Marvel Comics' Ultimate Universe is home to re-imagined versions of the publisher's classic characters that are both decidedly familiar and distinctly different. For example, the Ultimates are the Ultimate Universe's incarnation of the Avengers, so they take on the villains who are too powerful for any hero to face alone. The difference lies in the fact that they do so as agents of the U.S. government and often find themselves called upon to wage war or repel invasions from other countries.
As an arm of the intelligence agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D., the Ultimates enjoy many strategic advantages, but they're also vulnerable to attack from within. Recently, a high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D official manufactured evidence that led the Ultimates to go to war with their Black Ops counterpart team led by their former leader, General Nick Fury. The conflict was a destructive one, with the teenage hero Spider-Man caught in the crossfire and killed. Now that the conflict has come to an end, it's time for the Ultimates to rebuild and prepare themselves for the onslaught of deadly enemies that wait in the wings.
CBR News spoke with writer Jonathan Hickman, who is currently in the process of rebuilding the Ultimates' world in the pages of the six-issue weekly miniseries, "Ultimate Comics Fallout." In August, Hickman kicks off a new era for the team with the launch of the ongoing series "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" and "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye," a six-issue miniseries that spotlights the Ultimates' expert marksman.
Hickman's contributions to "Ultimate Comics Fallout" began with issue #2. In the series, the writer tells several short stories designed to tie up elements from previous "Ultimates" stories and set the stage for his upcoming work.
"I have an Ultimate Hulk and an Ultimate Jean Grey/Karen Grant story. I have a Nick Fury story, which is actually about both Nick Fury and Hawkeye. I have a Captain America story. I have what is sort of a follow-up to the 'Ultimate Doom' miniseries that Brian [Bendis] did. I have a really interesting Iron Man story that's an epilogue to all the 'Ultimates' stuff that Mark Millar did," Hickman told CBR News. "And I did an Ultimate Thor story with Brian Hitch, which was one of the biggest thrills of my professional career. I love Brian Hitch's work and I love the volumes of 'The Ultimates' that he and Mark did. The fact that I got to write this story for him was a huge kick."
When "Ultimate Comics Fallout" wraps, Hickman moves forward with "Ultimate Comics Ultimates," "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" and a mandate to add to the scope and scale of the Ultimate Universe. "When the Ultimate Universe started, the point of it was to streamline decades and decades of continuity into new, cleaner versions of those properties. Obviously, some of it got tweaked into something different, but for the most part, it actually was the 'Ultimate' versions of those characters because they were constructed by people who knew what worked and what did not in all of the old continuity. In fact, the general result was so wonderful that much of it was co-opted back into the regular Marvel Universe," Hickman said. "Our current mandate not like that at all. Our mandate is to do things that we can't do in the regular Marvel Universe, and I've taken that to heart. For the first six months, all of the things we are doing in 'The Ultimates' and this 'Ultimate Hawkeye' miniseries are really signposts -- guides -- to the new Ultimate World. That's what the book is. That's the scale of it. It's very big.
"Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #1 hits stores August 24 with "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" #1 following the week after. The events in both comics unfold simultaneously.
"In 'Ultimate Comics Fallout' I put forward the idea that with all its commitments and the global crises going on, America is stretched too thin, possibly to the breaking point. We immediately follow up on that in 'Ultimates' and 'Hawkeye.' Then, something else happens that kind of brings down the house of cards," Hickman explained. "Hawkeye is in the middle of one of those events, on a mission for Nick Fury, and the Ultimates are all wrapped up in another one. So those two series are happening at the exact same time while Nick Fury is in the main Triskelion headquarters in New York, the new one, watching the world fall apart and his friends having to deal with fall out."
Hickman got to know and love the Nick Fury of the Marvel Universe as the writer of "Secret Warriors," which comes to a conclusion in July with the release of issue #28. Luckily for the writer, he's finding the Nick Fury of the Ultimate Universe to be an equally enjoyable character to work with.
"It was nice writing my wrap-up to 'Secret Warriors' and then moving directly into writing more Nick Fury," Hickman remarked. "Obviously, he's a different character, but a lot of similarities are still there. He's still a master planner, and he's still the smartest, trickiest bastard in the room. He's one of my favorite characters. I love that I'm getting to write him more."
