It's only been a week since volume 2 wrapped up, but thanks to the round robin rotation of A-list artists on tap for Marvel's ongoing series of "Ultimate Avengers" stories, the latest volume's first installment is already in the hands of readers. And with "Ultimate Avengers 3," writer Mark Millar and artist Steve Dillon are looking to take the real world flavor of the Ultimate franchise and give it a ground-level shot of bloodsucking sizzle.
"I think this third arc is the horror arc – vampires versus superheroes," Millar told CBR News. "Steve Dillon just seemed like the logical choice because he gave you vampires in 'Preacher' and 'Hellblazer,' and he makes it so naturalistic. It wasn't bad horror movie, 'Fright Night' vampires. He somehow gets a level of realism which is something I think you need when you're set in the Ultimate Universe because the Ultimate Universe has always been treated as one step away from our world. If you're going to do vampires, you've got to go at it with the same seriousness that we treat superheroes with there. So Steve's got a real quite naturalism that works.
"It's so rare to see him drawing superhero comics so I love it when he does it," Millar continued. "A lot of people never saw it, but he and I did an 'Ultimates' Annual a couple of years back that was never collected in the big editions. He captured the characters so perfectly there that it just felt like what Hitch was doing in making everyone seem very real, and I always thought I'd love to do more stuff with superheroes with him, and this seemed perfect. Superheroes and vampires. It had Steve Dillon written all over it."
To keep the vampire yarn "all in the family," much like classic Marvel U tales, the writer enlisted his own version of Ultimate Blade to take on the now virally infected vamps, and as with the previous two volumes in the series, the black ops team in the Ultimates organization will bring with them a tale that deals with the past as much as the present. "I suppose with black ops, that's basically what you're dealing with. Every one of these stories seems to be stories about people's pasts coming back to haunt them in some way. That was the case with Captain America's son, and it was the case with Johnny Blaze as well. And now with this one, it'll happen with Blade and Ultimate Daredevil as well. They'll carry on those themes. But I think for me, the most fun I had with 'The Ultimates' was when I would 'Ultimize' characters to begin with. What I've used this book as really was not 'Here's the further adventures of Ultimate whoever' but more as, 'Here's Ultimate Ghost Rider. Here's Ultimate Johnny Blaze. Here's Ultimate Blade and Ultimate Daredevil.' Each arc, I've tried to introduce one big, new version of an Ultimized Marvel character."
Of course, both Blade and Daredevil earned their own previous, if brief, spotlights in the Ultimate U, but with the full weight of the blockbuster arc format of "Ultimate Avengers" behind them, Millar has plans to make each character his own – particularly this all-new Man Without Fear. "To me, the Ultimate Universe works when you take something back to its past and focus on what worked about it in the first place," he explained of his approach to the character. "If you're doing Marvel or DC characters for four or five decades in Marvel's case and seven in DC's case, you really start to get away from the original concepts. The Ultimate Universe was about taking everything back to that. Daredevil himself, I've always loved the character and was a big fan of his, but even though it wasn't as good as what it became, I always kind of liked that yellow costume. So taking him back to basics, since the Ultimate Daredevil was killed in 'Ultimatum,' I wanted to do a new Daredevil and make him a kid who was the same age Matt Murdock was when he was blinded, but get him in costume at that age. So he was trained up by Stick, but was in costume within months."
That costume holds more in common with the earliest iteration of the Marvel U Daredevil than it does the more familiar version, which the writer believes makes this new character stand apart. "I thought that would be cool to take him back to that Wally Wood costume, and it makes him nice and distinct from the Marvel Universe. If you look at the Ultimate characters, they do look a little different from the Marvel Universe ones. I never saw the point of making them too close to the main guys. Ultimate Spider-Man is this skinny little kid version of Spider-Man and is still in high school. Captain America is a militarized version. I like having that distinction between the two universes."
Readers and commenters alike have taken note of the fact that Marvel is renumbering the "Ultimate Avengers" comic as a brand new miniseries with each new arc, even though it's ostensibly an ongoing series. However, Millar stood by the format on story grounds, explaining that even though a bigger tale existed, it wasn't overpowering the individual chapters enough to scare away the more casual readers from arcs that interest them. "The idea's always been to make each arc self-contained as its own little graphic novel. You can read it in that way, too, so if you pick up any one volume, you'll be satisfied because it has a beginning, middle and end. There's a rotating cast of characters, so you won't feel that you've missed anything if you're just reading 'Ultimate Avengers 3' and you haven't read book 1 before. But at the same time, I like the idea of Fury being the head of black ops ever since he was demoted from the leader of the Ultimates and replaced by Carol Danvers by Jeph Loeb. I liked the idea of him working in the background to get his old job back. Fury climbed greasy poles to be the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he must have done a lot of shady things to get that position. So the idea that Carol Danvers, who I don't imagine he's got a huge amount of respect for, is now sitting behind his desk, well, I like the idea of four arcs where Nick Fury is pretty much plotting his revenge against her so he can become head of S.H.I.E.L.D. again. Those arcs, when you read them all as a whole, will show you the invisible hand of Nick Fury."
Speaking of unseen hands, the writer promised that his influence will again work its magic in the Marvel Universe, although exactly where or when he'll reach in to mix things up is still up in the air as he focuses on keeping his creator-owned projects running smoothly. "I've almost finished 'Superior,' I've got one more issue of 'Nemesis' to do and I've got a lot of 'Kick-Ass 2' to write, Millar said. "I've still got the final arc of 'Ultimate Avengers' to write and a film I'm directing right now. That should keep me very busy until the end of the year, and then I'll probably come to some kind of decision as to what my next Marvel book is. I've always seen it as my plan to do both – a combination of creator-owned and Marvel Universe, which I think people find weird. People are always saying to me, 'Ah, you've got to have this plan to go off and do movies.' But I wouldn't be writing 'Ultimate Avengers' or 'Old Man Logan 2' or the potential X-Men project we've been talking about if I was just going to do movies. I'll never make an extra cent off of all those projects if they make them into movies, as they're all owned by Marvel the same way they own 'Ultimates' or anything I've ever written for them. I just do it because I love it.
"It's great and what I wanted to do when I was five. Even more than creating my own characters – when I was eight, I didn't think 'I want to grow up and write "Kick-Ass."' I wanted to write Captain America and that stuff. Creatively, I'm enjoying stretching myself a little and doing stuff like 'Kick-Ass,' which I obviously couldn't do with Spider-Man. So 'Old Man Logan 2' is on the horizon. I really wouldn't want to do that without Steve, so I'm kind of torn on what to do because Steve may have to unfortunately do something else next. He didn't know I was planning the sequel, so I'm not sure. We're going to have to see when he's available. I've got a few other projects as well in the Marvel Universe that could happen and some guys I've never gotten to work with. So I'm definitely planning for summer 2011 on a big Marvel project, but I'm just not quite sure what that is."
For more with Millar, check back with CBR next week as we delve into the creator-owned side of his comics output including "Kick-Ass 2," "Superior" and his UK comics magazine "CLiNT."