A year after Marvel's Ultimate Comics universe relaunched with a core of three titles, some of the current crop of Ultimate stewards returned to San Diego to talk up the next phase of the line – the incoming "Divided We Fall" crossover – in a Friday afternoon panel at Comic-Con International.
Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, "Ultimates" writer Sam Humphries and series editor Sana Amanat were joined by Director of Communications Arune Singh, writer Nathan Edmondson and "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" artist David Marquez.
"Divide We Fall" took up early conversation. "This is an event we've been building towards for a while," Amanat explained. "Events in 'Ultimate X-Men' have led to this situation where mutants have been on the hunt, and now they're coming back and fighting back." Humphries spoke to the connectivity of the line, saying, "This comes out of the whole thrust of the Ultimate Universe since the relaunch," he said, noting that he and new "Ultimate X-Men" writer Brian Wood are building on stories from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer.
The killer Sentinels and growing mutant army spread across the globe dirve the conflict, but Humphries explained what his lynchpin was in the story. "Captain America has been off the grid. He's been MIA since the death of Peter Parker, and he takes a lot of the guilt of that event on his shoulders," the writer said. "When he comes back, he'll find an America that's very much changed...this is a story about what he does and what he decides to do to have a shot at fixing America with Iron Man, Thor and the rest of the Ultimates...you'll see this view from a mile up in 'Ultimates' while in 'X-Men' you'll see the ground view with Kitty Pryde." He added that "Ultimate Spider-Man" views the global conflict through the eyes of a boy still trying to find his place in a world of super powers.
Singh called the kick-off issue of "Ultimates" "sizemic" and noted that Marvel expected the story to get tongues wagging. Alonso said that the triumvirate of Cap, Iron Man and Thor was a natural relationship of brothers in arms, and so they're able to jump right into the action of the story out the gate. Amanat added, "The question is 'Who is controlling the devastation and destruction of the country?'" teasing that the villain revelation is something she's been hoping to work into the books for a long time. There will also be some deep Marvel Comics references hidden in "Ultimates" #13 and 14.
"Ultimate Comics X-Men" by Wood and Paco Medina got its own discussion next. "The last few issues, we've had the characters dispersed everywhere, and now we've got Kitty Pryde leading the X-Men team," Amanat said. "At the start of this, it's a very ground level story. They're on the road kicking butt, and it's very real. You see the relationship between Kitty and Wolverine Jr. – James – and Bobby Drake and Rogue. It's great to see those relationships in a few different ways...and they're going to become the X-Men. They're not going to automatically have costumes. It's real. They get patches and it's rough, but they come together to make a team....they've become so powerful that they can do things no one ever thought. They sort of come out of left field, and people start looking at mutants in a different way."
Singh said the "big three" of the Ultimate Universe now were Kitty Pryde, Miles Morales and Steve Rogers, making it have a different feel than the traditional Marvel U.
Discussing "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," Alonso said that in the Ultimate line "Dead is dead" will be a hard rule. "People come back to the Marvel U, and that's part of the fun of it. You know someone is coming back, but you don't know how. That's not true in the Ultimate Universe." Miles Morales' ascension was discussed as well with the most winning comment from the panel being "I never responded to a character this strongly since Gambit," which Amanat said to laughter (the nature of the joke being a bit PG-13). Humphries joked that he wants to work Miles into "Ultimates" at some point because "If I get to be the second person to write Miles Morales, that'll be the closest thing to my making a bid for immorality."
Marquez said he's been trying to build his style out of "Spider-Men" artist Sara Pichelli's designs. "It's great to have a young protagonist, which we don't often get." Singh then announced that the artist has gone exclusive with Marvel. "I couldn't imagine a better time to do this," the artist said, noting that he's only been working professionally in comics for two years.
"Sara Pichelli is such a huge act to follow, and we're really careful about not offering artists poisoned chalices," Alonso said, meaning that Marquez had stepped up to the challenge of taking on the flagship book of the Ultimate line.
"Spider-Men" came up, and Singh asked Alonso to say how it felt to get positive reviews for the crossover book which had some resistance from readers when it was announced. Alonso said smiling, "I've gotten beaten up [online] for a few decisions I've made, but I haven't gotten fired yet." The panel teased an emotional, unexpected ending for "Spider-Men" #5.
The panel then announced a new "Ultimate Comics Iron Man" four-issue series, written by Edmondson with art from Matteo Buffagni . "It's great to be talking about this at the show because I don't think Iron Man is getting a lot of attention this year," the writer said to laughter (as "Iron Man 3's" armors have overtaken the Marvel booth. "Part of the thing of Iron Man is that he's got this metaphorical suit that makes it hard to get to know him." He promised that the "Demon In The Armor" story will focus on the future and past of Stark Industries and how that ties to the "reckless, snarky" hero. The villain of the piece will be the Ultimate version of the Mandarin, of whom the writer said, "Leave your preconceptions at the door, because this villain is going to spin your head."
Alonso explained that Edmondson was tapped for the Ultimate U because his Image series "Who Is Jake Ellis?" impressed that he could do something a little more rough, which fit the Ultimate focus of being significantly different than the Marvel U. "The result of that is that you get to know these characters in new ways," Humphries added. "When you pull the rug out from under them, you get to see facets of their personalities that you've never seen before...even if you've been reading Iron Man since the '60s."
Amanat and Edmondson said that part of what they'll explore in "Ultimate Comics Iron Man" is his self-destructive streak. "In writing this series, I've gotten to know Tony Stark in a way I've never done before and a way that I don't think anyone has before...this book is all about character, and it's a tremendous opportunity to stretch our fingers on the keyboard and tell the story of a character that will be new to a lot of people."
When fan questions started up, one reader wanted to know any "Infinite Comics" – Marvel's new digital format – would come to the Ultimate U. Alonso said that the format was somewhat costly to produce at no extra cost in price, so they're being selective on which stories utilize the form, but he sees an eventual Ultimate Infinite Comic on the horizon.
Asked if Peter Parker's supporting cast like Mary Jane and Aunt May would continue to play into "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," the panel said definitely. "There's a guy swinging around the universe in a Spider-Man outfit, so those characters are going to be a part of his world whether he likes it or not," Alonso said as Humphries joked that they'd tie the universe closer together by putting Aunt May in War Machine armor.
Humphries told a fan who was concerned about whether the big idea of making this universe different from the 616 Marvel U that while the idea impacts their stories, its only a secondary platform – particular when it comes to "Divided We Fall." "You can't vaporize the majority of Washington DC and most of the government without dealing with how that would change the world and the country forever," he said. "The idea of making this an event came out of the scale of the story we were talking about."
One reader wanted to know what kind of full ramifications "Spider-Men" would have on both universes and whether it's the first step in more crossovers. Alonso played coy, but said, "What we have done is opened the portal between two universes. It's open. It's there. We can't ignore it. So maybe down the road, we'll have to do something with that."
Asked whether the Fantastic Four would ever make an Ultimate comeback, Amanat said that there were no plans, but if any kind of FF team ever came back, it would be far different from what fans thought of as the traditional team. Sue Storm will, however, continue to be a big part of "Ultimates."
The same fan made a comment about the latino side of Miles Morales' identity, and noted that he wished there was a better representation for Hispanics in superher comics in general. "I'm part Mexican, and I'm very interested in creating the next great latino superhero, but you have to let these things develop naturally," Alonso said, promising that the latino side of Morales will be important for his life moving forward.
The panel wrapped with a text from Brian Michael Bendis to Humpries saying, "Tell those fans I love them." But when Humphries read it, he accentuated the "F" of fans so it sounded dirtier than it reads.