This week saw the launch of a new Ultimate Spider-Man title by fan-favorite writer Jonathan Hickman. Unlike the original Ultimate title which launched in 2000, Hickman’s story takes place in an alternate Marvel continuity where Peter Parker is older and already married to Mary Jane Watson (they also have two children). Despite this significant difference (Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis saw a teenage Peter Parker that was still very much in High School), the circumstances around this new book hitting the stands in 2024 are not unlike those seen back in 2000.
When the Bendis book launched, mainline Amazing Spider-Man was in the second year of a relaunch (ASM Vol 2) by Howard Mackie and John Byrne that wasn't well-received by fans. In it, Peter and Mary Jane were driven apart by a convoluted plot that dragged on for too long. Bendis launched the Ultimate Spider-Man title to great critical and fan acclaim, and Marvel built a new publishing line around it.
As Mackie’s run on the mainline title wore down, prestige writer J Michael Straczynski took over the Amazing Spider-Man monthly and delivered a similarly-acclaimed run that redefined elements of Peter as a character and his powers, as well as reuniting Peter and Mary Jane as a couple.
In 2024, the new volume of Ultimate is launching against the backdrop of yet another relaunch of the main title in its second year, and another that is little-liked, ASM Vol 6 by Zeb Wells. Like the Mackie run, the main arc of this volume has seen Peter and MJ separated by yet another convoluted storyline. Besides the obvious backdrop of an older, husband and father Peter Parker, Hickman’s new book is notable for working new angles on Peter’s history and cast. When we meet this Peter Parker, he has yet to get his spider-powers. There is dialogue about Peter being denied his destiny in the issue that one could take as meta-commentary about the aimless state of the character for many years in the 616 (main continuity) Spider-Man.
So is history repeating? Ultimate Vol 1 was a success that modernized the original Lee/Ditko/Romita storylines and beyond for a new era of readers—while the later concurrent Straczynski run revitalized the main title that was stagnating into increasingly poor and maligned storytelling. The Wells run on ASM is continuing, and as of now no new writer has been announced as taking over the title. Time will tell if Ultimate Vol 2 will have a long-term impact as a new alternate retelling, while also leading to a boost in quality of the current mainline title. Though the first issue of the new Ultimate volume has already sold out in shops this week across the US—and Marvel is surely monitoring the fan response.