In the midst of all the "Secret Invasion" hype, it'd be easy to overlook "Ultimate Origins." After all, it doesn't appear to have a Skrull anywhere near it. Even so, when Brian Bendis -- one of the original creative minds behind the Ultimate Universe -- steps up to handle this one personally, the attention of any past or present Ultimate reader should be well and truly seized.
And seized it is, right from page one. The issue opens by re-presenting a scene from "Ultimate Marvel Team-Up". The one that's been referenced in all "Ultimate Origins" interviews and promo material for months now, where Bruce Banner tells Spider-Man that "it's all connected." In the context of this pre-planned and still fairly young comics universe, that's a claim that demands some serious payoff.
The rest of the issue jumps back to World War 2 and concerns a group of soldiers with suspiciously familiar names -- Fury, Howlett, Fisk... You can bet that the fate of these characters has serious implications for the future of the Ultimate-verse -- some of which we already know, some of which we don't. Either way Banner's promised connections quickly become apparent, and they're remarkably organic in nature. It's not a case of throwing everything about Ultimate "prehistory" in a blender -- these connections make sense.
Butch Guice makes his Ultimate debut on artwork. His work on "Captain America" has been good, but he really excels himself on "Ultimate Origins" and holds up well with detailed art and clear storytelling. No mean feat, considering that the comparison to Hitch's rendition of the WW2-era Ultimate-verse will be unavoidable.
While much of the issue is purely setting the wheels in motion so that the origin of the Ultimate Universe's superhuman landscape can be laid out, there are some surprising revelations too. The issue's big reveal concerns the nature of the mutant gene, and represents a substantial shift away from the regular Marvel Universe. It might prove controversial and will certainly need some further explanation to see how it fits in with established continuity, but it's a revelation that opens up plenty of storytelling options -- crucially, options that don't exist outside of the Ultimate line.
If there's any obvious criticism of the book, it's that it's all a bit perfunctory, composed almost entirely of distilled, efficient action scenes in the tradition of Millar's "Ultimates" run. While that's a good thing on the surface, it does feel as though it lacks counterpoint character moments. Even when we do get lengthy dialogue exchanges, they're between cast members we're not yet invested in. Bendis' strengths in this area don't really shine through as a result.
Seeing some of these characters in action in a new context means that it'll entertain long-time Ultimate fans most of all, but in stark contrast to both "Final Crisis" #1 and "Secret Invasion" #1, almost anyone could pick this up and start reading, safe in the knowledge they can follow it.
Ultimate Origins promises to be a rare thing -- a completely self-contained story that'll have major ramifications. When you turn the last page, you'll feel like what you've read is mostly prologue, but it's a prologue that'll leave you more than ready to read the rest of the story.