The Uncanniness of Ultimate X-Men: Where Comics Meet Manga

Written by Dillon Hampton and Adam Buckley.


Ultimate X-Men #1 came out on March 6th and it’s gracing the comic book industry with more Peach Momoko. In her new series, she acts as the writer, artist, and colorist, using a variety of watercolor techniques and charcoal rubbings to exemplify her style. I should preface that I am not a comic book guy, but I do know someone who is. Adam Buckley has written about the Ultimate Universe before and will handle story presentation, quality, and how it fits into the overall publishing line. I will handle the discussion of the art because I have a background in art and I have more experience with manga. Throughout this article, me and Adam will tag in and out whenever our expertise is required.



The story of Ultimate X-Men #1 follows Hisako Ichiki, a Japanese middle school student who, on the day of her graduation, is passed a note that beckons her to a temple outside town. With the power of a charm that belonged to a departed friend, Hisako fends off the charcoal colored demon that lured her there by conjuring a red spirit in the shape of samurai armor. Many fans were excited by the premise as Hisako, codename “Armor” in the main Marvel Universe, has been a B-team X-Men character for a long time and has deserved a chance in the spotlight for the two decades since her creation by Joss Whedon and John Cassady in 2004. 

Ultimate X-Men, on the surface, is the most reclusive Ultimate series, meaning that it has the most distance between itself and the larger goings-on in this fledgling universe. Beyond the little paragraph recap on the first page, it’s unconcerned with tying into previous continuity. Given that not that much really happens in this issue, I’m content for UXM to be in its own little corner while the writers of the other Ultimate titles sketch out the greater world. The lower stakes and slower pace indicate that Momoko is taking her time, which doesn’t surprise me with how much creative control she seems to have over the title. 

Design sheet for Hisako and the armor spirit.


Momoko may be known by Marvel fans for her Demon Days series, but she’s most famous for her alternate covers for other titles. Her art in UXM exemplifies just how unique her take on the Marvel universe is. She uses beautiful watercolor paints to make splashy background art that really contrasts with the bleak themes of the first issue. Along with that, she uses what looks like dark graphite and charcoal to shade in this shadow monster that helps to awaken Hisako to her seemingly Mutant abilities. 

Momoko’s art is also heavily reminiscent of other Japanese manga authors such as the creative legend Naoki Urasawa (Monster, Twentieth Century Boys). Momoko’s characters are drawn to have simplistic, goofy faces when zoomed out and more detailed, expressive faces when zoomed in. Urasawa employed similar techniques when writing his many popular series. Conversely, the creepier, darker depiction of the shadow monster is comparable to that of Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika) or Junji Ito (Uzumaki, Tomie). It has this jagged, disconcerting vibe that almost tears away at the art style and colorization. Ultimate X-Men, including its art, is unique in comparison to the rest of the Ultimate line.



Ultimate X-Men doesn’t possess the sheer momentum that Ultimate Spider-Man’s opening issue did, but it does have genuine intrigue and horror on its side. The shadow entity is a huge source of the issue’s terror. He preys on Hisako’s grief over a childhood friend named Tsubasa, who gifted her the charm she used to awaken the armor spirit. It’s implied that Tsubaba committed suicide due to extreme bullying, which Hisako blames herself for not stopping. The shadow says that he was once close to Tsubasa, too, but it’s unclear whether that’s a true or simply a lie to provoke Hisako. 

While borrowing plenty of tropes along the way, Peach Momoko is trying to show us things the American comic book audience might not have seen in a superhero story before. However, anime/manga fans might be tired of the standard school setting, the cartoonish depictions of bullying, or the armor spirit being a supernatural familiar in the vein of Jujutsu Kaisen’s Rika or Death Note’s Ryuk. But the expectations of this comic’s dueling audiences differ. What I expected as a comic fan was to have Hisako confirmed as a Mutant. 

This issue carries the X-Men name and a nifty little DNA logo on the corner of the cover, but there’s no mention of Mutants or X-Genes anywhere within its pages. We speculate that it might be revealed in a later issue that Hisako’s Mutant ability is to awaken spirits with charms, explaining the armor spirit appearing after she received a similarly shaped charm. Whether it’s literally or metaphysically, I believe that the spirit is Tsubasa in some way, perhaps trying to protect Hisako from the shadow who once tormented him, if Tsubasa isn’t the shadow himself. While executed well, I fear that this close-up focus on Hisako won’t provide much room to incorporate the team dynamic that X-Men has been historically known for. Of course, Maystorm, a classmate of Hisako’s making her debut in issue #2, is likely to be confirmed as a Mutant, since she’s been so heavily used in the promotion of the series. 

Cover for Issue #2.


Maystorm was introduced on a variant cover of X-Men #27 (2023) as a part of the New Champions variant series, and has since become a canon character as of UXM’s release. As someone who isn’t that involved with comics as a whole, I just saw her in the ad for issue two and was mainly interested in seeing what her role would be. She looks like she’ll be a classmate of Hisako’s and a major Storm fangirl. Her lightning accessories and school uniform prove this, though aside from that there’s pretty much nothing you can glean about her character. It feels like she’ll be more extroverted, contrasting Hisako’s introverted personality. Hisako herself is designed as a typical Japanese schoolgirl, fit with a short haircut, class uniform and hikikomori personality (which is a shut-in who is socially avoidant). She looks pretty simple, which does reinforce the idea that she’s just a normal girl being wrapped up in something much bigger than herself. Because she just looks like a garden variety schoolgirl, it makes characters like the red armor and Maystorm stand out more.

The weirdest thing about Maystorm is that we literally don’t know who this character is, but she’s been aggressively marketed. Momoko herself teased a page with her in it on her Instagram, and she’s on the cover of issue #2 and #3. It’s like Gojo from Jujutsu Kaisen getting all the spotlight in advertisements, even though he’s a side character. I get that it’s a marketing strategy to hype up the audience to Maystorm’s upcoming debut, but as an outsider to the medium, it’s odd. I’m just so used to seeing characters for the first time in the actual story before seeing them advertised, not the opposite.

The shadow entity that appears to mess with Hisako is another character that I’m intrigued by. His misty, ink-like appearance is uncanny and sets him apart from the rest of the characters and background art. His simplistic silhouette shifts into a defined, more detailed portrait of a human face that just stares into your soul. It’s chilling, and it definitely resembles a more simplified version of something from a Junji Ito work. The dark watercolor pigments work so well to emphasize his presence, only for the warm, red colors of Armor to wash over the blackness.

Preview of the shadow from Issue #2.


This character could be long-time X-Men villain the Shadow King, a psychic parasite that uses others as hosts. Throughout the multiverse, there’s only one Shadow King, so if this is him, there might be ripple effects through the main universe X-Men books, and if not, the Ultimate Universe might have its own original villain. Whatever direction Momoko chooses to go in, she’s successfully accomplished what #1 issues are supposed to do: get me to buy issue #2. Even if this doesn’t end up connecting to any other Ultimate book, then I can only hope that Momoko consistently delivers quality issues like this one.



Overall, we’re both pretty excited to see where the following issues will take the series. There’s a lot we don’t know that allows the reader to want to know more, like who’s Maystorm, what’s the shadow dude’s deal, and where the mutants are. The premise is engaging and Peach Momoko’s art is immaculately done. I might not know too much about the X-Men or comics, but even I am looking forward to seeing how this series pans out. If you’re into manga and not familiar with comic books, this is as good a place to start as any.