With only two issues on the stands, Jeph Loeb and David Finch's "Ultimatum" event has already claimed the lives of a multitude of characters within Marvel's Ultimate Universe including several superheroes. While Magneto's massive attack on the humans of the Ultimate earth will stand as a major turning point for the characters within that reality, for readers the book represented the end of the Ultimate line as they knew it. While fans already knew "Ultimate Fantastic Four" and "Ultimate X-Men" would end because of the event, this weekend at the New York Comic-Con Marvel made it clear what else would come of "Ultimatum": a relaunched line now known as Ultimate Comics.
Consisting of a new "Ultimate Spider-Man" series by Brian Michael Bendis and artist David LaFuente, the long-awaited "Ultimate Avengers" series by Mark Millar and (for its opening arc) Carlos Pacheco and a series titled "New Ultimates" by Loeb and Frank Cho, Ultimate Comics aims to reignite reader interest in the nearly decade-old universe with unpredictable stories and clean jumping on points. For word on how "Ultimatum" fostered the relaunch, who survives to see it and what exactly makes "New Ultimates" so new, CBR got Loeb on the horn.
CBR: Jeph, everyone knew that "Ultimatum" would have a huge effect on the Ultimate Universe as it stands, but at what point in the process did you all decide to relaunch the entire publishing line in favor of all-new books like "New Ultimates"?
Jeph Loeb: I think you have to go all the way back to when me, Bendis, Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley all had dinner together in New York, and the topic of conversation was what had happened to the Ultimate Universe. This was certainly with a great deal of respect towards the people working on those books – and now having worked on them, I have more respect for them – but in the course of eight years, these stories, which were supposed to be not as tied into continuity and radically different than what was going on in the Marvel Universe, were starting to get wrapped around themselves. The very thing that made the Ultimate Universe so unique was how unexpected everything was. When you begin with "Peter Parker is 16 and goes to high school and has friendships we've never seen before" – that's unexpected. When the Fantastic Four are a group of kids who get in way over their heads – that's what we're talking about. When the X-Men are actually rock stars on the cover of "Time Magazine" – that I'd never seen before. The political bend and the darkness of 'The Ultimates' was something we'd never seen before.
The problem became that – specifically pointing to what Bendis was doing on the Avengers – he took some of what Mark [Millar] had done and made them much more dark and unpredictable than they'd ever been before, and that book took off...justifiably. But pretty soon, the line between what went on in the Marvel Universe and what went on in the Ultimate Universe became very blurred, and you didn't have that same unique quality that the Ultimate Universe had when it was first born. So that needed to be addressed. That was what we first set out to do, and I had an idea as to how to do that...called "Ultimatum." It started out initially as an Ultimates story, as many of these big events stories do, and the more we talked about it, the more clearly it became a way to shake up things.
So the first few rounds of conversation were the four of us, and then we had an all-day summit in Los Angeles that included a bunch of people that I'm not sure have gotten credit before. Allan Heinberg and Damon Lindelof joined us and helped shape and reshape "Ultimatum" and what would happen afterwards. Then, around that time we had been keeping Millar in the loop. Once we had it all together, Mark came in and worked his magic. Then we knew what we were doing. We knew what "Ultimatum" was, we knew what books were surviving through the end and what would launch out of it. And I was very lucky that Bendis and Millar, two of the original architects, were with me hand in hand going back to Quesada who was also one of the original architects. So that's where it all began.
There's no way to say, "This is how the books will be unexpected," but the Ultimate line always had certain hooks that made them different from the Marvel U. Did you guys look at the current Marvel U to try and find points of variance for this new iteration of the Ultimate U?
