In 2000 Marvel Comics launched a new "Ultimate" line of comics featuring reimagined versions of their classic characters and concepts. In this new Ultimate Universe the super powered mutant team known as the X-Men still struggled to protect and fit into a world where mankind feared and hated them, but the Ultimate X-Men's exploits have been a lot more dangerous and bloody. In the "Ultimatum" miniseries their arch enemy Magneto drowned New York City in a massive tidal wave killing many of their number, and more died in the ensuing struggle to bring Magneto to justice for his crimes.
Charles Xavier, leader and founder of the X-Men, perished during "Ultimatum" and it looks as if his dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants may have died as well. In the aftermath of Magneto's attack, humanity's hatred of mutankind became even more intense and the U.S. government began separating mutants from the general population. The flames of that fiery hatred were fanned in the recently completed "Ultimate Comics Fallout" miniseries when the world found out the secrets of the Ultimate Universe's mutants; they aren't the next stage in genetic evolution after all. The genetic process that endows mutants with their super human abilities was actually created by man.
This revelation will touch off a new round of worldwide hatred for mutantkind and ensure the governments of the world will become even more relentless in their hounding of mutants. Writer Nick Spencer and artist Paco Medina begin their exploration of this new dark and dangerous era for the Ultimate U's mutants with the launch of "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #1 tomorrow, September 21st. CBR News spoke with Spencer about his plans for the book and the future of the Ultimate X-Men.
For the past several weeks Spencer has been setting the stage for "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and plans to take full advantage of his preparation in the pages of "Ultimate Comics Fallout." The Marvel exclusive writer told several short stories that set up the status quo for the Ultimate Universe's mutants, and in the recent #1 issues of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" and "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye," writer Jonathan Hickman assisted Spencer by showing more of humanity's perspective on mutants around the world.
"There are huge mutant developments in 'Ultimates' and 'Ultimate Hawkeye.' A big part of what this Ultimate Universe relaunch is really all about is that it's going to be cohesive again," Spencer told CBR News. "Because we're all going to be shipping monthly and we're all going to be shipping on time we're able to play off of each other. That includes Jonathan's books and Brian Bendis' 'Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.' Jon and Brian are two guys I really love working with. I learn a lot from them and have a blast bouncing ideas back and forth with them. We're all excited about the chance to build up and react to each others' stories. We really want to create that old school Marvel feeling of interconnectedness and cohesion, so everybody's books will impact everybody else's books in fundamental ways. When you go in and get your Ultimate book for that week, very often you'll see the reflections and impacts of things in another book."
In the aftermath of "Ultimatum" the X-Men disbanded and the surviving members went their separate ways. In "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #1 Spencer begins the process of bringing the titular team back together.
"I have a reputation for being a long form storyteller at this point and this is certainly a long form story. The cast are not all sitting in a mansion somewhere ready to go on page one of issue #1. There is going to be a process of putting all these characters together and I think the ways that they meet up down the road will be so much more exciting because of the way that we're doing this," Spencer explained. "You're going to see mutants scattered around in various locales and situations; most of them are not good. Obviously mutants in the Ultimate Universe have been through so much over the last couple of years and they're showing signs of it. A lot of them are in very bad places."
Two of the mutants in "Ultimate Comics X-Men," Shadowcat and Iceman, aren't in bad places simply because of what's happening to mutants. They're also still mourning the death of their friend Peter Parker, the former Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe.
"Peter's death is a fundamental part of where these characters are. You'll see more of that in the first, third, and fourth issues. That was a major, life-changing event for those kids. Their best friend is gone," Spencer remarked. "When you compound that with the fact that they are being actively hunted and are under threat from their own government, and the loss of leadership in the mutant communit,y this is a very dire place that they're in and the book really is about finding that new something to believe in and picking yourself back up. It's a book that's really about recovery and rebirth and Peter's death looms very large in these characters' lives."
Peter's death is also deeply affecting the Human Torch and it's one of the reasons why Johnny Storm will become the first non-mutant member of the Ultimate Universe's X-Men. "I think it's very typical that when you lose so much, one of the first things that you do is pull more closely together," Spencer stated. "Bobby and Johnny became very close friends over the last several months in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and when we were sitting down and coming up with our teams I think one of the first things that stood out for all of us is that Johnny and Bobby would not want to be separated from each other and Bobby would not want to be separated from Kitty. The kids would not want to drift apart simply because one of them isn't a mutant. So to me it makes perfect sense that these kids would decide to stick together for better or worse.
"Johnny is an integral part of this story. He's just as much a part of the X-Men cast as anyone and we're going to have some fun obviously with the fact that he isn't a mutant," Spencer continued. "Johnny is like a lot of idealistic teenagers who often identify with movements or groups that they're not a part of but want to show solidarity. The way that's sometimes greeted by members of that group can be fun."
