Marvel Comics' Ultimate Universe has experienced its share of ups and downs over recent years, and however the current "Cataclysm" event ends, the teen heroes of April's "All-New Ultimates" know where they stand: on their own.
One of three new books launching from the Ultimate U this spring, "All-New Ultimates" marks the Marvel debut of writer Michel Fiffe who will team with artist Amilcar Pinna to tell the story of Miles "Spider-Man" Morales, Kitty Pryde, Bombshell, Cloak & Dagger and the former Spider-Woman now called Black Widow. Fiffe comes to the book with plenty of superhero experience after writing and drawing the acclaimed self-published series "Copra," amongst other projects, and his arrival on "All-New Ultimates" turned heads even in an era when Marvel recruits heavily from the small press community.
CBR News spoke with Fiffe about his joining the Ultimate line, and below the cartoonist explains how he came to Marvel, what the all-new Ultimates do and don't share with teen teams past, what his learning curve has been like scripting stories for Pinna and why crafting stories with Miles Morales and the rest of the gang will present the ultimate teenage experience.
CBR News: I have to say, as much as work like "Copra" is a straight superhero comic and informed by superhero comics past, I never looked at that series and felt like you were angling toward taking on a job like "All-New Ultimates." Was making the jump to a bigger publisher on a gig like this something you had envisioned for yourself?
Michel Fiffe: You're right. "Copra" wasn't angling at being Marvel-lite, which is a perfectly reasonable plan of attack for creators who have an eye on that prize. Doing Marvel work wasn't too outlandish of an idea, but I certainly wasn't expecting it so I was flattered when they took notice of "Copra" and offered me the chance to try it out.
So what ultimately was the attraction to this job? Did you have any direct experience with the Ultimate line, or was this more a function of wanting to try your hand at work for hire superheroes and seeing how it felt?
I've been so used to writing and drawing my own stories that I wanted to work on collaborating with other creators, other actual human beings! I still work on "Copra," so I can still get my control freak on, but collaboration has its perks. Plus, having the chance at putting my own spin on these characters was a creative challenge.
Like I said, "Copra" is a book built on superhero comics past -- specifically the "Suicide Squad" comics of the '80s by John Ostrander, Kim Yale, Luke McDonnell and their collaborators -- and I get the sense that "All-New Ultimates" itself exists within another very comics-specific trope: the teen team. There are a ton of books that have been set in this mold from "New Teen Titans" and "New Mutants" to "New Warriors" and "Generation X" on through. Do you have any specific inspirations or touchstones of this type that may feed into "All-New Ultimates" even indirectly?
All those other teen books are mini institutions. They have their own causes, their own legacies. The All-New Ultimates have none of that. They're teenagers left to their own devices, constantly trying to do the right thing but figuring out what the right thing even is.
Of course, for all its roots in homage, "Copra" is also really strongly a character piece, and I'd assume that you'll be playing to similar strengths with an ensemble like this. What's your "in" to this group and their situation, and how does that general hook drive what you'd like to do with the cast on the whole?
Given that the other team book was already poised to be the hi-tech, big adventure title of the UU, it felt natural to balance things out with a street level point of view. The characters available to me lent themselves to that treatment, so it worked out perfectly.
Looking at the specific cast, you've got some characters who have been seldom seen or spotlighted in the Ultimate U on up through folks like Kitty Pryde and Miles Morales, who obviously has his own series and still a strong connection with [Brian Michael] Bendis' voice. At this point in the process, which members of the cast have drawn you into the story the most and why?
I've always been a big Cloak & Dagger fan, back when they used to hang out with the New Mutants and slum it in '80s Manhattan. Jessica Drew and Bombshell, though, are ripe with potential, especially Bombshell, who is largely unknown to us. That makes her unpredictable. Plus, c'mon: Spider-Man. Short answer is all of them.
I'm always interested in how artists who do everything in their own work transition to collaborating with a number of other creators. What has that shift been like for you, and what have you been looking for from Amilcar Pinna as he gets into drawing "All-New Ultimates" pages?
Having to map out what I envision has been the biggest challenge. Working solo, I can see it all clearly and I can skip the steps of having to explain anything. I edit myself up until the bitter end with "Copra," but with a script, I have to be as clear as possible while giving Amilcar room to breathe. That's Comics Writing 101, but it's new to me.
The one thing I've heard time and again from Marvel Editorial about their goals for the Ultimate line is to make these books feel less static and even less stable than the traditional Marvel Universe. It's supposed to be a place where anything can happen. How does that broad line pitch factor into how you conceive this series to be?
That pitch line is true to form, in that the status quo is constantly kept on its toes. I want to tap into that unpredictability to shape my corner of this world.
Overall, as someone who obviously has some affection for superhero and genre comics but who's worked well outside the structures of comics "mainstream," what are your goals for this comic? In other words, what kind of work do you hope to make here that you don't see in the current crop of superhero books out there?
I want to take a genuine glimpse into how these teenagers actually act as opposed to the front they put on in the presence of authority. Things will be a little deadlier and dirtier, everyone will be swept in a nightmare of fatal fisticuffs and sexual identity. In other words, the teen book to end all teen books.
"All-New Ultimates" debuts in April from Marvel Comics.