Ever since Marvel reinvigorated the comics industry with their Ultimate line of comics back in 2000, everyone has been asking “When will DC do their own line of Ultimates?” 

Based on what I’ve been hearing, the answer is October 2024, with Absolute DC, a new interconnected universe presenting revamped versions of DC’s greatest heroes. 

Now you might think DC already did this somewhere back in the Crisis Era, but they never quite went all the way, not even with The New 52. Even the aborted 5G line – cancelled when its mastermind, Dan DiDio, was let go – was still within the regular DCU, and indeed, most of the youthful versions of the main heroes that line planned eventually made their way to the comics.

But we face another exterior comic sales crisis, much as we did back in 2000, and the time has come, it seems, for the Absolute Universe: new versions of DC’s core characters with new origins, new motivations and new looks and a connected universe to call their own. My understanding is that the universe will not be entirely untethered from the regular DC universe – which is also going to relaunch as part of the “All In” initiative. This summer’s Absolute Power event by Mark Waid and Dan Mora is something of a “curtain raiser” for a fall launch. 

I’ve been hearing about this plan for a new DC universe for quite a while – it’s safe to say that quite a few people have and word has been gradually leaking out elsewhere. I’d rank it as a poorly kept secret. Word on the street is that Scott Snyder is in charge of the overall project – and it appears that he and artist Nick Dragotta will be the team on the Batman of the Absolute Universe.

But from what I’m told, the big reveal is coming at the San Diego Comic-Con, and an ashcan will be given away featuring Absolute Batman. DC nearly kept it under wraps, but it seems some copies of the ashcan made their way to some retailers early and…you know what that means. Still, keeping this mostly in the realm of speculation until two weeks before the announcement is a pretty good accomplishment, in this information economy.

For those of you who weren’t even born when Ultimate Marvel launched, a brief history: comics periodical sales were in radical decline in 2000, following the effects of Marvel’s bankruptcy and distribution consolidation and the collapse of the speculator’s market in the 90s. Marvel, in particular, was reeling from corporate dysfunction and massive layoffs, and the line was widely criticized for stodgy storylines by unexciting creative teams.

Things had perked up a bit in 1998, when creators Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti were given their own line, Marvel Knights, which took less popular characters like DaredevilPunisherThe Inhumans and Black Panther, and gave them new creative teams. This would be Brian Bendis’s first work for Marvel, and other creators brought in included Michael Avon Oeming, Garth Ennis, Jae Lee and even director Kevin Smith. It was new and fresh and it worked.

The line was a hit – Quesada was subsequently hired as Editor in Chief of the whole line. But new publisher Bill Jemas, who came from the world of trading cards, had an even more radical scheme: Ultimate Marvel, new #1s that featured different versions of beloved Marvel character, unencumbered by 60 years of continuity in their VERY OWN Marvel Universe – the 1610 universe to be exact. Bendis and Mark Bagley were the team on Ultimate Spider-Man (which would eventually introduce Miles Morales to the world) and Mark Millar took over Ultimate X-Men. But Millar would really make his mark with The Ultimates, the 1610 version of the Avengers, accompanied by the trend-setting “widescreen” art of Bryan Hitch –  a look widely considered to have influenced the entire look of the cinematic MCU. 

This line was an even bigger hit, and industry sales began climbing again. It was sort of a bold and daring time: writers like Bendis, Millar, Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison eventually pepped up the regular Marvel line as the Ultimate version ran out of steam, weighed down by its OWN continuity. In 2015 the Ultimate universe got mixed in with the regular MU, following a Secret War, of course. But Miles Morales and the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury stuck around, along with a few other bits.

Jemas had his own flame out at Marvel after a few years, but he had hit on something that retailers and readers liked. The idea for Ultimate Marvel was to give younger readers a universe they could jump right into, but looking back, it was as much the fresh, talented writers and artists who gave the line a boost.

Since then, DC never went full Ultimates. Yes, they relaunched the entire line with the New 52 in 2011, and that reboot also gave sales a much needed lift, and served as a jumping on point for many new readers. But it was still tweaked version of Earth 1 Bruce Wayne and Arthur Curry. Geoff Johns walked it back with his OWN reboot, Rebirth, but that was still the core DCU. 5G was to be younger versions of the standard heroes, but that plan was never fully executed, and the new characters were easily absorbed into the regular line. And the Ultimate line itself became an object of nostalgia with the relaunch of Ultimate Invasion in 2023, and The Ultimates last month.

