Ultimate X-Men was the second-ever Ultimate title, appearing in late 2000, a few months after the debut of Ultimate Spider-Man. Originally helmed by writer Mark Millar and artist Adam Kubert, it lasted 100 issues and introduced several changes to the familiar X-Men mythos — mutants were created by the government, Cable is a future version of Wolverine — but for the most part stayed fairly close to the source material, albeit in an updated form.
With the new Ultimate X-Men #1 launching next week at Marvel, the continuity remains the same from the original volume, but the world has drastically changed — and for mutantkind, it's definitely for the worst. 2008's Ultimatum event not only wiped out millions of civilians, but also claimed the lives of some of the most famous figures in any incarnation of the X-Men: Professor Xavier, Magneto, Cyclops and Wolverine.
Writer Nick Spencer and artist Paco Medina tell the story of what comes next in the new series, picking up with estranged characters like Jimmy Hudson (Wolverine's son, who's in the familiar costume on the cover of issue #1), Rogue, Pietro Maximoff, Karen Grant (the incognito former Jean Grey), Kitty Pryde, Iceman and the Human Torch; the latter three who are also reeling from the loss of their friend Peter Parker in the recently wrapped, headline-grabbing "Death of Spider-Man" storyline.That would all be bad enough, but remember what we wrote a little earlier about mutants being created by the government? That secret gets revealed in the first issue, making things even worse for mutants both externally and internally, as they're hunted "Days of Future Past"-style and suffer a profound identity crisis. Newsarama talked with Spencer about his plans for the book, teaming with Medina, and the opportunity to craft a new X-Men series without many of the usual trappings.
Newsarama: Nick, in this new volume of Ultimate X-Men, it seems that there's an opportunity to do a truly different kind of X-Men book, given that Professor X, Magneto, Cyclops and Wolverine are all dead in the Ultimate Universe so there's no option to rely on any of those familiar dynamics. Was that something that attracted you to the series?
Nick Spencer: Yeah. What really hooked me into the story very early on was the fact that the intellectual leaders of the rise of homo superior were all gone. And even, to a large extent, the people you could see as the most likely successors, those guys were also gone.What you were left with were people who are maybe not prepared to take up that mantle. One of the things that I thought about straight away was the '60s. Just thinking about that post-war movement, and the Civil Rights movement, and the rise of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And then seeing, after that slew of assassinations that occurred all through the '60s and into the '70s, one of the first things that struck me was that sort of moment in history when you hear about the people who try to fill those shoes, and what it felt like to be one of King's aides after his death; how difficult it was for those guys.
X-Men have always been a fantastic allegory for civil rights issues. I really was attracted to, "Who are the people who are going to try to step up to the plate here? And why are they maybe not quite able to do that? And what does that mean?" You think about people like Pietro, who is just so clearly not his father, and who is just so desperate to be, and yet so thoroughly incapable of it — not so much in ideology, but in terms of that strength of vigor and leadership that Magneto had.
And then Karen Grant — formerly Jean Grey — and all that she has been through, and all the emotional scars that she has, when she was never really a very emotionally together person to begin with.Interior art from
Ultimate X-Men #1.The people I got really intrigued by were the kids on the ground. I think that they're really the best people to see those kinds of figures through. When you look at Kitty Pryde and Rogue, and Bobby Drake, you're talking about kids who have grown up in this. Their lives are interconnected with this grand, ideological struggle. The people that they looked up to, and looked to for leadership and instruction, are gone. The idea of that — all the teachers, all the parental figures being gone — and just being on your own in the face of this enormous, historical, world-changing struggle, you could just see the potential for great stories in it.
Nrama: Based on what's been revealed about the series so far, it seems that it's even worse for mutants than that, since the fact that they were created by the government is about to become public knowledge.
Spencer: It was funny — you look at Ultimatum, and then you look at "Death of Spider-Man," and you just say, "My god, these kids just can't go through anything more. It can't get any worse than this." So immediately I sat down and said, "How can we make this worse? How do we ratchet this up another few notches?"Interior art from
Ultimate X-Men #1.Brian had seeded in Ultimate Origins that in the Ultimate Universe, there's a big distinction in that man created mutants. For all the people that you lost, for as bad as things are, for as feared and hated and hunted you might be at that point, if you were a mutant, you could look at yourself and say, "Well, yeah. This is very bad." But like an early-day Christian, or something like that, you could also say, "I'm the beginning of something. I'm either divinely powered," which many mutants have believed, or, "I'm the next step in evolution." And in both cases, it's a very comforting idea. It says, "They hate you because you're special," and "They hate you because you're more than them." That can be a lot of comfort and solace in a bad moment.
