Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #3One year ago, the Ultimate Universe was torn apart, with the imprint's future a bit questionable in light of its impending overhaul, and readers reeling from the events of Ultimatum, which killed several of the line's more popular characters.
But 12 months later, the Ultimate Universe has returned with a handful of new titles and a slew of new characters. Among the revamped titles is the new Ultimate Comics Avengers, relaunched last summer featuring some of the still-alive characters from the top-selling (but notoriously slow-shipping) The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch.
Millar, one of the earliest mainstays in the Ultimate Universe, returned to create Ultimate Avengers with a rotating slate of artists, including Carlos Pacheco and Leinil Francis Yu. Over the last year, the comic has introduced Marvel characters like the Red Skull and Ghost Rider to the Ultimate Universe, while bringing in new versions of characters like Black Widow and Wasp.
As the revamped Ultimate Universe approaches its one-year anniversary, Newsarama talked with Millar (in the first of a two-part interview) about why the comic was relaunched, what he thinks of the Ultimates-inspired parts of Iron Man 2, and whether he thinks the Ultimate Comics relaunch has improved the quality of the Ultimate line.
Newsarama: Mark, what were you hoping to achieve with the relaunch, and do you think you've met your goals?
Mark Millar: It was always Jeph Loeb's baby. I left the Ultimate Universe, really, two or three years back now. I did Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimates, Ultimates 2, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and that was that, as far as I was concerned. And I loved my tenure, but I don't know... I've just got this really short attention span when I'm working. I like to just do a project, then move on. And I've done the same on things like Wolverine or Civil War. Nothing really lasts more than a big story arc, maybe one or two years tops.Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #4 So I was quite surprised when Jeph asked me, "Would you like to do more Ultimate stuff?" And I always had this idea about the black ops team. In Ultimates Vol. 1, I did an issue where you saw Black Widow and Hawkeye doing the black ops stuff. And I always had the idea of the black ops version of the Ultimates and quite fancied doing it.
Jeph said to me, "Would you like to come in for this relaunch? Because we'd like to get some better known creators and bigger names back into the Ultimate Universe again."
You know, just as a reader, I'd grown not very interested in the Ultimate line for a couple of years. I felt like, for me, the work was high quality with excellent artists for those first few years, on a small number of books. And after that, there seemed to be a lot of not-very-good mini-series, and the quality of the books was variable, so I lost interest.
And I think the Ultimate line had been devalued a little, just in the sense that less people were picking them up than had been in the years previous. We'd all moved into the Marvel Universe proper, and that seemed to be the cool place to be.Jeph said, "look, I'm just trying to do a big relaunch of the whole thing here with you, me, Brian Bendis and Warren Ellis." And I thought, well, that's a great line-up. And the artists were so fantastic. I thought it was a very ambitious thing that Jeph was trying to do, trying to make the Ultimate line cool again. So I came in and just wrote the story I wanted to write, you know?
Nrama: So one of the goals was to raise the quality level? Do you feel like that's happened?
Millar: I think they've improved a lot. I'd say the last almost 12 months since those books were relaunched, the standards are higher than it was in the previous years.
When the Ultimate line started out, all three or four of the books were very strong in terms of writing and art. And that was reflected in sales. It was always taking up the Top 5 spots.
And Bill and Joe were actually very, very savvy about the number of comics we were releasing. Instead of multiplying the number of books to cash in, because a lot of people were saying, "Let's have an Ultimate Thor or an Ultimate Cap book," but they just said, "no, let's just do what they did at the beginning of the Marvel Universe and keep the number of titles very small. And I thought that was smart, and I respected them for that. That's not what most companies do, which is just cash in, you know? I think it was focused for a couple of years, and after that, most of the stuff just wasn't that strong, and sales went down. They were down in the 20's and 30's and so on, but we're doing over 70 with Ultimate Avengers. The Ultimate X is doing twice, I think, what Ultimate X-Men was doing. So I think we're moving back toward it again.Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #5 But I think it will be a rebuilding process. Ultimate Avengers is close the top 10, which is great, but it's still not selling what Ultimates was. It's still 120,000 less than what Ultimates was doing. I think the books just need to solidify, and people need to know they can trust the brand again, and I think slowly, but surely, they are.
