Brian Michael Bendis was instrumental in the launch of the Ultimate line over 10 years ago, so it's fitting that he's helping guide this next decade of Ultimate stories for Marvel Comics.
With Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Bendis is approaching his one-year anniversary since relaunching the title, taking a new approach to Peter Parker's life instead of just "ultimizing" what had come before. And as the writer tells us in this interview, the title is coming up on its 150th issue, which will be marked with a multi-creator jamfest in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.
This year, the writer is in the middle of a trilogy exploring the "mystery" villain behind attacks throughout the Ultimate Universe, beginning with the just finished Ultimate Comics Enemy, then leading into the four-issue Ultimate Comics Mystery and Ultimate Comics Doom.
Last week, we spoke with Bendis about last year's relaunch and the reasons for starting anew in the Ultimate Universe. Now we look ahead with the writer at what's coming up in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Ultimate Comics Mystery — including why Ben Grimm lost his rocks and turned purple.
Newsarama: Brian, let's switch to the future. You mentioned earlier that there was a cohesiveness to the Marvel Universe when it hit the point in history where you believe the Ultimate Universe is now. And you talked about team-ups. I know you're doing a team-up, of sorts, in the Ultimate Enemy trilogy of minis, but will you also be teaming up a little with what Mark and Jeph are doing? Or is that something a little further down the line?
Brian Michael Bendis: Mark wants us to leave him alone, and I'm more than happy to do that for him. Jeph is setting stuff up, and we will all meet there. But the books have to launch and kind of find their own footing, especially Ultimate X, which I think is the best book that Jeph is writing right now.
Nrama: Yeah, that's a great book. So the preparations are being made for something you'll do in conjunction with the other books?
Bendis: The pieces have to be lined up. And there will be some familiar pieces in Ultimate X to fans of Ultimate Spider-Man.
That's always the plan; it's just when these things ship. But Ultimate Avengers have been shipping tremendously on time since the relaunch. And Jeph's books are bi-monthly, so we just have wait until the chapters are done before we can start licking each other's bones.
Nrama: That was part of the reason you were looking forward to the relaunch, wasn't it? Because you were always waiting for Ultimates to catch up?
Bendis: That's why we didn't do more mentions of Ultimates in Ultimate Spider-Man. I just didn't know when it was going to ship. And boy oh boy, I didn't want to spoil that. It would have been the worst thing I could do. So now, we don't have to worry about that as much.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about this trilogy you've got going with Ultimate Enemy and Ultimate Mystery and Ultimate Doom. You mentioned Ben Grimm changing, and I have to ask: That purple guy at the end of Ultimate Enemy is Ben Grimm? That's the way he looks now?
Bendis: Yeah. The theory is, his rocky persona was a cocoon that was gestating this other thing. And it's not going to be at the end of the story where, oh, he's back to being all rocky again. Because we've seen that story a lot of times. And that's a good story, but we've seen it. So we're going to do this other thing where rocks were one part of his story and now we're going to see the next part.
Nrama: So Reed is dead, and Ben is permanently purple?
Bendis: That's got you rattled, doesn't it?
Nrama: It does. I'm a little bothered by Purple Ben. But there are a lot of characters involved in these minis, from Ultimate Nick Fury to the Fantastic Four...
Bendis: Don't tell Mark I brought in Nick Fury. He'd be very upset.
Nrama: [laughs] That's right. You weren't supposed to touch. But is this type of multi-character event indicative of the type of thing you're hoping to do within the Ultimate Universe? Will we see more of it down the line?
Bendis: I didn't want to do an "event" event. But I really liked Warren Ellis' Galactus story. I liked the idea of this other corner of the Ultimate Universe that does touch the main characters but sort of seems off to the left somewhere. And he brought in Misty Knight and all these cool little funky characters that fit right in.
One of the things I wanted to do was pick up the pieces of the Ultimate Fantastic Four. Now, this a Marvel universe where the Fantastic Four had a shelf life if they didn't go the distance. And I wanted to pick up the pieces with Sue Storm and Ben Grimm and the others and take it somewhere else.
But also, I loved the look at Captain Marvel, I wanted to get into Project Pegasus, and all these things that I was really, really into.