Still, Julius Schwartz’ original quandary with the DC characters has plagued many an editor. In 1958 DC editor Schwartz was vexed by trying to shoehorn in a mere 20 years of continuity, and came up with the idea of different earths for different characters, and Flash of Two Worlds was the result. As I noted earlier, DC would continue to try to solve the continuity problem with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Hypertime, and a continuing series of crises. (Marvel simply publishes a new #1 and everyone moves on.)

There’s been a lot less chatter about this new line than I expected when I first heard about it. It’s just hard to get people as excited over a line wide reboot/relaunch/new universe as they used to be. Perhaps it is the greatly diminished staff at DC, whittled down by corporate layoffs; maybe it’s just that current DC heads Marie Javins, Jim Lee and Annie de Pies don’t relish a good crisis the way Dan DiDio did. Perhaps readers are just crisis-ed out by the real world and everything has been flattened by the firehose of social media. 

But the need is still there. How DO you jump into periodical comics any more? How DO you get younger readers (teen and 20s) interested in characters who have been running for 80 years when they have One Piece and Demon Slayer to keep them entertained? We don’t have comics sales figures any more, but the ones we do see suggest that it’s time once again for a new universe to jump into.

And so we come to “the dawn of the Absolute Universe.” From what I’ve heard, the AU, as we might end up calling it, may not be entirely separate from the traditional DC, and creators have a lot of leeway in their approach to the characters.

I’ve seen the list of launch creators, but I’m not going to spoil it. There are some of the expected names, and some new ones. There aren’t any names that are what I would consider RADICAL, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for another post, when we know more about the line.

Since the cover is out there, we can note that this new Batman is thicc, and thorny and his bat-like accoutrements seem more actually bat-like than regular Batman. But in a cute FRUIT BAT way, not like an insect-eating bat way, because those are a little gnarly. Those rat-tail like appendages are straight out of the fruit bat anatomy. Maybe this Batman will have a more logical reason for calling himself Batman. 

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Image: Bleeding Cool

While DC has never Ultimized before, they have launched various attempts at putting new takes on the classic out there: The All-Star line, Earth One. Some of those takes ended up being pretty good stuff. Comics could use a big event to give everyone a jolt and get people talking again. Will Absolute do it? We’ll find out in two weeks.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I hope we get as many hot takes about unnecessary, desperate, and tiring continuity reboots from DC as we do whenever Marvel launches a new line of #1s and doesn’t actually reset continuity.

    One thing that I think is missing from the breakdown of Ultimate Universe history is that it was launched with the idea that there was a Spider-Man movie coming out and people interested in reading S-M should be able to walk in to a store and not need to read something bogged down by continuity. That’s something that I think is missing from this “Absolute” universe.

    Regardless, if these books are entertaining then that’s great!

  2. UGH. That Batman on the Ashcan is fugly. At the prices of comics nowadays, it is gonna take a LOT to get me to start buying new/more titles.

  3. I can always depend on DC to do the worst and dumbest things imaginable. That Batman cover is horrific. His head is smaller than his biceps, fer cryin’ out loud. I expect this will last about as long as the New 52.

  4. DC never finishes what it starts, so this is likely to fizzle out after a couple of years, crumbling under the weight of unsustainable prices and decompressed storytelling, never reaching out to the manga-reading crowd they are desperately looking for. At the same time of this, they are starting DC FINEST, a new collection for old stuff from when comics were good, giving a big FU to old buyers like myself of ARCHIVES, ESSENTIALS and GA & SA OMNIBUS series that will remain unfinished, like everything else. Once more it will reprint the same stuff we already have in 5 different formats and still leave massive chunks of its history unreprinted. Where is 70s and 80s BATMAN complete in chronological order ? Same question for Superman and for Wonder Woman?

  5. Hard no thanks. The main problem with this is that the DCU in comics is actually very, very good right now. Just focus on not screwing that up.

  6. A massive part of this story that you completely whiffed on is that Al Ewing revived the Ultimates universe characters in his (otherwise unrelated) Ultimates series back in 2015, which saw Ultimates Reed Richards (The Maker) pull the Ultimate Avengers back from the ether.

    Why is this relevant to your article?

    Because Al Ewing is one of the creatives on the list you’re not eager to spoil. And it is very radical, because it means that DC’s “Ultimates” universe will be at least partially penned by the man who revived Marvel’s.

    Also Al Ewing was exclusive to Marvel until they screwed the X-men writing staff a few months back, so him being on the list IS wildly radical.

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