There are more than a few ideas from Ultimate Marvel that are too good to leave in the alternate continuity of that defunct universe. The reboot offered Marvel a unique opportunity to redesign its heroes and the world they inhabited with an amount of foresight the main Marvel Universe never had available to it. Perhaps one of its biggest successes was in integrating mutants into the Ultimate Marvel universe more organically than ever before.
As the MCU prepares to introduce the X-Men to its own Marvel Universe, it’s worth looking back at the Ultimate Marvel world to see how exactly things went so right.
Across the board, the Ultimate Universe put its own spin on various characters and concepts. Mutants still maintained those same core values that first made the X-Men such classic heroes. In both the mainstream and in Ultimate Universes, mutants are hated and feared by society at large as the emergence of their powers in adolescence represents a shift in the world’s power dynamic, threatening the status quo. The X-Men are forced to be ambassadors to this transition and are often vilified, despite their heroic efforts. The main difference between the two universes is that the Marvel Universe didn’t know what it was from the start.
While Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s X-Men stories of the 1960s were a classic, they were neither Marvel’s best-seller nor the iconic symbol for social injustice and soap-operatic superhero adventure they would later become in the 1970s with Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s arrival on the title. Even then, the X-Men frequently felt like they inhabited their own corner of the Marvel Universe, removed from many of the other heroes and goings-on. That sense of separation exists even today, and although there are frequent crossovers, there remains a status quo of division difficult to shake up even with titles like Uncanny Avengers seeking to do exactly that. This is where Ultimate Marvel got things right.
Through Ultimate Marvel’s history creators made sure that most of the biggest moments of its world revolved around and integrated mutants, made to be a huge part of the overarching story and thematic in almost every title from the start. Whereas mutants infrequently come up in non-X-Men related titles in the Marvel Universe, especially in the early days of its history, Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates were two major titles that brought them up, made it a plot point, and constantly kept it at the fore of the reader’s mind. Even better, looking at the major crossover events of the Ultimate Universe shows just how important the X-Men were.
Across the board, mutants were present for most major crossover events. Ultimate War pit the X-Men against the Ultimates as Magneto threatened the world, the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy intertwined with the goings-on mutants as the U.S. government accepted the necessity of Xavier’s assistance and Ultimatum came to irreparably shake up the world state itself as Magneto’s final stand proved to be a global threat which changed everybody’s lives. Never before were mutants so successfully and consistently intertwined with the rest of the superhero world they inhabit, and the benefit was an impressive display of immersive world-building.
Thematically, many Ultimate Marvel stories revolved around the proliferation of superpowers and their destabilizing effect on the world, and to that end, mutants were a perfect element to add to the mix. Most importantly, they weren’t forgotten about. Too often over the years, Magneto’s threats against the Marvel Universe seem somehow separate from a world inhabited by Avengers, and as the X-Men march toward their MCU debut, there is a lot to learn from mutants’ integration in the Ultimate Marvel universe previously.
Teenagers randomly manifesting terrifying powers should cause a radical shift to the status quo, and that should have an impact on other MCU movies like Spider-Man and Captain Marvel. If it only ever seems like the world remembers mutants exist during X-Men movies, then they won’t really feel like a part of the MCU at all.