could be.
Hickman’s gone on record as saying he wished he could’ve written this book for 100 issues, and I can’t wait to see some of those ideas return in Ultimate Invasion.
For the love of Doom, go read it!
The relevant Ultimate Universe comics after 2015’s Secret Wars get pretty interesting because you wind up with basically three characters surviving in significant roles (Miles, The Maker, and uh, Jimmy Hudson). Al Ewing is the first to take on The Maker, incorporating the character into New Avengers and USAvengers, and eventually their relaunched Earth-616 version of Ultimates.
Now, this whole run of Ultimates is well worth reading – one of the best post-Secret Wars Marvel comics in my view – but it’s in Ultimates2 where The Maker and the Ultimate Universe really take hold. Given Ewing and Hickman’s recent connections – through Marvel’s X-Men comics, and working together on Hickman’s Three Worlds / Three Moons – this would be my pick for one of the most likely continuity connections with Ultimate Invasion.
So here’s the thing: Spider-Men II is not good. That said, it does introduce the Miles Morales of Earth-616, who goes on to become a character called Ultimatum in the Miles Morales run by writer Saladin Ahmed. This version of Miles is pals with the Kingpin, and learns how to travel to the Ultimate Universe. On those grounds alone, it’s a unique character worth considering with any kind of return to the Marvel Ultimate U.
The winner for least likely continuation of the Ultimate Universe goes to… Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s celebrated run on Venom!
For reasons that frankly still confound me, Cates and Stegman tied The Maker into their great Symbiote revamp, all of which builds to some extremely significant foreshadowing in Venom #26 and Venom #35. Actually, calling it significant is an understatement, it quite literally teases the coming Ultimate Universe invasion from The Maker! Now, you’ll need to read the full run for that issue to pay off – unless you just want to skip to what’s going on with The Maker! And if you’re just here for the Ultimate Invasion set-up, that’s a pretty reasonable approach.
We have it on record that Hickman will not be sneaking in any major developments for Marvel’s mutants since he famously left the project in 2021, but I’d still recommend the X-Men revitalization purely in terms of style and approach. I think we can expect Ultimate Invasion to employ a lot of the same tricks, both structurally (data pages, here we come!) and narratively. After all, check out this quote from Hickman on what to expect: “We also thought the very idea of Ultimate Comics needed to be inverted from what the original universe was — we wanted this to be something that could really only exist in the comic space: a new way of thinking about, and enjoying, a new version of the Marvel Universe.”