A year ago, Brian Michael Bendis had written a requiem for Spider-Man after the events of Ultimatum. While the death sentence for Peter Parker was a little premature, the changes to the Ultimate Spider-Man title and the entire Ultimate Universe was much like a rebirth after a sudden, shocking death.
The relaunch of the Ultimate Universe is now one year old, having returned as "Ultimate Comics" with a handful of new titles by Bendis, Jeph Loeb, Mark Millar and Warren Ellis.
After Bendis and new artist David Lafuente revamped the cast and premise of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Bendis launched a trilogy of Ultimate mini-series that are shaking up the Ultimate Universe even further as a "mysterious" villain attacks its most treasured characters.
As the revamped Ultimate Comics Universe celebrates its one-year anniversary, Newsarama talked with Bendis in this first installment of a two-part interview, discussing his reasons for the relaunch and what comes next.
Newsarama: Brian, a year ago, when the Ultimate Universe went through the relaunch, what goals did you have, and do you feel like you've achieved them?
Brian Bendis: There were a lot of things I wanted. The Ultimate line is insanely important to me personally. And it has succeeded beyond what anyone's expectations were, including ours. And both of us being a little bit of comic book historians, we know that lines like this don't last beyond a couple years. So the fact that we were heading toward 10 years, and just now having to take stock and evaluate and decide what we need to be doing next, in and of itself felt like a big win.
The fact that we were still of value was a pretty amazing accomplishment. A decade seems crazy long for an imprint.
But we had these long talks, between me and Jeph Loeb and Joe [Quesada] particularly, about what the Ultimate line is, what it should be, and what it could be. And my feeling was, we were pretty much at the same spot in time that the original Marvel Universe was in the late '60s. All the pieces were in place, and now what?
Then you saw all these cool stories like the Kree-Skrull War, and a lot more team-ups, and the Marvel Universe being a more cohesive unit than just team-ups, and it having a theme and a feel. As it went into the '70s, it had a pretty, for lack of a better word, "groovy" feel, that seemed to be mandated down and felt very different than how it felt a couple years before that.
So we were just trying to figure out, what do we get out of Ultimatum? Not just what Ultimatum is, but what do you get afterwards? That's always one of our big bug-a-boos about these events. It's not that story so much as what do we get out of it?
Nrama: So for you, particularly on Ultimate Spider-Man, what did you want to get out of Ultimatum?
Bendis: For me, it gave me a place to lock down the things that I really wanted to continue doing with the book while also giving me the opportunity, if there were things that I felt like I had done, like "mission accomplished," then I could move on to other stories.
I got to do the Aunt May halfway house for teenage superheroes story I wanted to do. In a sense, it's a take on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but also quite different.
And it also just set the plate up for me. I said I wrote down a laundry list of Spider-Man stories that you haven't seen before, but that still feel like Spider-Man stories. You know. Like, not Spider-Man on Mars or something. It's still Peter Parker. This story isn't based on anything that's happened in the Marvel Universe. You haven't seen this before. This isn't the Ultimate version of something.
I think we're really on the right track for that. I'm obviously a few issues ahead of where people are reading, so I know what's coming. And I feel like this is a pile of stories that you haven't seen before. But it still feels like Peter Parker-y to me.
And you know, this got Mark [Millar] back, and I'm happy to have him back, even though he's crazy.
Nrama: I want to follow-up on something you said. You said that in the '60s, the Marvel Universe seemed to have a theme and a feel. Was there an idea about there being a new "theme" or "feel" to the Ultimate Universe after this relaunch?
Bendis: Just new and fresh. For me, it was mainly about wanting to add a bunch of new toys to the toybox. I think I said out loud, "Well, we've done an Ultimate version of everything we like." I mean, every writer who came into the Ultimate Universe kind of wanted to do an Ultimate version of some story they liked. But I think the stuff that really rose above was the stuff that was new.
