Peach Momoko Ultimate X-Men Variant cover cropped
(Image Source: Marvel / Peach Momoko)

Comic Review: Ultimate X-Men #1 a Marvel’s Mighty Mutants Manga

The original Ultimate Universe revitalized the base of Marvel Comics for a new generation. Decades of interwoven stories created a dense continuity that was largely inaccessible to newcomers, particularly the X-Men comics. The new Ultimate Universe has the same goal. However, according to writer Jonathan Hickman, the new Ultimates line is also “a new way of thinking about, and enjoying, a new version of the Marvel Universe.” No title best exemplifies that idea quite so well as Ultimate X-Men #1.

Written and drawn by Japanese artist Peach Momoko, the first issue of Ultimate X-Men resembles a horror manga more than a typical X-Men comic. A brief blurb at the start describes how the Japan of this world is called “The Land of the Sun.” It also notes that it is ruled in secret by the villains Viper, Silver Samurai, and Sunfire. This metaplot, however, is completely unrelated to the actual story.

Ultimate X-Men 1 Hisako at school
(Image Source: Marvel / Peach Momoko)

The point-of-view character in Ultimate X-Men #1 is middle school student Hisako Ichiki. An outsider and outcast, Hisako wants nothing more than to get to graduation unnoticed. Unfortunately, a shadowy figure has taken an interest in Hisako and the trauma that took her out of school. Hisako struggles with her blocked memories of the incident that claimed the life of her best friend. She also faces the possibility that she’s responsible for that death.

Ultimate X-Men 1 villain and hero
(Image Source: Marvel / Peach Momoko)

Ultimate X-Men Tells Mutant Story in Manga Form

On the surface, Ultimate X-Men #1 resembles the work of Junji Ito more closely than Jack Kirby. Peach Momoko leans heavily upon Hisako’s torment, with our hero being haunted by both images of her deceased friend and her shadowy stalker. Then her mutant power manifests, as an armored Oni protecting her.

Ultimate X-Men Armor Fights back
(Image Source: Marvel / Peach Momoko)

Ignoring Momoko’s art style (which won her Eisner and Ringo awards in 2021), the heart of Ultimate X-Men is the same as the original Stan Lee stories. X-Men has always been about young people coping with what makes them feel outcast from society. Puberty as a metaphor for Powers. Mutant as a metaphor for Minority. In this, Momoko has captured the essence of what X-Men is about and why the concept has resonated with readers for decades.

It remains to be seen if the common clay of comic collectors will embrace Ultimate X-Men. There are some traditionalists who will not be able to look past the art style, the horror influence, or the female lead. The irony is that these people have missed the message of the original X-Men: evolution is inevitable, and change, difficult as it is, ultimately improves things.

Aesthetically, Ultimate X-Men #1 is unlike any X-Men comic ever published. In base terms, however, it is the quintessential X-Men story. It is about growing up, overcoming trauma, and coming to terms with who you are. It is a great start to what promises to be a great series.

Grade: 5/5

Ultimate X-Men #1 is now available on-line and at comic shops everywhere.