Marvel has its first big comic of the year, with the new Ultimate Spider-Man #1 proving to be a success with critics as well as cash registers; the issue — by Jonathan Hickman and Daredevil’s Marco Checchetto — sold out on its release day, leading to a second printing - and now a third printing just a week later.
How well did the issue sell? Well, it took up an impressive eight of the top 10 sales slots on CovrPrice’s tracking of the week’s comic sales activity, thanks to the multiple variant covers available for the issue, with an aftermarket online sales bump of 340% for the primary cover by the end of the week. Online chatter for the issue, meanwhile, included comments like “everyone who’s ruined Spider-Man for the past 20 years is going to get vaporized like a DBZ villain” and “Expertly written, beautifully drawn, and a near masterpiece of a single issue.” Multiple tweets — “X posts,” I guess? — included variations on “We are BACK” as an exclamation of how excited they were to see this particular variation on the character.
All in all, it’s safe to say that the issue was a hit.
That’s a good thing; after all, Ultimate Spider-Man #1 wasn’t just the first issue of a new Spider-Man series, but the launch of Marvel’s revised Ultimate line, an event that had been teased by no less than two earlier projects last year: Ultimate Invasion, a four-part series theoretically setting up the new Ultimate Universe, and the subsequent Ultimate Universe one-shot issue, intended as a teaser for the ongoing comics that would make up the new line.
The new Ultimate Spider-Man was, notably, a far bigger success than either of those two earlier titles, a fact that’s likely come as a significant relief to everyone involved in their production; the final issue of Ultimate Invasion, for example, didn’t even place on the top 50 selling issues in its month of release, according to retailer estimates, and after its debut issue, generated little conversation in fan circles. The same was true of the Ultimate Universe one-shot issue although that did place in the top 10 for the month. Nonetheless, with sales attrition being what it is, the speedy sell-out (and reprinting) paired with the positive word-of-mouth feel as if the new Ultimate line has more longevity than might have appeared the case even a month earlier.
Comparing the titles, it’s easy to see why USM outperformed the prior releases — despite being a first issue with all that entails (introducing the cast, setting the stage for what’s to come and laying out the stakes of the story at hand), Ultimate Spider-Man #1 is the first of the reborn Ultimate titles to actually feel like a comic that exists for a purpose beyond advertising other comic books. Both Ultimate Invasion and Ultimate Universe were, ultimately (pun only slightly intended) meta-textual comics that existed to explain away the new universe’s in-story connection to the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe as-was, while also setting up the narrative framework for the new titles that would launch as part of the revised imprint. They weren’t telling a story in and of themselves, as much as providing extended editorial captions for those who wanted explanations as to what number of universe this one would be in the Official Marvel Handbook.
By contrast, Ultimate Spider-Man #1 had emotional stakes, and a narrative that went beyond simply filling out scorecard stats; no wonder, then, that readers would respond so strongly to it. The temptation to be snarky and suggest that the secret to making a comic a hit is to make a good comic is there, of course, but a more practical and truthful variant might be to point to how strongly the audience responded to a comic that had a strong emotional core and intent beyond woolgathering.
It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder just what would have happened if Marvel had brought back the Ultimate line not with the comics dedicated to advertising the Ultimate line, but with Ultimate Spider-Man #1, and simply made a statement that it was unconnected to any previous continuity in the process, or left any narrative explanations until later. Would the line have been more or less successful if its first release had been something like that, instead of an explanation of what was to come?
The second printing of Ultimate Spider-Man #1 will be available February 14, which is also when Ultimate Spider-Man #2 is set for release. The third printing is due out March 6
Wait, so what does happen in Ultimate Spider-Man #1, anyway? We have something to help answer that question for you, if you're curious...