The comics programming segment of the rechristened Chicago Comic-Con got into full swing Friday with Marvel Comics' Ultimate Marvel Panel, delving into the line of comics which itself is getting rechristened as Ultimate Comics with a new launch of books starting next week. "This is the first panel where we're finally able to talk about Ultimate Comics," said Marvel's Jim McCann with a sigh. McCann then introduced Ultimate line editor Mark Paniccia, Marvel Associate Editor Lauren Sankovitch (who despite having moved out of the Ultimate office and having a weak and sore throat soldiered on as a panelist) and con guest of honor, "Ultimate Comics Avengers" (preview) scribe Mark Millar.
The editors revved things up early with some expected praise for the incoming, superstar creative teams for the line with Paniccia saying, "One of the great things about the relaunch of the line is that everything we're putting out is my favorite book" and Sankovitch noted, "A lot of people have been killed, and a lot of people have been irrevocably changed from what they have been for years, and with Ultimate Comics we're re-setting the bar and it's sky high. The stories these guys have been telling and the way they've been working together to build a cohesive whole that really blows you out of the water has been amazing."
Teases were shown for the upcoming "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" (preview)by Brian Michael Bendis and David LaFuente (which ships next week) and the "Ultimate Armor Wars" mini series by Warren Ellis and Steve Kurth. Of the continuation of the teen-centric Spidey title that has been the flagship of the Ultimate line for a decade, Sankovitch explained, "You're going to get some huge surprises just in the first issue." Praise came for LaFuente as the editor noted that his previous Ultimate debut with the third "Ultimate Spider-Man" annual will tie to the new ongoing series thanks to the inclusion of Ultimate Mysterio. "He's mean, bad and dresses really nice," she joked. "Brian is building this character up to be THE major Ultimate Spider-Man villain, featured on the villain. He's definitely a character to watch," said Paniccia, showing the "villain variant" with art by Marko Djurdjevic as each new Ultimate Comics first issue will feature a similar variant highlighting a different bad guy.
Of "Armor Wars," Paniccia explained, "This four-issue story is total Warren Ellis craziness, and it takes place shortly after the events of 'Ultimatum.' It introduces a new surprise villain. I don't want to tell you who it is because it's just too good." Brandon Peterson will provide covers for the series.
Millar then took center stage on the panel, noting when Carlos Pacheco's cover art for "Ultimate Comics Avengers" #1 came on the screen, "This looks really good." Of his reason for returning the to Ultimate U, the writer said, "I really missed those characters...it was the best five years and 26 issues of my life. [And leaving the series] was kind of like breaking up with a whole bunch of friends, as pathetic as that sounds. I loved writing Ultimate Cap and Ultimate Thor and everyone. And equally in there too, I didn't like the idea of Jeph Loeb outselling me, so we had to come back and kick his ass. Basically, that's the high concept behind this."
The first arc in the series will feature the Ultimate Red Skull (with a villain variant by Lenil Fracis Yu being shown). "This character is freaking extreme," Paniccia said, with Millar saying of the villain, "He's Captain America's illegitimate son from the 1940s, and the scene that you've got in issue #2 is a sex scene with Ultimate Cap. Just the night before he goes off to war – before he goes off to go off to die – he sleeps with his girlfriend. They're not married or anything. They just think they'll never see each other again. And Cap dies, and she's left with Captain America's baby in her stomach...this happens in Scotland all the time. But she has to give up the baby to S.H.I.E.L.D. and this is the result...He's back, and he's got a lot of daddy issues." Millar added jokingly, "You do see Captain America's penis in issue #2...I drew it on myself. I draw penises on every comic I own." In seriousness, the writer said all of the second issue will be the origin of Ultimate Red Skull over the years of his life while Cap was gone.
McCann pointed out that the new makeup for the team leads to many new character combinations, clicking to a slide featuring Captain America and Hawkeye with a word balloon from the latter reading, "You think this Bullseye on my head stands for Scotland?" Millar slid in to say, "I love Ultimate Captain America because he hates the French" and adding that there would be a a five-page extended insult to the French in issue #5. Millar also said that the pairing of Cap and Hawkeye made sense because, "They're the only kind of hawkish superheroes. Cap and Hawkeye are great like that. They love a bit of action, they love to kick ass and they don't like people that talk a lot."
The writer spoke about his collaborators on the series (each new arc of "Ultimate Comics Avengers" will feature a new artist). In order to get full runs from artists who take a longer time with their work than a monthly schedule will allow, the book will function as "individual graphic novels that all link up. So the first storyline, the Red Skull story, is by Carlos Pacheco. I know he's Spanish, but he's very good and he works cheap. The second guy is Leinil Francis Yu, and I just wanted to work with a guys whose initials were 'F. Yu.' That's fantastic. Then we'll get an absolute superstar for the third arc who we have to keep a secret just now and literally the biggest seller I think this decade doing the fourth arc. It's a great lineup.
