How does an established franchise relaunch itself to appeal to an audience whose taste has evolved? The secret history of the ultimate Marvel traces the success of the new series to a Hail Mary maneuver, an experiment:
A reboot is a delicate thing. When a once-profitable franchise of characters becomes stale, outdated, or overly complex, there will always be voices calling for the slate to be wiped clean: to take the characters back to their basics, retell their origin stories, make them contemporary. But all too often, those rebooting efforts are laughable, pandering failures. Ultimate Marvel was the rare exception. It was a compendium of stories that saved the company that launched it, revolutionized the comics medium, and became the foundation of the multi-billion-dollar Marvel cinematic empire.
While the initiative could have failed, its success was due to the willingness of the writer. Brian Michael Bendis wrote the first comic of the Ultimate line and will be writing the final one:
According to Bendis — the alpha and omega of Ultimate Marvel storytelling — the key to the reboot was understanding what made the old Marvel archetypes worth rebooting in the first place.
“The transition that we made was based on the fact that the concept of Spider-Man wasn't broken,” he told me. “The Spider-Man origin and its themes are pretty much perfect. So adaptations are much like a Shakespeare play: The trick isn't to fix it and say you know better than Shakespeare. It's to find the truth of it and keep the truth going for a new audience.”
[Photo: John Buscema, Bryan Hitch, Marvel]