Ultimates Squared #100 from Marvel Comics by Al Ewing, Travel Foreman, Filipe Andrade, Marco Lorenzana, Scott Hanna and Dan Brown with Matt Yackey brings to a conclusion Ewing's long-running plot that has run through numerous iterations of the series, and connections through his other works at Marvel.
In fact, it's fair to say Ewing has done a lot of the most interesting and creative work on furthering the cosmology and continuity of the Marvel Universe in recent years, and this issue brings together many of the numerous more esoteric elements to present a jumping board for future storytelling — and more importantly…hope.
As Eternity is digested by the dark first universe, the First Firmament, and the Primal Aspects of the Marvel Universe (including Galactus the Lifebringer and Ego) languish awaiting assured destruction, the Ultimates (modern iteration) face off against the Ultimates (of the Ultimate Universe) thanks to the machinations of the Maker, Reed Richards of the Ultimate Universe.
That's the superficial layer — yup, the base-level action-to-action story contains such high concept ideas as Primal Aspects, living embodiments of universes and multiverses and more — and yet, is easy to follow and enjoy if all you want is the basic story.
But what else the story offers is a layered deconstruction of the Marvel Universe, not to bring it down and leave it deconstructed, but to find what the Marvel Universe has to offer.
Ultimately (pun unintended, but welcome), the story is about change, growth and what these continuing stories have to offer, because as the story points out, "We're stronger when we can grow." The strength of continuing universes that keep going through the decades is that they can grow with the audience. They can change, and that is just what they should do.
Continually deconstructing the very heroes that have become legends on the modern day to the point where they are left less than they were leads to a finite point: eventually, the characters become irredeemable or broken. But if characters grow and change, they can keep on living and survive longer than ever before.
The old stories are still there, there's no need to retell them over and over. Nostalgia only provides so much strength, but if those same stories keep bundling together and aren't changing…then eventually, the idea rots.
Ewing shows this most evidently in Galactus. As he says in his own farewell essay at the end of Ultimates Squared #100, he'd originally thought the ending would be return Galactus to his role as the World Eater — but eventually, as the story grew, that felt wrong. Galactus the World Eater had been done. Those stories are told. But Galactus the Lifebringer brings with it new life to the idea too, inside and outside of continuity.
A rise and fall arc, as Ewing points out, is not what we need right now. We need a story of hope. Of change. Galactus could be that story, and become something new. One can only imagine the great architect of so much of what we love about Marvel, DC, and comics in general — Jack Kirby — would approve of the idea.
The old stories are still there. When it is time for the characters to be as you once knew them before, those stories will return, too. But they also need to grow and change to keep them alive — and right now, we need our superheroes as their best selves.
Ewing and team have put together an incredible series that has built new layers into the Marvel Universe going forward, and provided a sprig of hope in a time when it's sorely needed.