"I think the thing that made the Ultimate line really work at first was the A-list artists because really nobody gave a shit about me and Bendis. He was just a bald guy from Cleveland, and I was the Scottish guy that nobody could understand. Luckily we had Adam Kubert and [Mark] Bagley and [Bryan] Hitch come along. It was real A-list talent with A-list characters that pulled us up to the A-list to be in that company. What we've got again now is that there's no lame Ultimate books. There's no weak link in the chain. Everybody that's working on them is at the top of their game."
The official lineup for "Ultimate Comics Avengers" will be Captain America, Hawkeye, Iron Man, War Machine, a new Wasp and Nick Fury, though Millar said that some of those characters would play smaller parts in certain stories and other stories would feature new cast members like the new Thor, the Russian thunder god seen briefly in "Ultimates 2." "We're creating a whole new wave of interesting characters, and I think part of what made the Ultimate line a success at the beginning was our redefinition of iconic names. So really, rehashing that could get a little dull. So we're creating a whole new bunch of characters. There's a new Wasp up there. There's a new War Machine you haven't seen yet. There's a character called the Spider who's like a Cannibal Spider-Man guy. There's the African American Hulk, who's Bruce Banner's mentor. So there's a lot of interesting takes on Marvel icons."
Other new characters featured in the series will include Tony Stark's brother and Nick Fury's ex-wife. "From the beginning, I always liked the idea of doing like five years worth of Ultimates stories, and to me that's 60 issues, but it became 26 issues...but I had those overhanging ideas. I love the idea of Tony having a tea-totaling older brother who despised him and always wore white suits instead of Tony's dark suits. And while Tony rules the northern hemisphere, this guy has his business in the southern hemisphere. They're massive rivals, and they hate each other. I like the idea of going a bit deeper into the characters. You meet Bruce Banner's teachers and Nick Fury's ex-wife. Just seeing what was going on in the background really."
McCann showed a piece of art featuring a battered Ultimate Wolverine featuring a caption that read "I died...any questions?" before opening up the floor to fan questions. The first came from a reader who wondered whether or not Millar came back to the Ultimate line after Jeph Loeb's "Ultimates 3" story was so radically different from what he had established in the first two volumes of the book, underwhelming some fans. "I'd have been terrified if everybody would have loved Loeb's [run,]" Millar said, joking that he himself was logging on to message boards with a false name to slag the book. "But to be honest, I loved Loeb's thing because I thought it had a mad energy. The thing I though would have been more depressing was seeing somebody coming out and just copying our style. So I loved the fact that he went in his own direction. And we'll come back and do our own thing as well. It hasn't changed anything with the characters and such...It shook everything up and got everyone talking and sold really well. And Jeph, I'd never say this to his face, but I do like him as a person."
Asked what the difference is between Millar's book and Loeb's upcoming "New Ultimates" series would be, the writer said, "Ultimates Vol. 1 #8 had a sequence which we ripped off from 'The Matrix' where it was Hawkeye and Black Widow with a black ops team, and we never named them. It also had Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch taking on these secret missions. That's what this book is about essentially. This is about that black ops team, and they're called the Avengers – Codename: Avengers. And the New Ultimates as the day team are the people that handle the big action that the public knows about, but the really dirty linen of the [Ultimate] Marvel Universe gets washed in the 'Ultimate Comics Avengers' book." He also noted that the draw on this series for him involved "Ultimizing" new characters like Blade and Ghost Rider.
As for other questions answered at the panel, the editors explained that there were currently no plans to expand the Ultimate line into Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited program in terms of new stories, nor were there any immediate plans for the cosmic side of things in the Ultimate U. Asked by several fans whether or not teams like the Ultimate Fantastic Four or the Ultimate X-Men would return in their own series, the panel played mum, although the editors did say that Brian Bendis would explore the initiative to register mutants mentioned in "Ultimatum" within the "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" run. When McCann asked the audience whether or not they'd like to see new series, Millar jumped in with, "Does the name Alan Moore mean anything to you? Keep Twittering that!" Millar also noted that he plans to include Ultimate Spider-Man in his new series and "I'd like to write him quite badly" to upset Bendis who is very territorial with the character. "Ultimate Spider-Man is like a skinny little Bendis with hair."
Overall, the last point that all the panelists made in regards to the future of the Ultimate line in the wake of "Ultimatum" was that "Dead means dead" for real this time and that characters who bought it in the crossover series would not be returning to action any time soon.