***This article contains significant spoilers for Ultimate Comics Ultimates #25, now on sale.***
An enraged Hulk wearing two Infinity Gauntlets, yelling, "You guys are so @#%!#& screwed!" at The Ultimates.
Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov doesn't start his ongoing run on Ultimate Comics Ultimates meekly, with this image in the freshly released issue #25, illustrated by Carmine Di Giandomenico. Not only are The Ultimates targeted by Hulk, but he's acting as part of a "Dark Ultimates" consisting of Reed Richards, Quicksilver and — debuting in the Ultimate Universe for the first time — Kang, who appears to be a female on this side of the Marvel street. Fialkov says these characters are more "misunderstood" than villainous, and that he's looking to explore that moral grey area in the just-kicked off "Ultimates Disassembled" story arc.
We talked to Fialkov about the launch of his Ultimates run, why Kang isn't "inherently a bad guy," his take on Quicksilver, and got in some (very) vague discussion of his upcoming, shrouded-in-secrecy Marvel miniseries Hunger.
Newsarama: Josh, not only is Ultimates your first Marvel ongoing series ever, it also represents the often-tricky position of coming onto a book where you're directly continuing from what's happened before, but also clearly looking to make it your own. For you, what kind of challenge has it been, achieving that balance? Likely it was helped by Sam Humphries wrapping up one of the biggest elements of his run (Captain America becoming president) in his last issue.
Joshua Hale Fialkov: Yeah, this is one of the first times I haven't had a number one to start a story with, as well. The benefit to me was sort of two fold... Jonathan [Hickman] and Sam both set up so much cool stuff, that I really got to pick and choose what I followed up on, and, even better, they both set up so much cool stuff, that it's a spoil of riches. I'm friends with both of them, and Sam and I spoke at length about both what he was planning on and where I could take the characters that felt true to what's been going on in this whole volume so far. This story is very much a capper to what's come before, but, also, the beginning of some crazy, crazy things for the Ultimate Universe.
Nrama: Your run obviously starts on a very conspicuous note, with one of the first pages showing Hulk with two Infinity Gauntlets. In your planning of this run, how quickly did you arrive on that image? Do you see it as meaningful to your approach to the book as a whole — kind of a, "get ready, anything can happen" note to open on?
Fialkov: The very first thing I said to Mark Paniccia and Emily Shaw was "Hulk with Two Infinity Gauntlets.” Most people would say “Hello,” but I'm far too busy for courtesy. [Laughs.] The story of the arc certainly evolved a bit from where we started (hell, you can see that in the changes between the preview and the finished book), but the idea of Banner, Reed Richards, and Pietro teaming up with Kang following literally years of planning on Reed and Kang's part was always the plan for me.
And, yeah, one of the things Brian Bendis said to me early on was that these books needed to be to some degree about iconography, about creating new images that we haven't seen before, or, more specifically won't see in the regular Marvel Universe. I'm hoping we can do some more of that before they ship me off to Siberia for the horrible things I've done to their characters.
Nrama: We see the reveal of Ultimate Kang at the end of the issue, a first for the Ultimate Universe, and a Kang that looks fairly similar to the classic version — other than the notable difference that it certainly appears to be a female. What (if anything) more can you say about the character at this point, and any resemblance she may or may not have to the old-school Marvel Universe Kang?
Fialkov: Kang is sort of the perfect villain for me, because in the classic 616 version, he's not inherently a bad guy. He's fixing the timeline to create what in theory is a better universe. In Avengers Forever, for example, we see that without his intervention (and Immortus's), the universe becomes a much worse place. That, for me, is the core of the character, and it's something that I've fixated on for Ultimate Kang. I mean, really, it's the thematic throughline of the whole of the Ultimates. They're not the best people, but they're the ones willing to make the sacrifices to protect the world.
Nrama: Speaking of Kang — in the first interview we did on Ultimates, you described Hulk, Reed Richards and Quicksilver as "misunderstood." Given that we now see that they're working with a character traditionally known as one of the most marquee villains in Marvel Comics, is that label still accurate?
Fialkov: Oh, definitely. And, maybe this is a ridiculous corollary, but, I think about Barack Obama getting into office. He's sworn up and down that they're going to close Guantanamo. Then, theoretically, he's in the chair, and he sees that this horrible, awful place is actually extremely important for national security, and, he realizes “Oh god… I can't close it down...” It's a horrible choice, but, the price you pay... It seems to me that in a world where aliens try to destroy your planet, and gods walk among you, there are a lot of bad choices like that made every single day by those in power.
Nrama: And we talked about your excitement for working with Carmine Di Giandomenico when we discussed Ultimates a few months back, but now that the first series is out, what were some of your favorite visual moments from the issue?
Fialkov: Oh god, Carmine, Lorenzo, and Jim are just the most amazing art team you've never heard of. I mean, I'm constantly flabbergasted by the pages I get in. I love the explosion page, and I really love the page of Reed in his torture chamber.
That being said… My favorite moments they've done are actually in #26. That issue is the Ultimates vs. the Dark Ultimates in pretty odd pairings. Hulk vs. Thor is my favorite thing I've ever written.
Nrama: Quicksilver is a character that's been in the news a bit lately, and he's playing a major role in your story. What motivated you to use him? What do you like about the Ultimate version of Pietro Maximoff?
Fialkov: I think Pietro's been building up his role in the UU for a while now, and it just felt like he'd fall under that same category as Reed and Banner that he's been portrayed as a bad guy, when all, from his point of view, he was doing was, y'know, sticking with his (extremely demented) family. He's a great character in both universes, and I'm glad he's finally getting a bit more of the spotlight. He's the main character in #29, so I got to really play with him. Play = torture.
Nrama: I know you can't say anything about this yet, and probably can't even answer this question, but hey, here goes: it's been revealed that you're working on a miniseries called Hunger starting in July. Any chance it ties-in to what you're doing with Ultimates at all?
Fialkov: They haven't announced what it is yet? I'm surprised. Essentially, well… Have you seen My Dinner with Andre before? It's like that, only it involves an elaborate Olympic style eating contest between Ultimate Hulk and 616 Hulk. It will be epic.
More info on what Hunger is very, very soon. It's very weird to be working on something I'm so excited about that comes out so soon, and yet not be able to really talk about what it is. I will say, though, working with Leonard Kirk is beyond my dreams. I mean, Leonard is just a flat-out brilliant storyteller, and the scale of what he's doing is off the charts, and yet, very intimate. I think people are going to really, really fall in love with his work.