And now, as of issue #1, that will be gone. We're going to see — things move very quickly in the first arc, but we're especially going to see it in the second arc — just what that does to mutants. How that makes them feel, and just how devastating that loss of sense of self can be. It's finding out that you're not who you thought you were, and you're not what you thought you were. Not only that, but finding out that you were a mistake; that you were a lab error. There's a lot to play with there in terms of how it will play out in their heads. They'll all have different reactions.
And it's all happening in this world where we can do things that we probably couldn't have done outside the Ultimate books. One of the really liberating and exciting things to me is, traditionally in X-Men books, you've always had to sort of hit a reset button at some point. My favorite X-Men story ever is "Days of Future Past." To me, when I saw that as a kid, and saw the future that was waiting for them, it was so fascinating and so terrifying. The reality of it is, you can't go all the way with that in most books. But in the Ultimate Universe, we can do that. We don't have to pull back. You're going to see over this first year what that means. They don't have to be in a mansion again, and have a school at some point. Professor Xavier, Cyclops and Wolverine don't have to come back. The sky's the limit once you've thrown out all those rules.Interior art from
Ultimate X-Men #1.It's a world where the relationship between human and mutant is broken beyond fixing. There's no way that things are getting back to the way that they were. It's just impossible. Millions died when Magneto attacked New York. It's the greatest catastrophe in the history of human existence. There's no coming back from that. To have a status quo like that — to basically not have a status quo — it's incredible.
It's going to take a while for that to really sink in. By the end of the first arc, something big happens there, and then something huge happens at the end of the second arc, and by the end of the first year, the world is a different place in a lot of ways.
Nrama: What you describe does sound a bit like a "Days of Future Past" type environment — so is the idea that here, it's not an alternate future, but the reality that the characters are living in?
Spencer: I sat down with it and I re-read it, and again, I said, "How can we make it worse? How can we make this harder?" Mutant-hunting technology has always been Microsoft Windows. It's about to be Apple. There's going to be a massive leap forward.Ultimate X-Men
#2 cover.The thing that's always bothered me about this is mutants have never really had a very effective hunter. A bunch of giant Sentinels show up, the X-Men slice through them — they're redshirts in the worst way. Bad, bad things are going to happen.
Nrama: So is the question for the main characters, if things are indeed this grim, essentially going to be "why even bother being X-Men"?
Spencer: It's going to be a big argument. The book is called "Ultimate X-Men," and the cast is primarily made up of kids who have been X-Men, but sometimes you'll see people speculating on the book and everything, and they'll be talking like there's going to be a mansion, and there's a roster, and there are uniforms and all those things, and there's going to be a charter — none of that exists.
Nrama: Well, I can understand why people would think there are going to be uniforms based on the covers that have been released.
Spencer: [Laughs.] I know what I wrote. Kitty is in her shroud suit. That's all I'm gonna say.
They don't think of themselves like a "team." But there will be a lot of internal debate amongst the main cast of exactly what they should do, when they should do it, how they should move forward. There are going to be a lot of competing agendas in that regard. That's a big thing that's at the heart of our story.Ultimate X-Men
#3 cover.In the first six issues, the focus is very much on [the main cast] and a villain that we have seen before, but very briefly, and who I, in comprehensively reading what came before, immediately gravitated towards as a great potential villain. He's going to be inserted very abruptly into the story beginning with the second issue, but by the end of the first arc, you're going to see why I gravitated to him. He's going to get a massive upgrade. He's a fantastic villain, and he's exactly the kind of guy that would pop up and come into prominence and power in a situation like this.
Nrama: And on art is a bit of an X-Men veteran — at least in the classic Marvel Universe — Paco Medina. How has collaborating with him on this series been?
Spencer: Paco! He's such a blast to work with. The book is beautiful, and it's got this energy — it pops off the page, it's very vibrant. He's so great at drawing teenagers, and he's really perfect for drawing this cast. It's just really an exciting looking book. Marte Gracia, who does the colors, is incredible. They are an amazing team. It's just a very slick-looking package.
One of the things that I really like is that all of the Ultimate books look very different. They all kind of have their own distinct flavor. I'm really happy with the way that we went on this. [Medina]'s going to really knock people out with this. He drew X-Men #1, which was a No. 1 book last year, but I think that this is going to be the book that really makes him the superstar that he ought to be.More from Newsarama on Ultimate Comics:
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