Ever since the decision was made at Marvel Comics to give the Ultimate Comics line and universe a strong reboot, the watchword set by Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso was "connectivity." With three ongoing titles – Brian Michael Bendis' "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," Jonathan Hickman's "Ultimates" and Nick Spencer's "Ultimate Comics X-Men" – and a rotating slate of mini series which right now showcases Hickman's work on "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye," the mission has been to present fans with a unified lineup of stories that play off each other and build to a complete picture of a vibrant world.
So as Marvel brought the Ultimate U to the stage of the 2011 New York Comic Con on Friday afternoon, the plan was to assemble as many voices taking part in the line as possible. Joining Alonso on stage was "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" artist Sara Pichelli, "Ultimates" artist Esad Ribic, Editors Sana Amanat and John Moisan and Director Of Communications, Publishing & Digital Media Arune Singh.
Singh got the ball rolling by annocing that Ultimate line Senior Editor Mark Panniccia was unable to attend as his wife just had a new baby, earning a healthy round of applause.
The discussion got underway with a look back at the book that drew many eyeballs to the Ultimate U, "Ultimate Comics Fallout" #4 – the introductory issue for new Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales. Singh said he always appreciated that Marvel "brought the real world to you" and that Marvel has been proud of the discussion surrounding the half-Black, half-Latino character. Preview pages showed off scenes from an upcoming issue where Miles encounters the Ultimate U's Spider-Woman.
"With Ultimate Comics Reborn, I've been able to work with some of the most talented artists imaginable," said Amanat, praising Pichelli's nuanced take with Morales as a character who displayed equal parts innocence and strength. Pichelli joked that she "sounded smarter in Italian" but soon explained, "When I create a character, the first thing I do is look for a real personality. I think of a real person I know – the way they move or the dress they wear. I go around the room doing life drawings and looking for interesting faces or bodies for an idea or inspiration. It could [come from] a child or a woman...that's the first step toward the final result."
Amanat praised colorist Justin Ponsor for his work completing the vision of the series. According to the editor, the line artist spoke often about the physical reality of the new Spider-Man and making the way Miles leaps and swings through New York very distinctive from Peter Parker. "In the first issue, the way he's looking at the other children when they lost the lottery, you can see in his eyes that he's got an innocence and a real heart," she said before Pichelli said "I think Peter Parker was more comfortable jumping. This was just a kid. I thought [of the character as if] I were a kid – being less relaxed in the action. During the time [of the book] he will grow up.
"Often I look at me in the mirror for inspiration," she continued. "That's my approach to the character...to imagine that a child could do something like that. In [the book], I added padded knees and elbows. Many people got upset for that. 'Why would the new suit have pads?'"
Designs were shown off for Morales' look as a spin on the original. "As soon as the black and red came to us, it was a natural response from everyone from Axel to Joe [Quesada] to Brian that said 'Yes,'" Amanat explained, saying it made Miles his own hero. Pichelli started out with a more trendy hairstyle for Mile's look, but ultimately the decision was made to keep him simple and classic.
Amanat teased future issues, saying, "You're going to be seeing some old characters, some new characters, and the Prowler is obviously going to play an important role...over the next few issues, you'll see who Miles become, and every issue I read, I realize how much more I dig this kid."
"It was a little more than ten years ago that Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley launched a book called 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' and the response was skepticism," Alonso said about the initially overpowering and negative response to the death of Peter Parker and Miles' introduction from certain factions online. "So we didn't kill Peter Parker easily...we realized that 'Death of Spider-Man' would complete Peter's arc...I think it's beautiful now that ten years later we have a new launch and a new guy on his own journey of self discovery...we're peeling back the mask to reveal a new face, and that's what comics is all about...Peter Parker has been around for decades, and he's got fans who are all colors. At the end of the day, Miles also transcends race, and that's all I'll have to say about it."
The discussion moved to "Ultimate" as Alonso noted that the artist never uses photo reference. "The evidence speaks for itself. It's like seeing a beautiful person. You either appreciate it or you don't...there's an energy on every page that brings excitement," he said recalling that Alonso initially signed Ribic to Marvel years ago after seeing his portfolio once.
