Sunday, April 24, 2011

If You're Brian Michael Bendis And You Know It, Do A Retcon!

At least the cover isn't a retcon.
Ultimate Origins was intended as the companion bookend piece to Ultimatum in the telling of stories in the Ultimate Universe as of 2008. While Brian Michael Bendis and Butch Guice turned out a great effort, it's more or less meaningless if the continuity of the Ultimate U is not of interest, and ironically it has numerous continuity flaws if you do care. Amazon list it as being a $15 US book at the moment, and for 128 pages that's the same cost per page as Ultimates 3. The value is better, but by the question is by how much.

The story opens with Hulk telling Spider-man that everything is connected, properly confusing Spidey before Hulk has to take off. We then cut to the events leading up to the creation of Project Rebirth, the program that produced Captain America, and the early events in the Project Rebirth and Weapon X programs.  From this point on we skip between the Fantastic Four dealing with the discover of the Watcher artefacts (in Ultimate Marvel they are a set of observational posts, not a big bald-headed guy in a toga) and the history of the Project Rebirth, Weapon X and Project Rebirth II projects, as well as the early dealings of Charles Xavier and Magneto.

Even the sound effects know this is Charles Xavier.
While there are several key reveals throughout this book there's nothing that can be viewed as truly shocking (Nick Fury being the first super soldier, Mutants being "manufactured", Rick Jones becoming Nova, and Wolverine being not quite as old as in the main Marvel Universe), and several aspects that need to be considered in the hard cold light of day as the result of giving Brian Michael Bendis control over the continuity of what is meant to be an existing, cohesive universe.

To fully explain why the problems with the continuity are so annoying it's important to understand that Bendis was instrumental in making the Ultimate line a success (via Ultimate Spider-man), and that the entire universe he was playing in was less than 10 years old. Also, it's not the first time he's done it (Avengers Disassembled anyone). Here are the retcons I've picked up, in order of most glaringly obvious:
  • Nick Fury is the first successful subject of the Super Soldier program after Steve Rogers, (Fury 1943, Rogers 1942). This is made all the worse as both dates are given during Ultimate Origins.
    • While it could be argued Rogers was Subject 22, Dr Erskine is working on Fury, but died during a NAZI attack when working on Rogers.
    • To further muddy the waters of who Subject 22 is, Dugan is shown as a recruitment officer in 1942, and still alive and active somewhere around 1990-1991 (using the Gulf War and Nick Fury's loss of an eye as references)
  • Peter Parker's parent's are killed when he's a new-born (despite Bendis himself writing the Ultimate Spiderman arc in which Peter is shown to be at least a toddler and his parents are alive).
  • Magneto (clearly without grey hair) showing Charles the Savage Land in what can be worked out as 1992, when Ultimates 3 would have you believe that Wolverine slept with Magda (potentially siring the Scarlet Witch) when Magneto had grey hair and then met Wanda as a teenager in the Savage Land (which pat's that at around 2005 at the earliest, by which time Ultimates 1 is taking place). 
Now sure, there's a lot of the above that can be argued as the dates being wrong, or elapsed time not all being accounted for, but from what we are given simple arithmetic shows there are problems internal to the book. And okay, compressing continuity and all that, however it's less than a decade of continuity to keep straight, it's continuity from the same year (in some cases), and continuity he created himself (in others). It may seem excessively anal, but the whole point of this book is that if you want the continuity and backstory of the Ultimate Universe, this is it. The book serves little other purpose.

Don't get me wrong, it's enjoyable, and it's very nice to look at, but that continuity just bugs me.

If you ask me, this book is about a million times better than Ultimates 3, however whether you buy it or not comes down to three things:
  1. Do you really need the history of the Ultimate U?
  2. Are you planning to (or have you ever read) Ultimatum?
  3. Can you handle the retconning that takes place in this book (and that will likely happen to the contents of this book)?
The purtiest way to fight NAZIs
If you can answer yes to two out of those three questions, you probably ought to buy this book. If not, you probably just want a poster of that wonderful splash page of Cap launching himself off of a motorbike.

Next Week I'll continue to read retcons, but this time it'll be the fault of Warren Ellis, and it'll be in the main (616) Marvel Universe.

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