Marvel's Ultimate line is entering a new era -- Marvel Ultimate NOW! -- and the New York-based publisher has assembled the line's key writers, Brian Michael Bendis, Joshua Hale Fialkov and Michel Fiffe, for a virtual roundtable chat with comics press in the latest installment of their Next Big Thing conference calls. The three writers will talk about their three series -- Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate FF, and All-New Ultimates, respectively -- including the identity of the mysterious fifth member of Ultimate FF as well as the broader scope of the universe as it enters its fourteenth year. Marvel has provided us a slew of new images to go with these talks which can be viewed here .
Marvel's Chris D'Lando starts the call talking about everyone "surviving Cataclysm" and how the Ultimate line is going into a new era with new characters and new creators. The question is posed to Bendis, who has been with the line from the start in 2000.
"It was funny. My Tumblr Q&A box is aslways a schizophrenic crazy place. Every question for the past four months has been a clever way to get me to spoil something," Bendis says. "If I showed you how many questions about Miles' roomate Judge, you'd be shocked. Including day after issue #5 came out, some unnnamed superheroes fall by the wayside; despite that, the first letter I got was 'No mention of Judge?' That's what I'm dealing with."
Ultimate line newcomer Michel Fiffe, who is writing All-New Ultimates, calls these new books "literally a brand new day" for the characters. Fiffe, who describes himself as a long-time Ultimate fan before he got to opportunity to write for the line, says it's a great place to be.
"What the Ultimate universe means to me and to a lot of people who have read it over the years is that idea of anything could happen," Bendis says. "I'm so proud of Marvel keeping it a tight line and sticking to their guns. This evolution is a reminder of that in many ways. Literally the hundreds of people who come to me asking where they can jump in to the Ultimate books, these new books are it. I couldn't be happier to point to this -- right there, hop right in."
D'Lando then asked the assembled writers to give a short breakdown of each of their series.
"Ultimate FF is the world's geniuses teaming up to make sure the world doesn't crumble around them," Fialkov explains. "It continues on alot of the ideas readers saw in Cataclysm and Hunger, and still with so many sludge monsters."
Fiffe says All-New Ultimates is a counter-point to that, being a young teen book with inexperienced heroes. When asked about these youthful heroes taking on the name Ultimates after it previously featured Marvel's heavy hitters.
"It's not the same as previous team, but it's inspired by it. Not the violence per se, but the attitude and approach," revealed Fiffe. "I wanted to throw all new dangers -- from new villains and new teenage problems. That sets it apart from the previous Ultimates -- the government-sanctioned gods. These are teens, and I'm molding them to become heroes."
Fiffe says he plans to use several classic Marvel characters that haven't been seen in the Ultimate books. One of those is the Serpent Society, which Fiffe has remolded as the Serpent Skulls, mixing Akira and old school street gangs. He also mentions Watchdog, Scourge, and others as threats in the team's future.
"I could write books on the villains alone," Fiffe says. "There's a lot of possibilities."
onversation then turned to Bendis' Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man, and the writer says that this new series will show Morales finally knowing what it means to be a superhero.
"It's about the change from him trying to live up to the legacy of Peter Parker to live up to the legacy of being Miles Morales," says Bendis.
Bendis says there will be new villains as well as him "finally" following through on the promise of reinterpreted villains from the 1950s Spider-Man TV show.
"There'll be a gigantic new villain the first issue that's the biggest Miles has faced," Bendis says. "And that's before the reveal on the last page. It's a doozy."
Marvel then prompts Bendis to talk about Ultimate Spider-Man #200, with the series' previous artists coming back while the story deals with the annivesary of Peter Parker's death.
"I wanted get all of the characters of the series back together for this bittersweet moment," says the writer. "It was very emotional, but didn't get half as emotional when I was writing it as it was when David Marquez and the other artists turned in thier pages and it was lettered. I was floored with how emotional it was to me."
Bendis says that colorist Justin Ponsor made it a point to email the writer while he was coloring the issue to relay how emotional it was for him.
Marvel points out while Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man and All-New Ultimates is more grounded, Ultimate FF is far from it.
"You'll get to see a glimpse of a lot of bigger characters who've popped up previously in the Ultimate line, as well as parellel universes I've been dying to show readers," Fialkov said. "That being said, the book is about characters who feel guilty about letting the universe get the way it is. Sue Storm, as part of the Fantastic Four, felt she was given responsiblity to protect Earth and she feels like she failed in some respects."
Storm is joined on the team by Sam Wilson, Tony Stark, a cosmically aware Machine Man and Agent Coulson, along with a mystery character.
"When you meet the mystery character, it's going to be a shock," Fialkov says. "He's done horrible, but one of the only people who can help save the universe. It's about moving on from high school to college and adult life. And having to put aside petty differences and work together."
While at first he wouldn't reveal who the fifth character says, joking about it being Mark MIllar, Fialkov did finally reveal that the fifth is the "goat-legged" Doctor Doom.
"He has a new origin that bridges from who he was originally and the journey he's been on since," Fialkov says.
When asked about jumping-on points and comparing these to the mainstream Marvel books, Bendis says these are "tight" in comparison and give the best of both worlds: a shared universe but small enough that you don't have to pick and choose which to read.
"The great thing about the Ultimate universe is that no matter how much you like a character or story set in the Marvel U, it's usually impossible to read every appearance from their first appearance to now," Fialkov states. "With the Ultimate line, you can still read all of it -- it's an attainable thing. You can enjoy the book, and then go back with the Marvel Unlimited app or the print backlist to explore all of the Marvel Universe which you can't do as easily in the 616."
Marvel then opened up the floor to questions from press, and CBR's Albert Ching asked Bendis what he's most excited about. Bendis said it's Fialkov and Fiffe, comparing it to how he and MIllar were picked for the Ultimate launch while not being household names in comics yet.
Newsarama asked about the just-released cover to Ultimate FF #3 by Greg Land showing Namor fighting Doctor Doom, the newly revealed last member of Ultimate FF.
We're going to get to see some classic characters," Fialkov says. "And it's been awhile that we've seen some Fantastic Four supporting characters that I wanted to spend some time with."
Fialkov says that writing in the Ultimate line is a challenge is that you have to write stories that are meaninful and "gutteral," while also "blowing up your icons" given the freedom of the Ultimate line.
"I want to give people who come off the streets who know the Fantastic Four are in Ultimate FF, while giving it a spin," Fialkov says. "The question at the root of this is : what can we do to create an iconic image, and what is that thing that you can't do anywhere else? Having Galactus, say, eat New Jersey is pretty good."