Ultimate X-Men Is The Fresh Start Marvel’s Mutants Need

Ultimate X-Men Is The Fresh Start Marvel’s Mutants Need

As is so often the case, it’s a rough time to be an X-Men fan. The Krakoan age, The latest ambitious take on Marvel’s children of the atom is coming to a close this year, in a not-very satisfying fashion. Picking up the dying torch of this mainline series are more business-as-usual takes on the beloved characters. It appeared like my comic check-out cart would be X-Men-less. However, mutant fans have another choice. The newly released Ultimate X-Men #1 is exactly what fans of Marvel’s mutants need right now. Here’s why.

Ultimate X-Men is a blank slate unburdened by canon and the need to adhere to annual events. Taking place in the new Ultimate universe, jump started by superstar writer Jonathan Hickman (mastermind of the Krakoan age), Ultimate X-Men hands the reins over to writer and artist Peach Momoko. Readers are introduced to recently graduated middle-schooler Hisako Ichiki, who some readers may know as Armor. But she’s not Armor yet. Instead, she is a deeply insecure young girl struggling to find her place in a world that seems unwilling to accept her.

Unlike the other two Ultimate books currently on shelves (Spider-Man and Black Panther), which give readers new takes on familiar characters and stories, Ultimate X-Men seems like an X-Men story in name only. The first issue is stripped of any recognizable elements. No Charles, No Magneto, nothing.

Marvel Comics

Momoko cuts to the core of what makes a good X-Men story thematically, rather than visually. The first issue focuses solely on Hisako, making the reader understand and empathize with her. She is faced with a feeling of isolation and otherness while falling deeper into the mystery of why people at her school are dying. It’s an unsettling story that leans into J-Horror influences. There’s a palpable sense of dread throughout the issue, as Hisako is haunted by a shadowy figure rendered in Momoko’s signature watercolor style.

Just like her work on projects such as Demon Days, the color and expressive stroke Momoko uses to render the world and its characters enriches the emotions the story evokes. It’s scary at times, but in a way that honors the X-Men’s history of standing in for marginalized communities or those who are othered for any reason. We may not have even read the word mutant yet in Ultimate X-Men, but we already know that this is the mutant experience. In only one issue, the narrative and artistic confidence on display in Ultimate X-Men is enough to make me hopeful for things to come.

That hope comes with major reservations, of course. Not about Momoko or Hisako’s story, but about the Ultimate universe itself. The first time the Ultimate universe was created (as Ultimate Marvel in 2000) it led to incredible work like Brian Michael Bendis’s Spider-Man run. It was an initiative that aimed to ignore decades of convoluted canon in favor new stories that were easy to jump into with no prior knowledge. But by 2015, the Ultimate universe had gotten complicated enough that Marvel merged it with the main universe. Similarly, Hickman’s Krakoan age of X-Men—which started in 2019 with House of X and Powers of X—is already ending with the Fall of the House of X and Rise of the Powers of X.

Giving Hickman the opportunity to guide his own rendition of the Ultimate universe separate from canon seems like an attempt to deliver on the lofty promise of Krakoa—A new status quo. We just don’t know how long it will last. But while we have it, Ultimate X-Men is a fresh alternative to the mainline comics that’s perfect for new and old fans.

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