Ultimate Evolution

Ultimate Evolution: Mike Carey

The ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR reveals the truth behind the reinvention of the Red Ghost and talks upcoming plans

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ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 cover by
Mark Brooks

By Ben Morse When they created the Ultimate Universe, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar got to call dibs as far as new takes on Marvel's big guns such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, but that suits Mike Carey just fine. Since his first foray onto ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR back in 2005, rather than write yet another Dr. Doom story, Carey has been focusing on some of the FF's less appreciated villains, from the Mad Thinker to Diablo, and reinventing them in a manner that can only be called Ultimate. With the final chapter of Carey and artist Mark Brook's very fresh take on classic baddie the Red Ghost hitting on December 26 in ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #49, Marvel.com hopped across the pond to chat with the British scribe about his latest villain rehabilitation, the process of "Ultimizing" classic characters and what comes next for the Ultimate Universe's First Family.

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

Marvel.com: How do you first approach taking classic characters and re-inventing them in Ultimate incarnations? Mike Carey: Well, it's a very different process from re-introducing a classic character in [classic Marvel] continuity. When I'm doing that, I always feel like I have a duty to make sure that there are no bumps at all: that anyone reading the earlier stories of that character and then coming to mine will feel no jolt or discontinuity. In the Ultimate U, the debt you owe is to the spirit of the original stories, not to the letter, and that's a more complicated and nebulous thing. You want your stories to be as full of wonder and strangeness and wild, exuberant ideas as the originals were, with the additional twist that you also want to false-foot older readers who think they know where the stories might be going because they read the originals. So you kind of have permission to play fast and loose—to take a single core idea from a character and then play it in a completely different direction. A great example of that is what Millar did with Namor [in ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #24-26]. We know he's the king of Atlantis: that's the one thing we're all taking for granted, so that's the one thing Millar changes…

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

Marvel.com: What have you found holds up about the classic versions that you want to keep and what needs updating? Mike Carey: Comics storytelling has changed a lot in forty years. You go back to the stories of your childhood, and more than half the time you're finding that it doesn't hold up, or that it only holds up if you make allowances for this or that. The [Stan] Lee-[Jack] Kirby run on FANTASTIC FOUR is the exact opposite. It's still big, breath-taking, wild and in your face. It's good enough that it forces you to approach it on its own terms. That's why the characters they created back then are still extant – why people are still telling new stories about them two generations down the line. I mean, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, [and] the FF themselves—for anyone else, we'd be talking a lifetime's achievement right there. For Stan and Jack it was another day at the office.

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

So the classic characters are nearly all of them clean, simple, powerful and very cool. That's your given, your starting point. [But] like I said, storytelling styles have changed. Dialogue conventions have changed. Our expectations as to a character's origin and motivations have changed, motivations, probably, most of all. You need just a touch more psychological realism than you did in the 60's. Marvel.com: With the Red Ghost, where did you come up with the idea to so radically depart from the original version—specifically to go with a young female character as opposed to an older man? Mike Carey: It came to me as I was actually working on the breakdown for #47, having [already] had the arc approved. I just thought, "Well okay, we've got Kragoff here, but that doesn't mean we have to do the obvious and use him. Rutskaya, the cute but crazy little radical environmentalist, would make a cool Red Ghost too…" It's like Mark's Namor thing again, or like what a hypnotist does with a watch. You show something big and obvious, and then when everyone's looking at that you—hopefully— slip something in under their guard. It also works better this way because we've seen the elderly male mad scientist type so many times before. Rutskaya is a curve ball.

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

Marvel.com: Where does this Red Ghost's motivation differ from her Marvel Universe counterpart? Mike Carey: She's an idealist! The [original] Red Ghost was a Cold War character—a soviet functionary from a monolithic, totalitarian state. Rutskaya comes from a Russia that's falling apart economically, even while a new breed of entrepreneurs gets rich on the collapse of Communism. She's a twenty-first century woman. Her allegiance isn't to the state but to the world, and she honestly believes in the rightness of her cause to the point where a few hundred, a few thousand, maybe a few hundred thousand deaths all seem worth it, completely justifiable. Marvel.com: What instructions did you give to Mark Brooks as far as designing the Ultimate Red Ghost and how closely did you work with him?

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

Mike Carey: The weird thing is that because I had the idea so late on in the process, when I sent Mark the character descriptions for Kragoff and Rutskaya, we were all still assuming that the Red Ghost would turn out to be Kragoff. So he did Kragoff quite forbidding and stern-looking, Rutskaya young and attractive, as per the original descriptions. Then when I changed up, we decided to keep those looks as part of the bait-and-switch. As for Rutskaya's appearance after her transformation…well, I sent Mark a verbal thumbnail, and he came up with that incredible final splash in #48 literally overnight. I couldn't believe it. It was exactly what I wanted. There's an even more extreme image of her in #49, in fact, and again Mark just pushed it to the limits, making it really scary and really unexpected. Marvel.com: Taking it home, since Thanos is coming back for a big epic in #50, what lies ahead for the FF and their rematch with the cosmic baddies from your first arc?

ULTIMATE
FANTASTIC FOUR
#49 interior art
by Mark Brooks

Mike Carey: The God War boils over into New York, as we've always known it would, with both the Halcyons and Thanos wanting to get their hands on the Cosmic Cube first. The action is on a bigger scale even than the original Thanos arc, with alien battle fleets, the FF punching it out with an entire army, the rest of Thanos' dysfunctional family showing up, and a finale that gives at least a cameo to every superhero in the Ultimate Universe. I should mention also that art is by the team of Tyler Kirkham and Sal Regla, with colors by Blond. I didn't think anyone could fill Pasqual Ferry's shoes when it came to the cosmic sci-fi stuff, but…you'll be amazed. You'll be very amazed. ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #49 goes on sale December 26. In the meantime, you can check out Ultimate FF tales from Carey, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Warren Ellis and more at Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

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