The things people are still the most happy about in Ultimate Spider-Man is Kitty Pryde and her involvement in Peter Parker's life, and that was not based on anything. Not to pat myself on the back, but that's just an example of the things that people like in Mark's Ultimates run. You have to go, "Well, I never saw that on an Avengers book, ever."
So I thought we should dare ourselves not to "ultimize" Marvel characters, and if we do, make sure they're legitimately special, and really unique, and take it from there. And I wanted to start putting in new characters, thinking about how it would be funny someday if versions of Ultimate characters started showing up in the regular Marvel Universe.
Even doing the story I'm doing now, Ultimate Enemy, it's not based on anything, and people don't know who the villain will be. And when it's revealed, people will say, well, we would have never done that in the Ultimate Universe. Even what's happening to Ben Grimm in that series. We're taking the character in a completely different place, but still hopefully, it feels like Ben Grimm, the person.
So just new, new, new.
Nrama: Yeah, I'm not sure what to make of Ben being a purple guy now, but let's save that for later because we'll get to Ultimate Enemy in a minute. So what I'm hearing is, with Ultimatum, you guys all worked in conjunction with Jeph Loeb on who was going to die, who was going to live, and it was all a big set up with what you were going to do with the Ultimate books?
Bendis: Yes. But you know, that's always a weird conversation too, "who will live and who will die." There were a couple who died that I'm personally bummed out about because I personally liked them. Daredevil is one. But at the same time, I got to write a great send-off for the character. So you have to give a little, take a little. You can't just do, "Let's kill everyone we don't like." It doesn't have any kind of gravitas to it.
The best thing about Ultimatum, to me, was I got to do the most bullshitty writing moment I've ever gotten to do. When I was writing it, I was laughing, because I knew there was a tidal wave coming. So I could write these, like, I got to have Aunt May get arrested. Aunt May gets put in a box, and the cops are working her over, then... tidal wave!
In any other place, if you wrote a story where your character was going through this traumatic thing and you just all of the sudden dropped a tidal wave on her, that would have been the worst writing in the history of the world. But it's not my tidal wave, so I get away with it.
When I was writing it, I was just thinking, could you imagine if you were writing a TV show and a tidal wave just came along and flushed it away? It's hilarious.
But I thought, OK, I have a tidal wave coming, so where can I put the characters that is most dramatic? And I've been wanting to arrest Aunt May since Issue #9, but then you have to think about, then what? Now you've arrested her, and now she goes to jail, because they're right. And the tidal wave made me able to write that story.
Nrama: When you relaunched Ultimate Spider-Man, you also got a new artist, David LaFuente, who has a style that's pretty different from previous artists on the title. Did that guide your new direction somewhat?
Bendis: Well to me, it feels like an entirely different book. I mean, it literally feels completely different from what I felt when I was writing it for Bagley. There's just a kinetic energy to even David's talking heads that has to be written for. There's just a way he lays out the page, and a way he sets up his action scenes.
So yeah, I try to write for that as much as possible, and it definitely influences the book.
He did an Annual with me and it was so energetic. This "Spanish mango," or whatever he's creating, is so unique.
I thought, first, replacing Bagley was such a mountain to climb. And replacing Stuart, I didn't want to stay within the same look. I wanted the book to have a very unique feel. And David has accomplished it. Tremendously.
I wish I had a better answer for it. With all the artists I work with, I think about it all the time: What is the best course of action to not only get the best work out of them, but to let them do what they do best and give them new things that challenge them.
David is very eager to please as well, so it makes it very easy to write for him. But at the same time, you don't want him just drawing whatever I say because I know he'll do it. So I try to get under his skin a little bit and see where he's coming from.
Check back later when we talk to Brian about what's coming next in Ultimate Spider-Man, why Ben Grimm lost his rocks in Ultimate Enemy, and what the future holds for the Ultimate Universe.
What's your favorite part of the Ultimate Relaunch?