The original incarnation of Galactus — the infamous world-eater that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced in 1966's Fantastic Four #58 — arrived in Marvel's Ultimate Universe in last month's Age of Ultron #10. And that's not great news for the Ultimate Universe or the heroes and civilians who call it home.
The story first continues in the Hunger miniseries debuting July 24, from Ultimates writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Leonard Kirk. During Marvel's Ultimate Universe panel Friday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the publisher announced the next phase: Cataclysm: The Ultimates Last Stand, a five-issue miniseries starting in November from the original Ultimate Spider-Man creative team, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.
"This is what we think is one of the most eventful chapters in the Ultimate Universe since its creation," Bendis told Newsarama during an in-person interview at Comic-Con. "The Ultimate Universe is in real jeopardy. There's going to be fallout."
"Ultimate Earth can be a dangerous place to live for the average Joe," Marvel senior editor Mark Paniccia said, highlighting the stakes of the story. "Most of Eastern Europe has been destroyed, Southeast Asia is in turmoil and don't forget how rough the States have had it. In terms of real world phrasing, one could regard Galactus as 'apocalyptic stimuli.'"
While Hunger deals more with the threat of Galactus from a cosmic perspective, Cataclysm brings him to Earth and in conflict with the Ultimate Universe's biggest heroes. Though a different take on the character — "Gah Lak Tus" — was featured in the Warren Ellis-written "Ultimate Galactus Trilogy," Hunger and Catclysm marks the first trip for (as Bendis puts it) "old-school, fancy hat-wearing" Galactus in the Ultimate Universe, and only the second interaction ever between the traditional Marvel Universe and its Ultimate counterpart.
The significant arrival of a Marvel Universe character into the Ultimate Universe makes this the true follow-up to 2012's Spider-Men, Bendis said, in lieu of doing a direct sequel to the story that paired classic Peter Parker with Miles Morales.
"This is it, and it's not the form you thought it was going to take," Bendis said. "But Miles is front and center with all the Ultimates and all the heroes from Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, and they're faced with this crazy thing."
"It's very exciting, and hopefully a very emotional story, like Spider-Men was," Bendis continued. "And something for people who haven't been following every damn thing we do. For people who have followed everything? Huge payoff."
Bendis said the fact that there's another whole universe out there — the one that comic book fans have been reading for more than 50 years — is "the biggest secret in the Ultimate Universe," and the discovery of where Galactus came from "is going to crack that wide open," with far-reaching implications. Plus, the character's very presence and godlike nature places the Ultimate heroes in a true quandary — they can't kill him, and they can't shuffle him off to another planet to eat somebody else.
"That's not heroic," Bendis said. "[Cataclysm] is a real test of what heroism is."
One hero truly being tested in the story is Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, introduced by Bendis and Sara Pichelli in 2011. Though his series recently jumped in time a year, he's still a young teen and early into his superhero career. Cataclysm represents his biggest trial yet.
"It's one of those moments where the hero has to take it to the next level," Bendis said. "It's time for him to have his superhero bar mitzvah."
Timing-wise, Paniccia says the direction of the current arcs in all three current Ultimate books — Ultimate Comics Ultimates by Fialkov and Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man by Bendis and David Marquez and Ultimate Comics X-Men by Brian Wood and Alvaro Martinez — help set the stage for Cataclysm.
"We've been giving each series distinctive arcs since our last event, making sure that there are clear progressions from one big story to the next," Paniccia said to Newsarama. "Across the line, all our most recent arcs are wrapping up right around the same time ('World War X,' 'Spider-Man No More' and 'Ultimates Disassembled') and we had other things in play on the Marvel Universe side that made this the perfect time to give fans something big and crazy to bite into."
Cataclysm is the return to the Ultimate Universe of the Bendis and Bagley pair, who launched the very first Ultimate series, the initial volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, in 2000 — and ended up working together on the book for 111 consecutive issues. (Bendis is proud to point out the rarity of a non-Vertigo imprint lasting that long.)
Bagley returned to Ultimate Spider-Man in 2011 for another fateful story, "The Death of Spider-Man," which killed off the Ultimate version of Peter Parker and paved the way for Miles' debut.
"'Death of Spider-Man' worked because of Mark Bagley," Bendis said, who also works with the artist on the creator-owned series Brilliant. "It felt authentic: Here's one of the authors of the Ultimate Universe coming to tell a very important story. It just seemed perfect for him to come and do this."
"Rarely do you get a chance like this when it comes to creators' availability," Paniccia added. "It means a lot to me on a personal level that these guys made time in their schedules, and I think it's something the fans will appreciate and enjoy."
The five issues of Cataclysm will be followed by a "gigantic epilogue" that Bendis compared to issues like Civil War: The Confession; set to detail "where [the characters] stand with everything and how they feel about it." For Bendis, that type of story is particularly satisfying.
"To me, the day after is more interesting," Bendis said.
Even before Age of Ultron #10, unconfirmed rumors circulated that the Ultimate line might be ending. While the outcome of Cataclysm is yet to be seen, Bendis does call it an opportunity "to really shake up the status quo."
"I know people are really worried about the fallout and what that means for the Ultimate Universe," Bendis said. "And they should be. It's a pretty big deal."