Hickman has also had a great time writing the title character of "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye." "I wasn't planning on writing an Ultimate Hawkeye miniseries, but it was one of those things that just kind of happened in the room. It was like, 'Jonathan, you're writing 'Ultimates' and we need another Ultimate book. You're going to be using this character in your regular series. Would you like to do this?' I, of course, wanted to do it because I was going to be using him and it would give me a chance to really test drive the character," Hickman explained. "I think, in general, that everybody at Marvel is really excited about Hawkeye as a property. I hate to talk about characters that way, but I think it's well founded because of how well things are going with the Avengers movie. Apparently, Jeremy Renner is tearing things up."
While "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" is a solo book, "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" is, of course, a team title. Hickman's initial three issues of "Ultimates" focus on the titular team's three founding and most popular members.
"The initial issues are, of course, about Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. And even though Cap is not in the book at first, his absence just hangs in the air. It's like a weight around everybody's neck. We also concentrate heavily on Nick Fury and Hawkeye. Those are the main characters right out of the gate," Hickman said. "We also have a ton of stuff in there about Ultimate Hulk and the characters in Jeph Loeb's recently finished "Ultimate X" miniseries (specifically Karen, Liz and Derek). Issue #3 of 'Ultimates' is where you really get to see the full team. Spider-Woman and Black Widow are definitely going to be on the team, and we're going to see a lot of a new Captain Britain, Jamie Braddock. I'm also thinking about using She-Hulk, who we haven't seen since 'Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Ultimate Hulk,' Damon Lindelof's miniseries. We've also got several more characters who I can't talk about. It's going to be a big book."
Hickman had to be very cryptic about the roles his characters will be playing in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates." In writer Mark Millar and artist Lenil Yu's recently completed "Ultimate Avengers Vs. New Ultimates" mini, the Ultimates were forced into a battle with a covert ops team of heroes lead by Nick Fury. Fury and one of the members of his covert ops squad, Hawkeye, will be with the Ultimates come August, but it's unclear what will happen to the rest of Fury's team, and whether or not the Ultimates will continue to have both public and black ops incarnation.
"There are two Nick Furys. There's the guy that's the public face of the group, the socially acceptable military man. Then there's the other guy, who gets stuff done. I doubt very seriously that we're going to see the end of either one of those. And, as readers know about me, I'm prone to grow a large cast in a book," Hickman laughed. "Our cast will stay smaller at the beginning of 'The Ultimates,' but it will certainly expand beyond where we start off. So, you're not only going to see both public and secret missions, but other, more interesting things."
Regardless of whether they're operating out in the open or clandestinely, the Ultimates is an incredibly powerful team. As such, they'll be pitted against equally and perhaps even more powerful foes.
"I don't want to ruin who the bad guys are, but they're new iterations of old things and then others that haven't been seen before. One of the interesting things that we're doing in this book is, we're trying not to white hat/black hat everybody right out of the gate. We do that so we can tell some really interesting stories six to seven months down the line about who really are and aren't the heroes," Hickman explained. "The difficulties that arise in 'Ultimate Hawkeye,' and the 'antagonist' in that book and our first 'Ultimates' arc are going to be characters that you'll see in all the other Ultimate books, which is why I keep stressing that these two series are really about the Ultimate world.
Bringing to life global hotspots and crises is a challenging and work intensive experience for almost any artist, which is why Hickman is glad to be working with Esad Ribic on "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" and Rafa Sandoval on "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye." "I've loved Esad's work since the first thing I ever saw him do, which was that painted 'Loki' miniseries from a few years back. Esad's talent is really, really obvious. The thing that's different here is that we're working from his straight pencils and Dean White is coming back in and digitally painting everything. I'm not quite sure what the scenario was celestially to move those two into alignment, but man, I'm glad it happened. I honestly think they're in love with each other," Hickman joked. "They are producing some beautiful, amazing stuff.
"And Rafa is tearing it up on 'Hawkeye,'" Hickman continued. "I had just finished looking at Rafa's pencils to Brian's 'Ultimate Doom' stuff when we started looking for an artist for 'Hawkeye.' They were pre-inks, and I was just blown away by how beautiful it was and how this guy was so good at doing environments, which is a big part of how I start stories. When they said Rafa was available, I said, 'We don't need to go any further than that. I would love to work with him.' He's not only very good, he's so fast! I'm not really used to how quick he is. It's like we're racing sometimes."
Hickman wants "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" and "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" to be more than just wonderful books -- he wants them to be reliable as well. "'The Ultimates' has never really been a book that people could depend on coming out at a predictable pace. This time, we're committed to doing a monthly book," Hickman said. "I think if people give us a shot, we'll return the favor by delivering really, really interesting stories in a timely manner. 'On Time: The Ultimates' is what this should be called," the writer said with a laugh.