Big changes are coming to the Marvel Universe as part of the upcoming “Secret Wars” event and nothing will ever be the same again — especially for the Ultimate Universe. The line-wide event will kick off when the two main Marvel Universes merge into one as a result of an “incursion,” an Earth-destroying cosmic event that’s been plaguing the pages of “New Avengers.” The final fate of the Ultimate line of comics, which launched back in 2000 in “Ultimate Spider-Man” #1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, will be revealed in a new series from those same creators.
Talking “Ultimate End” with the comic press today was series writer Brian Michael Bendis and series artist Mark Bagley, as well as editor Mark Paniccia and former Ultimate editor Ralph Macchio. Up first, take a peek at two newly revealed covers for “Ultimate End” #1 as well as the cover for “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” #12.
The call kicked off with Marvel PR’s Chris D’Lando calling back to “Secret Wars,” noting that we’re about to say goodbye to the Ultimate Universe when it smashes into the Marvel Universe at the start of the event. D’Lando ran through the highlights of the universe’s fifteen year run, not the least of which being the beginning of Bendis’ career at Marvel. This May, Bendis and Bagley will reunite for a five-issue limited series — “Ultimate End” — chronicling the end of the Ultimate Universe. D’Lando called this a somber call, causing Bendis to quip, “This is the first I’m hearing of this! I’ll hand in my tear-soaked scripts to you.”
When asked about reuniting, Bendis admitted that he and Bagley were put together like a blind date, or like the Spice Girls or Backstreet boys. “Mark was the perfect collaborator for me to start my Marvel career,” said Bendis, prompting Bagley to correct him. “I was a cranky bastard to begin with!”
“There were things I needed to know and do better and Mark was very gracious about it and snapped me into shape very fast,” said Bendis. “‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ was greenlit as a mini-series and I kinda pretended that I didn’t hear them.” Mark Bagley was originally only supposed to do the first arc, but he ended up staying on for 111 episodes. “I kept him interested past the fifth issue and into #111,” said Bendis.
Bagley stated that he’s proud to have a big run under his belt, saying it’s more satisfying than doing a mini-series. “The first issue came out and was so well received by fans, I said ‘Can I please stay on?’ They’d already hired Leonard Kirk to replace me,” revealed Bagley.
“We’ve worked together on little projects on and off,” said Bendis, citing their creator-owned series “Brilliant.” “We don’t part ways long enough for me to miss him, but I’m not doing [‘Ultimate End’] without Mark.”
D’Lando then turned the questioning over to Ralph Macchio, who originally edited “Ultimate Spider-Man.” “I have to be honest, I did not do the pairing,” said Macchio. “That was Joe Quesada. I wasn’t familiar with Brian’s work… It was Joe who did the pairing and it was absolutely inspired. He picked someone who was a brilliant writer and paired him up with an artist established on ‘[Amazing] Spider-Man.’ I loved working with them, but I was not the guy who put them together.”
Bendis also gave a hat tip to former Marvel VP Bill Jemas, who also was influential in matching Bendis to Bagley. “My favorite Ralph memory from those early days was when Ralph called me up and said, ‘Of the seven or eight ways you’re spelling ‘Osborn,’ none of them are correct,” recalled Bendis.
Mark Paniccia has been overseeing the Ultimate line for seven years now, editing Bendis on “Miles Morales.” “I’ve got a real sense of trust and respect for both of them,” said Paniccia. “I knew Brian before the ‘Ultimate’ days, so I was very familiar with his stuff, and Mark I just had the pleasure of working with on the ‘Ultimate’ books and ‘Hulk.’ I can rely on him.”
“You don’t have to call me every other day to get to work,” Bagley chimed in. “I still have a job in this business because editors don’t have to call me.”
D’Lando switched gears to “Ultimate End,” saying there’s probably not a lot that can be revealed yet. “Here’s what I want to say about this,” said Bendis. “What you’re getting here is the first announcement past ‘Secret Wars.’ What you’re going to get a sense of from here on out is that these are not tie-ins in the traditional sense. These are very important pieces of the Marvel Universe and for these characters. The tie-ins themselves are actually an event unto themselves. This would be it’s own event if there wasn’t a ‘Secret Wars.’ These are gigantic stories and very important, and what comes out the other side is going to be different. These series are setting you up and letting you know what pieces are coming out the other side. That’s what I think this first storyline represents. Look how big this is; this is the end of something gigantic we’ve been working on for fifteen years… This isn’t the craziest thing that’s going to happen.”