And we're committed to it. I plan to do 24 issues of Ultimate Avengers; I think Jeph's on there for a commitment; and Brian loves writing Ultimate Spider-Man, like nothing else. I think that's probably his favorite book to write. As long as we don't spinout suddenly again, I think we should be good.
Nrama: How much of a challenge was it for you to re-form the team and come up with these other characters. How was the idea presented to you?
Millar: It was kind of Jeph Loeb's toys. It was weird, because I felt very, very close to the Ultimates characters. I spent five years of my life writing them all. You have to remember, when Bryan Hitch and I started doing Ultimates, Bryan was a single guy with no children, and by the time we finished Ultimates 2, he was married with four children, with a fifth baby on the way. That was a gigantic chunk of our life, you know? Brian Bendis had a full head of hair when we started doing Ultimates. No, he didn't. I was only kidding. But it was a very, very long time. And to hand over those characters to someone else was tough to do. It was like leaving a job you love or graduating from high school or whatever. It was an end of an era for us.So really, the lead guy on those characters now was Jeph Loeb. And I had to borrow back these characters to do Ultimate Avengers. So really, I had to just try to coordinate with him and say, "Can I use Tony Stark for three pages? Can I borrow Captain America for four issues?"
Nrama: You mentioned how well The Ultimates did, and having seen Iron Man 2 and how similar it feels to the Ultimates, particularly Nick Fury... what did you think of it?
Millar: I just think that's fun. Bill Jemas phoned me after he saw the first Iron Man film and said, "they've just done Ultimate Iron Man." And I said, "what do you mean?" And he said, "Oh Tony Stark was never really like that before. He was a kind of suave, alcoholic billionaire. But that kind of craziness was really Ultimate Iron Man that they captured." And Jon Favreau said they were going for that kind of thing. And I just see it as very flattering. Obviously, we don't get any money for it or anything; it's just our take on a character. But to me, that's just fun.Ultimate Comics Avengers 2 #6 I loved doing the comic. So if they want to do any of that stuff as a movie, like Sam Jackson as Nick Fury like Bryan and I did in The Ultimates, then brilliant! I love it.
To be honest, I'm more interested in my own films really. I see the Iron Man films as a nice little nod. And the fan in me loves the fact they're making the movies and that something I did can contribute.
Nrama: Your style is often described as cinematic, and you've had more than one comic picked up for film. Do you have movies in mind when you write?
Millar: I see myself entirely as a comics' guy. The movie thing, to me, just happens by accident. It happens regularly, but entirely accidentally. People have said, ever since I found my voice doing comics, "oh, your style is very cinematic." I don't see it because that's just my style. It's like the way Alex Ross has a very photographic style of art, which people would describe as cinematic, and Bryan Hitch has that too, but that's just their style, you know? So when I write something, I suppose I think in an easy-to-understand, connect-with-the-comics-fan style. Being a writer, I try to make it almost like storyboards. For me, it's just easier that way, so there's a very cinematic sense, or "groundedness," to my writing, which makes it easy to do a literal translation as a movie. And I think that's why my own comics tend to be made into films too. But I never actually plan it.Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #1 Like, when we were doing The Ultimates, I said, "let's make Nick Fury a cool black guy." And Bryan said, "There's no cooler black guy in the world than Sam Jackson." And he was totally right. So that's what we did. We didn't think, "Oh, this will precipitate an Avengers movie." No, we just thought he was a cool black guy that we love.
Check back soon for part 2 as we talk with Millar about the future, including information on the new Ultimate Daredevil, how he keeps Ultimate Avengers on schedule, and why Steve Dillon is drawing Robert Pattinson in an upcoming issue.