By Kiel Phegley
When it debuted in 2000, what became known as Marvel's Ultimate Universe delivered what fans would never expect from the company's long-standing characters. In 2009, the entire operation sets out to shock readers again with a whole new phase called Ultimate Comics, spearheaded by three brand new titles from writers Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar and Jeph Loeb.
"Long story short, we wanted to reestablish the Ultimate [Universe] as the preeminent place for all things shocking, ground-breaking and generally amazing, with the top talents in the industry that people have come to know and expect," says Ultimate Comics' assistant editor Lauren Sankovitch. "The line has always done well but with storytelling across the board, in the regular Marvel U and elsewhere, becoming more exciting and sophisticated, the bar is always being raised."
That raising of the bar meant the raising of two all-new series in the form of the previously-announced Mark Millar ongoing ULTIMATE AVENGERS—with art on the first two story arcs by Carlos Pacheco and Lenil Francis Yu respectively—and Jeph Loeb and Frank Cho on NEW ULTIMATES. To top it all off, Brian Michael Bendis relaunches ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN with an all-new #1 and artist David LaFuente riding shotgun. Overall, the launch promises to restore the Ultimate line's original mission statement of being a fresh and exciting alternative to the regular Marvel Universe.
"While this is still the Ultimate Universe you've come to know and crave, there is obviously a massive status quo change in the works as a result of ULTIMATUM," continues Sankovitch. "What this does is open the door to a wide variety of new stories to be told and simultaneously allow for the organic development of new characters to complement and evolve the [world] as a whole."
Loeb explained that much of the details of the new status quo for the Ultimate Universe remain under wraps due to upcoming events in ULTIMATUM, however the absence of X-Men and Fantastic Four titles should be indicative of the loss of some characters and all-new alliances between others.
"ULTIMATUM #3 turns the corner significantly in terms of the story," Loeb teases. "Magneto's full plan is revealed, and you really get the sense of how dangerous all of this is going to be—not just in terms of the people dying but in terms of you having a sense for how the status quo is going to change. It's not just enough that Magneto is out to kill the human race. Magneto's view is that he is God, and just as God chose Noah and Noah's family to live [and] anyone who's not who God has chosen is earmarked to die. In the first six pages of ULTIMATUM #3, you will see an enormous change in who's left in the Ultimate Universe.
"The idea was to create a line of books where you could expect the unexpected," Loeb reiterates. "At the moment, we know that ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN may or may not feature the Ultimate Spider-Man that you know. ULTIMATE AVENGERS, which is Mark's creation, will feature some characters you know and some you've never met before. And NEW ULTIMATES will feature some of the characters you've seen, but some of them will not survive. We'll see the result of that."
Loeb went on to explain that he and Cho plan "to try to build a team that lives in the real world and have it be in conflict with something from the unreal world" much in the way Millar and Bryan Hitch accomplished in the original ULTIMATES run. In almost stark opposition to that, Millar's new ULTIMATE AVENGERS will by his own definition break the mold for his past Ultimate work while also reveling in what he loves most about the line.
"One of the things I loved doing on ULTIMATES was 'Ultimizing' characters," Millar comments. "I was lucky to get the Ultimized Captain America, Iron Man, Nick Fury—all these guys. It's fun now to extend that out and do Ultimate Blade and Ultimate Ghost Rider and all these Marvel characters I've really like in a movie style. So the second story line is all about Ghost Rider and the Punisher and all these characters I've never worked on before. I've been itching to do these characters for about five years. The book's impossible to get bored on because every six issues it reinvents itself and becomes another event. My attention span is about six issues, so it's perfect for me.
"The first story line focuses on the Ultimates and the Fantastic Four and a little bit of the X-Men, but the second story line has nothing to do with that at all. It's got the Punisher, Ghost Rider, Captain America and everything and a big event of their own. It feels like a very comfortable fit for me and different enough from ULTIMATES. I'm hoping to bring the best elements of ULTIMATES but up the ante a little and make it bigger budget. ULTIMATES had a movie feel to it, but an event is even more fast-paced with more stuff happening. So it's got to be bigger."
As for how the three writers behind the Ultimate Comics series will play off each others' books, Sankovitch explains that the trio synched up to set the tone for the new series while giving each other the room to let their books stand alone.
"These guys have been a non-stop ball of creative crazy since the inception of the relaunch. Brian and Mark have been the seasoned vets with the [Ultimate line], but adding Jeph's fresh and unique take on the ULTIMATES 3 and with his universe-wide ULTIMATUM series setting the stage for the relaunch, together these gents have poured considerable time and effort into crafting a very exciting new dawn to the Ultimate Universe."
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