I have the Ultimate Dare Devil and Elektra run, which I occasionally revisit. It's meh as well. Though, it's the good kind of "meh," and not the kind that makes me want to eventually cremate it. I just don't think I'll ever purchase the 2004 Ultimate Elektra to go along with it.
> having a place removed from main continuity that you could use to take characters in new directions but still with some sense of permanency.
Maybe they had Ken Penders type of writers which griped and moaned so much, they had to give in their demands and let their work flow onto the mainline. They could have easily fired them. But, you have some people that know how to grab their company by the balls and squeeze in order to get what they want.