So I pitched them a story that involved a new villain, a villain we don't have in the Marvel Universe. I didn't think they were going to go for it. But they wholeheartedly said yes. So in the vein of Ultimate Galactus, you'll find out who the villain is at the end of Ultimate Mystery #4. And that will take you into Ultimate Doom, which will be the gathered forces of my weird corner of the Marvel Universe trying to defeat that which cannot be defeated.
Nrama: You said when you pitched the story, you didn't think they'd go for it. And I'm just going to say what a lot of comics fans would say, and what I'm even thinking myself -- do they really still say no to you, Brian? Especially in the Ultimate Universe?
Bendis: Now listen! I wouldn't surround myself with kiss-ass Bendis fans. Who needs that? I need my books to be good. I need friends and collaborators to tell me when I'm boning it, you know?
Joe, from the first day I met him, is honest. We're honest with each other. If I've had any success in this world, it's because, if someone pulls me aside and goes, "don't do that," and they have a good point, I listen.
Scorsese says, when people tell you something, you have to listen.
I know, there are plenty of guys, and you've heard the stories of guys who have done this, where they say, "don't tell me what to do!" And they're gone. They're doing characters at carnivals! And not because the man was keeping 'em down. They didn't listen.
There's no one at Marvel who doesn't want us to succeed. They've invested in us. They want us to kick ass for a long time. And listen.
Nrama: With the characters appearing in your trilogy, is there any chance for an Ultimate Fantastic Four comic?
Bendis: The pieces of it will be so different in the end. Plus Johnny's staying in my book. The pieces of the Fantastic Four will be so unrecognizable that after Ultimate Doom is over, I think you guys will see what the plans are for those characters.
But the idea of Ultimate Fantastic Four is long gone, as Ultimate X-Men is. They're all dead. I mean, ours aren't all dead. Reed is dead. But the other characters will have evolved way past their superhero trappings.
Nrama: Good word, "evolved." For Ben in particular.
Bendis: You are freaked out about Purple Ben! You know, I was having trouble naming the character, but now that I'm saying it out loud, I think Purple Ben might be the way to go. I think you've helped me here. Thank you.
Nrama: Let's look forward at what's coming up in Ultimate Spider-Man. You hinted that there are some big things coming up when the title crosses over with Jeph's books, but what else is coming up in the title?
Bendis: Ultimate Spider-Man will be continuing with the drama of what's going on with Peter's life now that he has roommates. And a lot of shit will hit the fan when a character comes in and takes over Peter's life. A chameleon-like character will come in and take over Peter's life and ruin it completely. So we're going to have a pretty hard arc for Peter Parker. He's had a pretty good run since Ultimatum.
Nrama: Is it the Ultimate version of Chameleon?
Bendis: It is an Ultimate chameleon-ish character. It's very different from the Chameleon. But if there was an Ultimate version of Chameleon, this would be it. But you wouldn't recognize it unless I said "Ultimate Chameleon." Just like what I did with the Skrulls or Purple Ben, I found what I think is the most horrible version of that kind of story.
What if the Chameleon really got in there. What kind of damage could he do? Poor Mary Jane, poor Gwen Stacy, and poor everybody. And how long until he discovers what Peter Parker's secret is? And what will he do then?
Nrama: Besides what you told us about the potential for a crossover with Jeph's books down the line, any hint on what's coming up in Ultimate Spider-Man after what we've seen in solicitations?
Bendis: Well, I'm trying not to be spoilery, but what happens in the chameleon-ish arc is so devastating to Peter's life that big changes are coming for Peter. Big changes in his life, who he can trust, what the world thinks of Spider-Man, how they react to him, how safe he is in his Peter Parker life. And a lot of those things will be addressed very, very quickly.
The one thing I'm very excited about is Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16, I think, is actually our 150th issue. And I think we're going to do a big, triple-size, all-star hoo-ha for this. They asked me to put together a big shenanigans, a big party, a big comic book party. So you can look forward to a very, very big turn in Peter's life that will be handled by David and all kinds of guest star artists of past and present Ultimate Spider-Man lore.
Nrama: After Ultimatum, which in essence was a story that came in and kicked over all the toys, do you feel like you have more freedom to kick over the toys in the toy box?
Bendis: Hell yeah! No, we always felt that way. We always relished in the "you don't know what's going to happen," and "you're not going to see this story elsewhere." That was always the most fun. I just think we needed to do more of it. I just want to see more of it. That's all.