Back to the Ultimate U - Mark Millar on Ultimate Avengers

Mark Millar on Ultimate Avengers

As was announced last evening at Marvel’s presentation at the Diamond Comics Distributors’ Retailer Summit in Las Vegas, Mark Millar’s previously announced return to the Ultimate Universe will take the form of Ultimate Avengers, a project due to debut in early 2009.

More specifically, the miniseries/series (with a yet-unnamed artist) will be set in the “post-Ultimatum Ultimate Universe, that is, in a changed Ultimate Universe.

The title, of course, is familiar for a couple of reasons – “Ultimate Avengers” was used as shorthand for what would later become known as The Ultimates very early in the days of the Ultimate Universe, and secondly, Ultimate Avengers and Ultimate Avengers 2 were the two of the earliest direct-to-DVD features released by Marvel/Lionsgate were titled. The films were loose adaptations of stories from Ultimates volumes 1 and 2 by Millar and Bryan Hitch.

We spoke with Millar about the coming project.

Newsarama: Let’s start with the basics Mark – you told us in July about returning to the Ultimate Universe, and now we know the title - Ultimate Avengers. What’s it about?

Mark Millar: Ultimate Avengers will be the Big Daddy of the Ultimate Universe as of issue one. This is the Ultimate line's event book. It's like Civil War or Secret Invasion happening twice a year as two crossover events take place annually with a new artist and a new cast of characters every six issues.

The opening storyline crosses the Ultimates over with lots of other characters and we get a threat bigger than anything we've seen in the books previously. Then we switch gears completely with the second storyline, titled Ultimates Black, as we focus on the black ops team introduced in Ultimates Vol 1. This is where we see the nasty shit that Fury and SHIELD get up to off-camera and not only features the origin of Hawkeye, but also SHIELD's replacement Captain America, the reinvention of the Punisher, War Machine and the African American Hulk. Every six issues is a brand new event. Every six issues is an above A-list artist. I'm going to do two years on this book and the four artists on this book are pretty much the four biggest names the industry has to offer. This book is going to launch at number one and hopefully just stay there. As Joe Q pointed out, I've shamelessly fused Marvel's two biggest brands from this decade, the Ultimate line and the Avengers book, into a single title. It's going to be a monster. Like I said, Civil War and Secret Invasion happening twice a year. This is an ongoing event book made up of six issue events.

NRAMA: There were always comments that what you and Bryan were doing in Ultimates was the Avengers in a sense. So what makes this different than the Ultimates?

MM: The Ultimates was really a twenty-six issue origin story. Ultimate Avengers is where the shit hits the fan every month. Bryan and I had the best experience of our professional careers on that book, but you didn't see Ultimate Kang or Ultimate Red Skull or any updates of the classic Marvel villains. Ultimates 1 and 2 gave The Avengers a 21st Century facelift, but this is where the stories kick into high gear. That world is about to get much bigger as we hopefully reinvent the superhero versus super-villain kind of stories in much the same way as we did a very different kind of superhero origin story.

But the biggest difference of all is that my artists and I have the entire world to play with here. We can dip into the other books, borrow characters, tie into their storylines and so on. Plus Ultimize all the things I never got a chance to in Ultimates. I'd say the biggest success I've had, the one thing I feel very confident doing, is a new spin on the old characters. Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Hawkeye... all these guys worked out really well in Ultimates, so much so that Marvel Studios are using them as the basis of the movie characters... and I'd like to extend that a little. I want to do Ultimate Blade, Ultimate Ghost Rider, even Ultimate Tomb of Dracula. I have all the stories worked out already and am very excited by it. This is the one and only Marvel title I'll be working on for the next two years. Movie and creator-owned commitments mean I can do nothing else and I've pretty much wrapped up all my current stuff. But this is the book where anything can happen. I'm halfway through “Ultimates Black” at the moment and having the time of my life, to be honest.

NRAMA: The Ultimate Universe has always been a touch more realistic than the regular Marvel U. With the word of massive changes coming in Ultimatum, should we consider the title "Avengers" being a touch more literal?

