For a while now I’ve wanted to get into Marvel Comics’ Ultimate line – unfortunately the longer I put it off the less likely it seemed that I would ever get into it. That was until Marvel decided to launch a new title Ultimate X. I picked up the first issue, and without going into detail I liked it but was left confused by what was going on because I hadn’t had any prior source material to read. That was when I decided to go back and read the entire universe in chronological event order, which is different than the order the individual series were published in.
For those of you not in the know the Ultimate universe was, well to put it bluntly, Marvel’s attempt at making their properties such as X-Men and Spiderman (since they launched the universe) younger, more hip, grittier, more up to date with the way the ‘modern’ world is. Essentially it was Marvel’s attempt at making themselves much more relevant in order to increase their fan-base. It must have worked, the line launched in 2000 with the previously mentioned Spiderman and X-Men and now near the middle of 2010 and the universe still exists and is publishing ongoing series: Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate X and has more ongoing series and mini series scheduled to come out later this year.
Like I said earlier I intend on reading the entire universe in story order, not publication order so I won’t be starting with either Ultimate Spiderman or Ultimate X-Men, I’ll be starting with the 2005-2006 Ultimate Iron-Man Mini Series Volume 1. Honestly this starts off as a major problem for me since I make no apologies over my personal distaste for Iron-Man, Tony Stark and roughly 97% of his cast of characters. Seriously all of this blog’s readers should start a drinking game and take a shot every time I say something negative about Iron-Man. You’ll be drunk for half of the time I cover anything non X-Men in the Marvel Universe.
There are differences in Tony’s origin which personally work better for me. His tissue is a ‘living brain’ due to his mother’s exposure to the blood of a monkey who was being used as a test subject. A side effect to the ‘living brain’ aspect is that he is in constant pain, which is why he needs to armor to help ease the pain of his over stimulated neural cells. Another side effect is that he can regenerate his limbs and heal from physical damage and injury. I like this aspect of the character, and I really like that we got a peek into Tony as a young boy and a teenager; which again is the whole point of the Ultimate line.
The story doesn’t feature too much in the way of super-heroics or action; in fact it has more of a soap-opera quality to it for the majority of the five issues. Tony’s father Howard is in the middle of a bitter divorce with his gold digging wife who is already with Zebediah Stane and they are attempting to take control of Howard Stark’s company. They are ultimately successful in getting the company (at least for a while) only to find out that Howard never put anything on paper so the company is essentially worthless. Howard begins a relationship with a brilliant scientist Maria Cerrera, Tony’s mother. Like I said she gets the monkey’s blood in her mouth while she is pregnant with Tony, not much to go into here other than the fact that she dies in labor. Howard arrives and places a blue substance that he had been developing on Tony to act as a biological armor. The armor is what Zebediah was after all along.
To make a long story slightly less long Zebediah manages to track down Howard while he is on the run and kidnaps and tortures Tony. Zebediah is taken into custody and remains there for several years. Years later Zebediah and Howard’s ex-wife comes to Howard announcing that she has left Zebediah (who is still in prison) and wants Howard to put her and Zebediah’s son Obadiah into a special school, he agrees and that’s the last we’ve seen of her. Tony, now a teenager is going to a private school and befriends a young man named Rhodes who is being beaten up by a group of kids who were later hired as de-facto hit-men and told to throw Tony into the school’s furnace. They actually almost get away with it but Rhodes and his friend Nifara, partly in thanks to the suit of armor Tony had built wand was testing with Rhodes when they were attacked; manage to stop them and keep Tony alive until Howard comes along.
Howard convinces both Rhodes and Nifara’s parents to let them go to a new school along with Tony, this turns out to be the same school that Obadiah goes to. They aren’t there long before Tony witnesses something truly horrific – Obadiah murders two other students by throwing them off of the building, he gets away with it too by claiming that the two students committed suicide. This only helps to strengthen Tony’s resolve to make his suit of armor more effective.
That wasn’t the last of Obadiah’s evil acts though. He manages to get his imprisoned father brutally murdered apparently successfully frames Howard Stark for the murder. Howard awaits trial for the crime he never committed and turns over control of the rebuilt Stark Enterprises to Tony, who has now turned to alcohol to help dull the pain of his altered neurological system.
The mini-series ends with Tony officially donning the armor to stop a ship at sea that has been taken hostage and is full of explosives, and the final panels are of an unconscious Tony being pulled from the water after the explosives detonated.
Now given that I’m not a fan of Iron-Man this was a weird one for me, especially since this story takes place first in the Ultimate line – it made for an interesting introduction. Like I said I do like the twist on Tony Stark’s origin. The soap opera-esque subplot with the parents does move the story along but it also sort of makes it a totally different story as well. I enjoyed the fact that the mini-series ends with a cliffhanger without really being a cliffhanger. I can only imagine that the wait for the second volume would have been difficult for the hardcore Iron-Man fans, especially given the fact that at the end of Vol. 1 Issue 5 they announce that there will be a follow up to the series, but that it would be a year away. I actually ended the first series and wanted to read the second volume, which is saying a lot. If the second volume is anywhere near the same quality as the first volume I could imagine becoming a fan of Iron-Man, Ultimate Iron-Man that is.