Looking back on “Cataclysm,” which almost featured the destruction of the universe, D’Lando asked Bagley if he’s excited to draw the real end of the Ultimate U. “I’m excited about it. I’m curious to see who’s going to go in the gestalt of who’s going in. I know Miles is in it, I hope there’s Ultimate Squirrel Girl.”
“Mark is very emotional,” said Bendis. “He’s able to draw scenes I pull dialogue off of because the emotions are on the page. Mark has not been given those kinds of scenes to do before, and it ends up he’s magnificent at them. I will be tapping right into Mark’s ability to get a little tear out of people, and a laugh too.”
Attention turned to Miles Morales and his prominent role in “Secret Wars.” “[Miles’ fandom] started when it first came out and there was a lot of fan art,” said Bendis. “People think I went up to Jonathan [Hickman] and told him to use Miles [in ‘Secret Wars’], but I came to the big retreat and found out how big a part Miles has and was immensely flattered because I’m over the moon about the reaction to the character. The reaction to Miles is unique and profound. It happens almost daily when someone reaches out to us online with massive cosplay representation or how much the character means to them personally.” Bendis adds that most of his interactions with Miles fans ends with a hug. “Creators like Jonathan know that that’s happening, and he’s also still so wide-eyed fresh to the comic world that he’s a very good character to put into a story like this. His perspective is fresh. The Avengers have been through everything, but Miles has not been through everything.”
D’Lando then asked all four participants one question: what would they remember most about the Ultimate Universe? “Mine will be the collaborations,” said Bendis. “It formed me as the kind of creator that I am. Mark and Stuart [Immonen] and David Lafuente and Sara [Pichelli] and David Marquez, my greatest achievements in comics is working with them… Number two is the reaction to Miles… When ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ was announced, it was met with such division online and I was confused about why people were mad about something they hadn’t seen yet. The about face when the issue came out, that almost never happens. I was very happy about the whole thing.”
“Like Brian said, we make such a great team,” added Bagley. “I couldn’t stay on a book for 111 issues if I didn’t love what I was doing… I only left because I felt like I needed to do something different. I’m proud of that body of work, you can take a weekend to read it. It has ups and downs. My ten-year-old grandson just read the whole series and he just got to the ‘Freaky Friday’ crossover [where Wolverine and Spider-Man switch bodies] and he was laughing out loud about it… It was magic, I’m getting all weepy about it.”
“For me it was watching this secondary Marvel Universe kind of bubble up and not only surviving but thriving,” said Macchio. “At the beginning, ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ was met with derision, and watching people begin to take notice of this title, and then as we added additional titles, watching each of them become part of a foundation of a fully realized Marvel Universe — I loved working on these things because I felt like I was in charge of my own version of the Marvel Universe.”
“What was out of our control,” added Bendis, “was that Mark’s art became the face of Spider-Man for years. You’d go to stores and see ‘Ultimate Spider-Man.’ It’s immensely flattering when you think of our meager beginnings.”
“I think it’s the fact that it changed the paradigm of how fans viewed the Marvel characters,” added Paniccia. “I’m proud of all the creators and careers that were launched out of it. There’s a lot to be proud of.”
A question was asked about when the series takes place in relation to the incursion event. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to say,” added Bendis. “I’ll say concurrently. I’m trying as hard as I can to not accidentally spoil Jonathan’s story. I’m not sure what he wants said, but by the end of it, it will all come together.”
When asked if the series would crossover with other realities, like the main “Secret Wars” event, Bendis said, “That’s a very good question” followed by a humorous amount silence. Bendis did mention that Batman is the one alternate universe character he would like to use. Jokes aside, he added that “this is opening the door to some opportunities that we’re glad to make the most of.”
A question was asked about the Marquez cover which features a presumed dead Ultimate Captain America; Bendis could not reveal if that means the character is back from the dead or not. “I’m so fearful of Hickman,” said Bendis. “I don’t want him to snap. I don’t want him to come at me!”
Ralph Macchio was asked if he had any idea the Ultimate Universe would last as long as it did. “‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ was intended as a mini series,” said Macchio. “There was no sign this was going to continue. As time went on and we began to add titles and I saw it coalesce and solidify, I began to believe we had something that was going to stay around and in some sense be a competitor to the main Marvel Universe. At the beginning, no I didn’t have that vision.”
