Thanos is one of Marvel’s biggest and baddest villains, and this summer, he’s returning in the pages of Ultimates #8. Writer Al Ewing and artist Kenneth Rocafort will bring the Mad Titan back to Earth, and straight into the path of Marvel’s most cosmic team who will have to turn their epic problem solving skills on a question for which there may be no answer – how do you stop Thanos once and for all?
And as if that isn’t bad enough, there may be a threat somehow even bigger than Galactus waiting in the wings, not to mention the tension of Civil War II, which Ewing says will create “irreconcilable internal differences” in the team. Newsarama spoke to Ewing about all this and more in the wake of the announcement of Thanos’s appearance in Ultimates #8 at C2E2 2016.
Newsarama: Al, the Ultimates have already established themselves as Marvel’s premiere cosmic level team. Taking on Thanos is kind of the next step for the team. How do they get to this point, clashing with the Mad Titan?
Al Ewing: Issue #5 offers a few hints on where Thanos has been since the end of Secret Wars - and since his end during the course of that story. But the Ultimates are already on the path that leads to Thanos, and vice versa, and readers are going to see all of those dominos falling one by one - issue #7, our "Road To Civil War" issue, will take us right to the brink of catastrophe, and readers will be able to look back from there and see all the little actions and decisions that brought us to it.
Nrama: The Ultimates are all about solving the Marvel Universe’s biggest cosmic problems – but how do you solve a problem like Thanos?
Ewing: It's not as easy as it looks. Thanos has plans within plans - if one plan is temporarily stymied, he'll find another. So defeating him physically might not be enough to stop him. Even Death isn't a permanent solution, and if you can keep him caged, he has all the time in the world to wait it out. And he won't be reasoned with - as readers will see, he's renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated, he's had something of an epiphany, and it's made him doubly dangerous. In the past, he's most often been defeated by his own psychological issues - or he's been made into an uneasy ally. If neither of those are on the table... how do you beat Thanos?
Nrama: The team already turned Galactus into a bringer of life instead of a destroyer of worlds. Is there any chance their confrontation with Thanos could end with him being reformed on some level?
Ewing: Almost no chance, I'm afraid. Thanos has been "reformed" before, and - much as I enjoyed it while it was happening - it didn't take in the end. We're going to go in the other direction with Thanos, as long as we've got him - we're going to try and make him more terrifying, if such a thing is possible. Galactus, we were often told, has a higher purpose. I don't remember anyone saying anything as nice about the Mad Titan. And when you stare into the burning eyes of Thanos, what looks back at you? Do you see madness? Evil personified? Or something more horrific... Nothing at all?
Nrama: The solicitation for Ultimates #8 mentions the team’s greatest enemy. Is that Thanos, or is there an ever bigger bad guy lurking out there somewhere?
Ewing: It's the second one! There's someone lurking out there even more dangerous to the team than Thanos, but for very different reasons. Some readers will have met him - or a version of him - before, and he's generally been a big bad in the past, someone very difficult to fight. He's going to be watching the Ultimates' struggles with Thanos and the larger issues of Civil War very carefully - making copious notes. Watch this space.
Nrama: The solicitation also questions whether the team will survive. Presumably there will be an Ultimates #9, but should we take this as an indicator that the team as we know it might not make it there intact?
Ewing: What can destroy a team as powerful as this? Well, irreconcilable internal differences would do it, and this crossover is called "Civil War". In #8, we see a hairline fracture in the team - almost invisible at first, but it only gets worse. This isn't just disagreeing on an issue - this is a serious philosophical schism that has a serious chance of destroying their ability to work together. Up until now we've had five very strong, powerful personalities in a room together without a serious argument - what happens when there is one and suddenly these five, who aren't used to backing down or admitting they're in the wrong, are crossing each others' red lines? In a lot of ways, this is the trial by fire no cosmic baddie could give them - whether they come through it, and how they come through it, will define them going forward.
Nrama: Kenneth Rocafort has already shown his fantastic chops on Ultimates, but Thanos takes things to a whole other level. How has your working relationship evolved over the course of the series, and what cosmic tricks are you having him pull out for this story?
Ewing: We've already got one cosmic trick in #7 - I have no idea what he's going to do with the panel descriptions I've given him, but I absolutely cannot wait to find out. Kenneth has been an absolute star on this series - he's the gift that keeps on giving. I feel comfortable throwing anything at him in the knowledge that whatever I get back is going to be absolutely beautiful. And while we're talking about artistic geniuses, we should mention color artist Dan Brown, who brings it all to dazzling, vibrant life. Without them setting the artistic tone from those first few pages of issue #1, I have no idea what the book would be, but it wouldn't be this.
Staying on the topic of artists and the artistic tone of the book - I hope everyone knows Christian Ward is popping in for a guest spot in issue #6, featuring everyone's favorite Lifebringer, Galactus, and a host of cosmic support acts. In terms of guest artists for this book, I couldn't think of a better one, and the art I'm getting in my inbox proves me right in that.
Nrama: Thanos is about as big a villain as Marvel’s got – especially on their cosmic side. Where do you go once you’ve taken on the worst of the worst? What can we expect in the future of Ultimates?
Ewing: If you get issue #5 - not to mention issue #6 - you'll have a clear idea where we're headed in the long term. I'm not going to spoil any of that right now, but it does conclusively answer the question of what's bigger than Thanos...