By Kiel Phegley
The hints dropped at San Diego Comic Con
came full circle in Las Vegas last night with the announcement at the Diamond/Alliance Retailer Summit that writer Mark Millar will return to the Ultimate line with the all-new ULTIMATE AVENGERS ongoing in 2009. But while the team-focused series has a lot of characters in common with his acclaimed run on ULTIMATES, Millar promises that the format of this new title will be unlike anything fans have seen in the Ultimate U before.
"[ULTIMATE AVENGERS] is an event book," the Scottish scribe says. "The structure I pinched is from [Jeph] Loeb, where you have every six issues a new artist and a big new event. So if you can imagine Civil War happening twice a year, that's what it is. Every six issues is a new arc, a new artist and a new big event in the Ultimate Universe. This is the book that everything will tie into in some regard. This is the pulse at the heart of the Ultimate Universe.
"I invented a book that plays to my strengths. Like, I gave them Marvel Zombies. I gave them the Ultimates and all that kind of stuff. I'm pretty good at coming up with new concepts or new spins on old concepts, so I decided to create a book that would let me do that. ULTIMATE AVENGERS is kind of the daddy of the Ultimate line. I can play with anyone's characters, do a big event with anyone's characters and also reinvent other characters."
For readers who may be wondering the difference between the Ultimates and the Ultimate Avengers, Millar plans to make this new iteration of the universe's premiere super team bigger and better.
"What I wanted was the Ultimate Avengers to be like the Project Avengers touchstone you've seen in the 'Iron Man' movie where Nick Fury is behind a lot of stuff," he explains. "Anything that's going on, he puts together a team of guys for certain situations. That's the idea—Fury putting together a team of people for a specific situation. That can change from arc to arc.
"Like the second arc is called 'Ultimates Black.' We were introduced to those guys back in ULTIMATES #8 where we saw Hawkeye and Black Widow—the super heroes who work for S.H.I.E.L.D. who do the stuff that nobody else wants to do like the assassinations and so on. I thought it'd be really cool to do a whole story arc based around Ultimates Black—a kind of darker version of the Ultimates. So you've got Hawkeye in there already and maybe War Machine as well. I wanted to give you the origin of Hawkeye, which we've never seen. I had some really big ideas for that that nobody's ever seen before. I wanted to bring Ultimate Punisher into that too. And I've got a whole new big version of the Hulk that's appearing in this as well."
Of course, the series will be more than new combos of characters the writer has already tackled as part of the book's stated intent to reinvigorate the Ultimate line by polishing up some heroes that have been rarely or never seen in the Ultimate U for a big time go round:
"It gives me a chance to show you Ultimate Blade or to really give you a good spin on Ultimate Punisher because [they've] only been supporting characters so far. It gives me the chance to do with those other characters what I did in ULTIMATES—give it the 21st century spin. But also what was important for me was to play with those [Ultimates] characters again."
In fact, the siren song of his previous ULTIMATES cast got Millar's mind rolling towards ULTIMATE AVENGERS—well, them and a still secret list of who's who art talent to draw his new scripts.
"Marvel just said to me, 'We're going to throw a boatload of artists at whatever you want to do next'—like really, really good, A-plus-plus guys," the writer raves. "So I said, 'Ok. I'm interested.' Then they said to me, 'Well, what would be your dream project to do with these guys?' And I have to think about it, and the honest truth, more than anything the thing that had me jonesed above all other properties was the idea of doing ULTIMATE AVENGERS.
"I loved doing ULTIMATES, and even though I was on that for five and a half years, I really only got to write 26 issues, which is what [Brian] Bendis writes during lunch. So I had lots and lots of stuff I wanted to do with those characters that I couldn't really do anymore. I really missed writing them—specifically Hawkeye, Captain America and Iron Man. I ached. It was like missing friends because I'd been with them for so long. I was just desperate to use them in some capacity."
But again, those heroes won't grace the pages of ULTIMATE AVENGERS alone as the writer will also reinvigorate classic Marvel bad guys not yet seen in the Ultimate U.
"The Ultimates didn't really get to fight a lot of bad guys, but this is going to be crawling with bad guys," teases Millar. "ULTIMATES was all set-up. It was a 26-issue origin story pretty much, and we didn't get to see any traditional Marvel villains in the Ultimate treatment, but I'm just going to go nuts with this.
"There's going to be Ultimate Red Skull. I want to do Ultimate Kang. Believe it or not, I want to do something with Dracula. I always loved TOMB OF DRACULA, so the fact that I'm getting to do Blade in the third story arc [gives me the opportunity]. I just want to have a ton of fun with this."
And while fun may be a primary concern for Millar and company, ULTIMATE AVENGERS will also make a stand as the book that fights back for sales supremacy against its 616 cousins.
"I really wanted to enlarge the Ultimate Universe again and make it really rich and make it the cool line at Marvel again," he explains. "I think when it started, for the first few years, the Ultimate line was better than the Marvel U. That seemed to be the 21st Century version of the Marvel U. And then I think the Marvel Universe got cooler. Right around 2005, I think the Marvel Universe took over from the Ultimate line, and in a lot of ways the Marvel Universe became the Ultimate line. So the idea is to put some clear blue water between us and the Marvel Universe—to push us ten years ahead of them again."
Keep your eyes on Marvel.com for more on ULTIMATE AVENGERS, including the jaw-dropping list of artists set to grace the book's pages!