MM: Um, not really. But it ties in directly with the end of Ultimatum and launches straight out of those closing pages. I'm teasing Jeph [Loeb] that the sheriff's back in town and there's a nice little gag about that in the opening pages to issue one.

NRAMA: Obviously, you can't say much, but can you give any broad strokes as to what the Ultimate Universe is like Post-Ultimatum?

MM: The very, very simple plan is for the Ultimate line to be better than the Marvel U again. All the books just lived in the top ten for the first few years, but it's kind of trailed off since around 2005 and the Marvel U in many ways has become Ultimatized. You've had the militarization of the superheroes under SHIELD, the X-Men revealing having public identities, even Spider-Man being unmarried and more like Ultimate Peter and so on.

The Marvel U essentially caught up with the Ultimate U, but I can smell things shifting again and our mission here is to put the Ultimate line five years ahead of the regular Marvel U just like it was a few years back. I want Ultimate Avengers to spearhead that and the plans are great. We don't want any more mini-series or dilution of the line. I did my first Marvel meeting in a couple of years last month and the plan was very simple... five books, the core characters and the absolute best writers and artists on those five titles. It's what made the Ultimate line work first time around.

NRAMA: You mentioned in July, and just named some of the characters above, that your plans included: Ultimate Cap, Ultimate Iron Man, Ultimate Blade, Ultimate Punisher, Ultimate Ghost Rider and Ultimate Spidey. Can we assume that any or all of them are on the team you've assembled?

MM: It's not a specific team as such. It's an ongoing event book so there's two big stories every year and all the guys you've mentioned (plus many others) are in the first three stories. Ultimate Blade

appears in the third story and I can't wait to write it. I've wanted to re-jig Blade for years.

NRAMA: You also told us in July that your upcoming return to the Ultimate Universe was the "most ambitious Ultimate project so far and even ties in with what Zak Penn is doing on The Avengers movie." Are you saying that the post-Ultimatum Universe will be essentially the Marvel movie universe, for lack of a better term?

MM: I think it always has been. Kevin [Feige] has mentioned this a few times in the past and Zak had a whole panel about it at SDCC in the summer, where he said they're really following the Ultimate versions of the characters as they're the easiest to translate to the screen. It's very complimentary of course.

NRAMA: You are and have been busy in both Marvel "universes." Does the writing process in one differ than the other?

MM: I think trying to write both at the same time would lead to paranoid schizophrenia. So 1985 is finished, Old Man Logan still has one more issue and I have two more issues of Fantastic Four to write then I'm done with the Marvel U for as long as I can imagine. Ultimate Avengers will be the one and only Marvel book I plan to write, certainly between now and 2010. I just don't have time to do anything else. This is a big commitment on top of my other stuff and I want to put as much effort into it as possible.

NRAMA: Let’s wrap with a final tease - you mentioned that the Marvel Universe has basically become the Ultimate Universe in many ways thanks to Civil War and other developments. How do you step things up and make them blindingly distinct again – get them five years ahead, as you said?

MM: Bendy, Joe, Jeph and I had a very simple plan when we all met in New York recently. We decided that the Ultimate line needed to have that guarantee of quality again. That gold standard feeling you got when you saw those bars on the cover. We shouldn't go over five issues a month for a whole year, keep it to our little gang and make it the most exciting line of books on the stands again. I know the plans for next year and they're bloody awesome. The artists are going to be a big surprise too. I just sense everything shifting this way again as we close out the decade. The relaunch is going to be amazing and there's friendly competition between us to make sure our books are the biggest of the lot.

Ultimate Avengers is going to be a monster, though. Where else are you going to get Ultimate Doom teaming up with Ultimate Red Skull and Ultimate Kang? It's almost unfair (laughs). Plus I get to write Ultimate Cap and Ultimate Tony again, really giving them a chance to kick arse against some proper super-villains. It's going to be great. I've missed these guys so much.

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