Kitty, Johnny and Bobby won't be the only teen characters in Spencer's book. Jimmy Hudson, the adolescent son of the Ultimate U's Wolverine will also play a role in the book. "I'm playing a long game in terms of how Jimmy comes to be a part of the group. It's something that we're setting up and working towards. When it happens it will be a very big moment for the book and you'll see why Jimmy is such an important member of the cast," Spencer explained. "So that's a long term burning subplot. I grew up on Claremont's 'X-Men.' This book owes a great deal to the A, B, C and sometimes D, E, F subplot structures of the classic Claremont run. There are a lot of stories that are going to take some time to play out and are very, very important."
The adult cast of "Ultimate Comics X-Men" will include characters such as Jean Gray, who adopted the alias of Karen Grant in the aftermath of "Ultimatum." "You'll see her a bit in the first issue. Jean/Karen is going to have a very important role to play in the big mutant epic that we're setting up here," Spencer said. "You're going to see her in a lot of books. We've got big plans for where she's headed so she's very much a continuing part of the story."
Readers of "Ultimate Comics Fallout" know that Karen Grant has an association with Nick Fury, leader of the Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D., but she won't be able to use that connection to protect herself and her fellow mutants from the climate of fear and hatred that explodes in "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #1 with the revelation that mutankind is a manmade species.
"We're in a situation where just as things were calming down a bit on the mutant front, now all hell's about to break loose because the secret involvement of the U.S. government in the creation of mutants is about to be blown wide open. We talked a little bit about that in 'Ultimate Fallout' #4 and that will have a massive destabilizing impact on mutant-human relations around the world," Spencer said. "It's this powder keg that's been waiting to explode and one of the first things I saw when I came aboard this title was that Brian Bendis and Jeph Loeb had really set this up beautifully with 'Ultimate Origins' and 'Ultimatum.' It was just waiting for somebody to start a fire with it."
The revelation about their origins will also cause no shortage of inner turmoil for mutants. "It's sort of like finding out that you're adopted. The history that you've been telling yourself about your place in the universe has suddenly changed. All mutants, regardless of whether or not they followed Magneto or Xavier, seemed to comfort themselves and take solitude in the fact that despite all the persecution they were either god's chosen few or the next stage of evolution. Neither of those are the case. They are being confronted with a very stark, harsh reality that they are a mistake. They're a lab experiment gone wrong," Spencer remarked. "This story is less about the old school ideas of mutants as allegories for minority groups and more about being told that you're nothing more than this and whether or not you decide to accept that."
In the initial arc of "Ultimate Comics X-Men" the revelation about mutantkind forces several characters to react to circumstances beyond their control. In the second arc though, a mutant with a plan steps forward. "There are massive forces at play here. Things that are just terrifying in scope. Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff, is the star of our second arc. He's neither hero nor villain and he's quickly becoming my favorite character to write at Marvel," Spencer said. "He is going to be a major player in 'Ultimate Comics X-Men' and not in the ways people may expect after reading 'Ultimate Comics Fallout' #5. He's such a fascinating guy. He has a calling and a purpose as a result of some of the things that have happened, but at the same time he's a very flawed and weak man. The push and pull that is his life is really one of the most fascinating parts of the story I'm telling. Pietro has ideas and he wants something, so it's going to be fun to watch him pursue his goal."
For Spencer, part of the fun of "Ultimate Comics X-Men" is seeing his characters' actions and emotions brought to life by artist Paco Medina. "We're taking a lot of characters here who have been a part of 'Ultimate Spider-Man' as well as 'Ultimate X-Men' and I want to continue that history of strong characterization. Thankfully Paco has been more than up to the task of capturing the voices of these kids and putting his own spin on things. Paco's art is going to knock people out. It's fun, vibrant stuff," Spencer said of his collaborator. "I think he's on his way to becoming a quintessential great Marvel artist and Marte Gracia's colors on his stuff just pop. It's really a beautiful looking book."
As Spencer mentioned, he's a longtime X-Men fan and "Ultimate Comics X-Men" is his first chance to work with the characters. He's not going to use that chance to tell Ultimate versions of his favorite X-Men stories or tales that could easily be told in a Marvel Universe X-Men comic. Like all the books in the newly relaunched Ultimate line, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" will be a title for readers looking for X-Men stories that can't be told anywhere else.
"You could never tell this story in the 616 Marvel books. I mentioned in the 'Next Big Thing' phone conference that this was sort of a 'Days of Future Past' scenario. I think a lot of people grabbed on to that and took it to mean that's exactly what this book is going to look like. It's not though," Spencer explained. "'Days of Future Past' was a story that lasted a couple of issues and was a potential future. It was something to be averted and avoided. It was a lesson to learn and take back with you. This is not that. This is the world of today for these kids. It's not going anywhere. It's not going to be erased. It's not going to be undone. The genie is out of the bottle and there's no putting it back. The relationship between man and mutant is permanently severed.
"This series is not like anything you've seen in the Marvel Universe. This is ten steps beyond the line we can draw there," Spencer continued. "That's the beauty of working in this universe. Anything can happen and we feel obligated to keep readers on their toes. You're never going to know what's coming next."
"Ultimate Comics X-Men" #1 by Nick Spencer and Paco Medina is on sale tomorrow.