I think the thing that's important to remember is that there is no reset button after Ultimatum. No one's going to back in time and erasing it. There's not going to be a great white light at the end with everything rebooted and recharged. What happens in 'Ultimatum' happened. It is – and I'm not making light of any of these things because I have way too much emotion and pathos tied to them – but it is the Holocaust or the 9/11 of the Ultimate Universe. Those things happened. People were changed by them. People will be changed by them in the stories that are told from here on out. It doesn't mean that everything's going to be dark and hopeless. In fact, after a great tragedy, you often find people coming together to find a common goal. You're not going to live in a world where Magneto and a group of terrorist mutants destroyed countries, economies...millions of people over a 72-hour period and expect that the human reaction to mutants is going to stay the same by any stretch of the imagination. And that effects every single one of the books, some of which aren't coming back. So certainly the casts are going to change, and when they change, the dynamic changes and the dynamics between the characters. But when you live in a world where the Blob is eating the Wasp's insides, that's not something I've ever seen in the Marvel Universe.
It feels like before in "Ultimates," there was a theme that the team was government sponsored, accepted by the public and "our heroes" in one way or another, and that idea affected heavily how the characters interacted with the rest of the world. Have you thought about ways in which to change the Ultimates as an organization and play with their place in the world when you come into "New Ultimates?"
Well, "Ultimates 3" took it out of the political arena and made it closer to what the Avengers originally were. It took place in Tony Stark's world. It was run by Tony Stark, and it was put in a place where the conflicts were internal. The Scarlet Witch was murdered, and everyone reacted to that. The villains they were up against were superhero villains. They were not characters that were recreations or rethinkings of characters that had been in the Marvel Universe. The New Ultimates function differently, and probably function a little more closely to the way they originally did, and this notion of them being "America's heroes" is not something that is possible any longer. And what Mark is doing in "Ultimate Avengers" is very different than anything we've seen the Ultimates do ever. They are two very distinct groups of people with two very distinct ways of how big problems are dealt with in the Ultimate Universe.
One noticeable absence in terms of the output is that there will be no X-style book with characters under the purview of Charles Xavier and no Fantastic Four book. How will the characters from those series maintain position in the Ultimate Universe moving forward? Will some of them be playing roles in these new comics?
You'll have to read the rest of "Ultimatum." I'm sorry to put it in those terms, but nothing will be clear until it's done. I can tell you that when you start a sentence with "characters under purview of Charles Xavier" – Charles Xavier is dead, and that's the end of that. One can imagine that when Xavier dies, his dream dies with him. So it's a very different world and one that may not require having an X-Men book in it.
Frank Cho comes on to "New Ultimates" with you. How does he fit into the Ultimate Universe and with the Ultimates specifically?
In the same kind of way that Bryan [Hitch] plied his own masterful illustrations with the team and Joe Mad with Christian Lightner reinvented not only the look of the book but the actual identity of the book, Frank and I are stepping off into the unknown again. That's why it's called "New Ultimates" it is a different take on "Ultimates" 1, 2 or 3. Frank has given a different take.
Jeph, even though there's so much we have to wait and see on in terms of "Ultimatum," what can be said about the conflict that drives the first arc of "New Ultimates"?
I think it's safe to say that Thor and Captain America's appearance in Valhalla cannot bode well for either one of them. If you take Thor off the chess board – not saying that's what happens, but if you do then that leaves an opportunity for Loki to step in. One of the things that people might not remember, but the big story in "Ultimates" was that there was an alien invasion and giant spaceships and creatures that had taken over in a major sci fi way, and what made it amazing was that Mark and Bryan took the realistic and bounced it up against the fantastic. That's something that we're going to reach for in "New Ultimates."
One last thing to ask about is how much you, Brian and Mark will be playing off one another in terms of how tightly the Ultimate Universe will look from here on out. Obviously, you'll work on your own books as their own entities, but are you in touch with them about the direction of the line often?
Absolutely. It very much mirrors the way that Mark and Bryan began which was that they talk a lot about what the big picture is, but aren't making their own stories. We don't do anything without knowing what the other guy is doing. In some cases we're even sharing the same characters. We need to be able to make it seem like it's all one, big, effortless universe, and the only way to do that is by talking to each other. We read each others' scripts and make fun of each other, and thank God for e-mail.