"It's obvious to me that we have to build the scale up," Ribic said of the action in the book. "The book [has been] very much focused on characters...but I tried to add some focus back to the world and the action." Amanat referenced "The City" which is a major set piece in the story and where his inspiration came from. "The dome is like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion, so that's the inspiration in it. I'm a big fan of Moebius and a fan of Japanese artist Shiro, so I tried to steal a lot from them. But the results feels like it's organic enough for me that it really stands on its own."
As for future issues, Thor's return to being fully powered will make for "a lot of crazy action scenes and a surprise character by issue #5 or 6," Amanat said.
Speaking on "Ultimate Hawkeye," the editor called it "the lynchpin between what's happening in 'Ultimates' and 'Ultimate X-Men'...everything that happens in one book will have an impact on the others." In Hawkeye's solo adventure to a South American republic, two characters will be introduced who impact the X-Men's story in a big way in the months ahead.
Speaking of which, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" earned some applause from the fans in the room. "It's the return of a team book," Amanat said. "'Ultimate X' was a more slow, reintroduction of the idea, which I loved as Art Adams and Jeph Loeb did a wonderful job...but this is the return of the team trying to decide who they are, what they will do and whether they'll fight back." Part of the books personality is based on the question of "What is a mutant?" with former Fantastic Four member Johnny Storm allying himself with the mutant cause since it was revealed that mankind created the Ultimate Children of the Atom.
The future of the book will see "events that do link into 'Ultimate Hawkeye.' There will be a return of an old character who's kind of a dick, and it sets up a conflict...it really becomes a story about faith and what that means and why people are motivated to do the things they do. When you're trying to figure out who you follow and who you believe in, the world becomes a murky place when the world is full of illusions. I know that's a bit cerebral, but that's where we come from sometimes," said Amanat.
The floor opened up to fan questions with one reader wondering about the early years in the Ultimate Universe from being about a kind of "genetic arms race" where all the books were built on a military science idea and whether a new theme exists for this new line of comics. Amanat said that it wouldn't be right to put one label on them all, but a general idea was identity exploration with characters coming into their own from Miles Morales' personal journey to Nick Fury figuring out where to go without Captain America. "But I think it's mostly about the characters. All the books are very character-driven, which is what I think makes them so successful." She noted that part of that journey would involve characters falling out with one another and building their own path in the wake of interpersonal battles.
A fan confused by the status of Orson Scott Card's "Ultimate Iron Man" series and the original origin of Iron Man in "Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special" and what version would count as the actual origin of the Armored Avenger was looking for answers. "While the Orson Scott Card series was great, it didn't match up with where we were going," Amanat said. The just arrived C.B. Cebulski admitted that in the early days of the Ultimate Universe, Marvel "didn't always know what we were doing" and that the specific origin was one place where things didn't match up. "We used to have No Prizes to figure this stuff out," he added.
Alonso initially just said "Oops!" to the question, but soon got serious noting that one of the challenges of the early Ultimate line was that between the very regular "Ultimate Spider-Man" being lighthearted and "The Ultimates" being very cynical and erratic in its shipping, the pieces of the world never quite fit together. Part of his goal in bringing the line together in a way where things would make sense going forward and leading to events and other big stories.
The longstanding Marvel Comics idea of "Dead Means Dead" came up as it would apply to the Ultimate Universe, to which Amanat said "Yes yes yes! This is the Ultimate Universe, and it's different from the regular Marvel Universe...we love being in this world where everything looks like it should look" although the editor dropped the slightly spoilery hint that "If you see another character that looks like they might be dead, you should think that's a little fishy."
A fan wondered if "Community" actor Donald Glover's quest to be cast as Spider-Man influenced the creation of Miles Morales. "We discussed the idea of a black Spider-Man a long time ago, and in and of itself it's not that groundbreaking an idea...it could be said that it's about time," he explained. He said that Bendis and Glover have had contact about the character and that the Twitter campaign to cast the actor as Spider-Man may have helped Bendis get over any trepidation to the idea. "We're taking the world's more recognized superhero and peeling back his mask to reveal a very different face...that was a big risk...until it's on paper, it doesn't mean anything. It's all talk."
The Editor-in-Chief also joke that Glover would have to look out now in case "Jaden Smith is out there doing crunches and getting ready."
Stay tuned all weekend for more on Marvel and all the news from New York Comic Con right here on CBR!