In 2000, Marvel Comics started a new universe. For those of you playing at home, this is what I mean: Marvel Comics released a series of interconnected titles, each featuring certain teams or characters, that all exist within the same overall narrative contained by the “Ultimate universe”.
These titles sought to re-imagine these various characters in modern times, shedding decades of back story in the process. In the particular case of one Peter Parker, suddenly old friends and nemesis are alive again, Peter is still in high school, and the story is only just beginning. Familiar faces and events pass through the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man, but the resemblance will range from superficial to identical in significance.
Marvel’s use of different universes serves as sort of an all access pass to go nuts. They can rebuild a comic while sticking to the spirit of a recognizable character now able to revisit and revamp the creation myths left and right without drowning in 40/50 odd years of background information detailing character relationships and the governing comic laws of superpowers and technology.
The writers are able to back up and avoid plots that were very much products of their time, or rework them in a way that makes sense to the readers of today. They can skip out on the acrobatics involved in maintaining the warped temporal flow of comics, trying to maintain the premise that a Peter Parker who was a teen in the 60’s still has yet to reach middle age fifty years later. There are some just plain weird plots no one wants to deal with, but are unavoidable if the main universe is to be explored. Hence: the Ultimate Universe. The idea of a character is extracted (in this case: Spider-Man) and re-situated outside of the ties that built up over the years. We take Spidey back to the young wise cracking super, armed with his moral code and drive, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and let him loose on New York. Again, and for the first time.
(Don’t get me wrong, the Ultimate ‘verse filled their clean slate with the requisite quantity of weird pretty quick.)