“One thing I would say, at one point along the way, four of five issues into it, we had not had Peter Parker in the costume,” Macchio continued. “I remember some people coming to me and asking about the sales on the book. My response was, ‘Brian and Mark were telling the story beautifully and we don’t have to have him in costume and go that cliche route,’ and I stood by that and I believe that was the right take. Let them tell the story the right way, we didn’t have to shoehorn in Peter Parker in costume.”
A question was then asked about a recent issue of “All-New X-Men,” specifically focusing on X-23’s question asking if there’s a universe where heroes are allowed to be heroes. Bendis acknowledged that he was hinting towards this event. He wanted to get a crossover in with the Ultimate Universe before “Ultimate End.” Other hints have been dropped, like a crazy guy in a police station in an early issue of “Miles Morales.” “Anything I know that’s coming up in comics, I will have a crazy cross-dressing prostitute person yelling about what’s going to happen next summer,” said Bendis.
A question was asked about the changes made along the way regarding the Ultimate Universe. “We totally changed the tone of the book in issue #13 when Peter came out to Mary Jane,” said Bendis referencing the early changes made to the Ultimate plans. “It’s never about trying to wrap it up, and I’ve never had an end idea. When we had the idea to bring Miles in, it changed everything we were doing with the Ultimate Universe yet was an obvious extension of what the Ultimate Universe is supposed to be. You go with it and make the most of it.”
Mark Bagley then revealed that Kitty Pryde was his favorite non-Spider-Man Ultimate character to draw. “I gave her a distinctive angular face,” said Bagley. “She had distinctive features that made her fun to draw.” Bendis added that Miles’ costume can be a bit hard to draw, revealing that Joe Quesada made the decision to invert the colors thus making it tougher to draw the webbing. Bendis then told a story about Bagley’s decision early on to draw “Ultimate Spider-Man” only from angles he’d never seen before. “It was quite lovely to see in the pencils,” said Bendis.
When asked if they could go for another 111 issues with “Ultimate End,” Bendis joked that it’s his intention to milk this for a while. “I like the long run,” added Bagley. “I think it works towards the betterment of the book. The consistency of it, they knew it wasn’t going to be someone they don’t like. They can pick it up and identify who the characters are because of consistency. It weakens a product when there’s a change every six issues.”
Bendis was asked if he’s sad about writing Miles for the last time, and Bendis caught the loaded nature of the question. The writer did not reveal whether or not this series will be his last work with Miles Morales, adding, “I don’t feel sad about anything in this right now. I feel empowered.”
Bendis was then asked which Ultimate versions he’s most proud of. “Jameson and Ultimate Venom,” answered Bendis. “Turning Jonah into a fully-formed person is something I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of.”
“He was really fun to draw, too,” said Bagley. “I remember the scene when his son died, and he’s standing there in the trench coat… I was having so much fun drawing these characters acting.”
“I looked at this as an opportunity to adapt a hero like you adapt a Shakespeare play,” said Bendis. “None of Spider-Man was broken. Aunt May wasn’t broken. You just evolve them into something more well rounded and use everything that comics does.”
“One of the things I really admire Brian for was that we played around with the clone idea again,” said Macchio. “I thought that was wonderful. Going back to the clone stuff was like poison, but Brian and Mark did it beautifully.” Macchio and Bagley, who were involved with the original ’90s clone saga, admitted that doing it the second time in the Ultimate Universe was a bit of a healing process. One remake that didn’t take hold was a tailless version of the Scorpion that Bendis tried to push through; “It was hard to write, ‘and then he swings his butt!'”
The last question was regarding Ultimate Peter Parker and his recent return. “I knew for a while [that ‘Secret Wars’ was coming] which was very freeing and allowed me to make a bucket list for the whole universe,” said Bendis. “And I wanted to tell the Peter story. I wanted to do the crossover with the X-Men. We’ve been getting them all done. The story we’re telling with Miles Morales will tie into ‘Secret Wars’ and tie up a lot of really big pieces with the Ultimate chronology. You’re going to get legitimate closure with a lot of characters. It’s very rare that you get this opportunity to wrap it up. It’s like television, when you get a final season. That’s how I’ve been writing ‘Miles Morales’… Will you see Peter in ‘Ultimate End’? Yes you will.”
“Ultimate End” #1 goes on sale in May.