Like its 616 counterpart, in Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, super powered mutants are subjected to fear and hatred on a daily basis. The situation became so intense in the “Divided We Fall” and “United We Stand” storylines of “Ultimate Comics X-Men,” X-leader Kitty Pryde and the rest of mutantkind were forced to fight to preserve their freedom and right to exist.
They won that battle, and in the aftermath were presented with an unexpected offer by the newly appointed President of the United States, Captain America: in exchange for their US citizenship, they were given a small parcel of land in Southwestern Utah, which now serves as a sovereign mutant home base. Now the mutants of the Ultimate Universe are locked in a new kind of struggle; forging a community and making the most of the stark environment they now call home.
This March, that struggle will be depicted by up and coming artist Mahmud Asrar (“Supergirl”) who joins writer Brian Wood for “Natural Resources,” a four issue arc beginning in “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #24. CBR News spoke with Asrar and his editor Mark Paniccia about the new storyline. Plus, exclusive artwork!
CBR News: Mark, what made you offer Mahmud a chance to draw “Ultimate Comics X-Men?” What are some of his artistic strengths you hope to take advantage of?
Mark Paniccia: Mahmud is an artist I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. Bill Rosemann brought him in to work on Marvel’s cosmic books a few years ago, and his work has been getting better and better. He did a tremendous job on DC’s “Supergirl” series. He’s great with young characters and I’m blown away by his storytelling through body language and expressions.
Mahmud, you’ve worked for Marvel before, but it’s primarily been on miniseries’ or a one-and-done basis. How does it feel to come back to the company for a full arc on a monthly book?
Mahmud Asrar: I’ve missed working on Marvel characters, so it’s great. Also, doing something more substantial than a one-shot or a couple issues here and there is a more fulfilling job opportunity.
What was it that made “UCXM” an appealing assignment for you? What do you find most interesting about the title?
Asrar: Besides growing up with X-Men books in my youth, which had a great influence on me wanting to become a comic book artist, I’ve enjoyed the “Ultimate X-Men” book since its inception. I started out buying the books for the artwork, but ended up enjoying the stories. Adam Kubert’s work on the book was exceptional, and even though people don’t mention it much, I liked Brian K. Vaughan and Stuart Immonen’s run on the series, too. So I’ve had a certain attachment to the series which was a draw (pun sort of intended) for me on accepting this project.
What’s it like to be working with writer Brian Wood? Which elements of his scripts do you appreciate the most?
Asrar: For years I’ve wanted to work with Brian and it didn’t happen. We’ve had quite a few opportunities in the past couple of years, but it didn’t work out. When I was offered this project, I knew I had to make it come into being. Mark and I did our best to work out a schedule and now it’s a reality — I’m very happy about it.
Brian has a very strong style in his storytelling and you can see it in all of his work. He’s very good with personal drama and political affairs, whether it’s a tale about viking women or a story on a group of super heroes. I really like his individualistic approach, too, and Brian brings all of these qualities to his work on “Ultimate Comics X-Men.” This book feels like he’s doing a creator-owned project featuring some awesome Marvel characters. This, to me, is what will make this storyline special as it’ll have the strong collective voice of the creators involved. It’ll also be a very different thing than what I’ve been doing with “Supergirl.” “UCXM” is very much steeped in reality and human quarrels, which will be a challenge for me and a chance to flex my abilities.
Let’s talk a little bit about the book’s cast of characters, starting with the American mutants’ new leader, Kitty Pryde. What’s your sense of Kitty? Which of her physical, mental and emotional qualities do you want to capture in your art?
Asrar: Kitty’s been near and dear to my heart since I first saw her with the X-Men in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne issues. She has mostly been a little sister to the rest of the X-Men, but in this series she’s a big player now. She has responsibilities she’s never had before, and she’s definitely up to the task due to her possessing the heart and resolve of a true X-Man. That alone will make her fun to draw. Besides, we’re doing some small changes to her appearance which is always cool.
Besides Kitty, you’re depicting all of the characters in this newly established mutant community. What’s it like drawing such a large cast? Are there characters you’ve especially enjoyed drawing? Were there any who proved difficult to get a handle on?
Asrar: Drawing a team book is quite different from what I’ve been doing lately, and it’s a nice change of pace in terms of challenging my skills. Although I’m familiar with most X-Men characters, whom I’ve been drawing since my childhood, this team consists of many I’ve not been acquainted with. This only adds to the fun!
In the end they’re all human, genetically different, but human nonetheless — so it’s always familiar and always a struggle. One of our big players in the arc is Storm and she’s got her badass mohawk. I think it’s safe to say she’s my favorite here, however, I’m also enjoying drawing Blackheath, a character I didn’t even know about until I got this job.
The cast of “Ultimate Comics X-Men” currently inhabit a stark environment — their own reservation in Southwestern Utah. How does the setting add to the mood you’re trying to convey with your artwork?
Asrar: The premise of the story is very political and the X-Men are in a bad place. So they do what any resourceful X-Men would do; they make lemonade when Captain America gives them lemons. Since the X-Men have to make the barren lands they are given their home, they try to make the best of it. This in turn gives me a lot of interesting environments to draw. It’s very different than what I’ve been doing in “Supergirl” — I’ll get to draw interesting locales with the concepts we’re working on in the book. The realism comes into play here again, too; the bleak situation reflects on the mood of the characters, which makes for an absorbing drawing experience.
Finally, let’s talk about the overall look of your arc. What can you tell us about the approach you’re taking with “Ultimate Comics X-Men?”
Asrar: The past year I’ve been rendering my work with markers and inking my own art. That meant I had a huge amount of control on the final look of my work. For this story, I’ll only be pencilling my work which is, in a way, liberating. It lets me focus on different things about my art and helps me solve some drawing problems with different approaches. I like the switch up — it helps me grow as an artist.
When solely pencilling, I automatically and subconsciously do different things. Visually, I don’t think this story will be a complete departure from what I’ve been doing recently, except for the change in tone and setting. It’s interesting how much diversity this alteration can bring to the look of my work.
Plus, I’ll have an awesome team of artistic collaborators in Juan Vlasco and Jordie Bellaire. While Juan adds character to my work, Jordie brings a unique feel and tone to the book.
Brian Wood and Mahmud Asrar’s “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #24 goes on sale March 2013.