This year, Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe became an incredibly dangerous place with the advent of the “Ultimatum” storyline. The story saw Magneto using his mutant powers to unleash catastrophic climate effects across the world. New York City was hit by a massive tidal wave, scores of characters drowned and several of the survivors of the initial meteorological onslaught later perished at the hands of Magento and his forces.
Now that “Ultimatum” is over and the waters that deluged New York have receded, the Ultimate Universe is still a perilous place. Every month in “Ultimate Spider-Man,” a teenage Peter Parker must contend with some of the Ultimate U’s vilest villains, and this January, Spider-Man and several other Ultimate heroes will face a mysterious and powerful threat when the “Ultimate Comics Enemy” mini-series begins. CBR News spoke with writer Brian Michael Bendis about both books.
The current story arc of “Ultimate Spider-Man” finds the Wallcrawler contending with the menace of the Ultimate incarnation of Mysterio. In issue #4 of the series, things got personal as the vicious and mysterious villain baited and successfully trapped Spider-Man. “Ultimate Mysterio is much more proactive and much more focused than his Marvel Universe counterpart. Spider-Man hasn’t had a character who’s been laser beam focused on getting rid of him for awhile,” Bendis told CBR News. “Also, there’s so much we don’t know about Ultimate Mysterio, which adds to the level of danger that Peter is now in.”
Mysterio isn’t the only enigmatic character in the current arc of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Issue #1 saw the debut of Ultimate Shroud, an angry vigilante whose civilian persona is still a mystery. “We are going to reveal the Shroud’s identity in issue #6,” Bendis remarked. “And what’s going on with the Shroud is a reaction. The events of ‘Ultimatum’ lead to a number of reactions, most of them sad. There would also be a lot of anger and punk rock style rage, too, and that’s what is motivating the Shroud.”
“Ultimate Spider-Man” #5, in stores this week, is the penultimate chapter of the newly relaunched series’s first arc. “Ultimately this story is a lot about family, not just the one you’re born with, but all the earned family moments that are happening in Peter’s life,” Bendis explained. “It’s the next part of his lessons on how to be a hero and young man in a very complicated world.”
One such moment came when Peter’s Aunt May opened her home to Peter’s friend Johnny Storm, AKA the Human Torch. The events of “Ultimatum” had left Johnny without a place to stay, and May said he could move in with her, Peter, and Gwen Stacy. Bendis felt that having Johnny come live with Peter made sense, given the events of “Ultimatum.” “Truthfully, Johnny was already there, and I know people whose family dynamic is more built than born,” the writer said. “There was something about Johnny needing a home, going to friend’s and having his friend and his friend’s mother take him in. I’ve seen that happen, and here it just so happens that they’re fun, cool, superheroes.”
The Human Torch may be living with Peter Parker and his family and the two will certainly have some adventures together, but Spider-Man and the Human Torch aren’t crime fighting partners. “Johnny isn’t going to be looking over Peter’s shoulders every day. It’s not going to be a team-up book all the time,” Bendis stated. “Sometimes they’ll work together and sometimes they wont.”
In February’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” #7, Peter’s close knit circle of “Amazing Friends” becomes even bigger as Bobby Drake, AKA Iceman, another teen hero left homeless by “Ultimatum,” becomes a regular part of the series’ supporting cast. “So many of these characters were traumatized by ‘Ultimatum,’ and there’s something very interesting about Iceman’s current situation, being part of Spider-Man’s life instead of the X-Men’s. You haven’t seen that before. What’s going to happen with Peter, Johnny, and Bobby may feel like the old ‘Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends’ series [The ’80s cartoon series which featured the adventures of Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar], but this dynamic and grouping is very different,” Bendis remarked. “‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ is very much Peter’s book, but with these characters joining the supporting cast, you’ll see stories you haven’t seen before simply because these guys are around. To me, that’s exciting.”
The non-superpowered supporting cast of “Ultimate Spider-Man” will also getting their time in the spotlight. When the title relaunched, several months of story time had passed and it was revealed that in those months Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson had broken up and Peter was now dating Gwen Stacy. “The three of them had been through a lot with ‘Ultimatum,’ and I looked at it as a chance to rock their worlds,” Bendis explained. “You don’t always walk out of a life-changing event with the friends you have. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to open up the book and have readers go, ‘Gwen is his girlfriend? How did that happen.’ We’ll see how that figures in to things in the months ahead.”
Upcoming issues will find Peter Parker and his friends trying to help another super powered teen figure out his place in the world, as they are introduced to the Ultimate Universe incarnation of Rick Jones. “Issues 7-8 involve Rick Jones, who we last saw in ‘Ultimate Origins.’ He was the person the Watchers gave powers to. They saw ‘Ultimatum’ coming and couldn’t stop it, but they could empower someone to protect and lead in the future,” Bendis said. “So that will continue, and this story is also the debut of a brand new superhero and or villain.”
Issues #7-8 will feature the work of guest artist Takeshi Miyazawa. “I’m really thrilled to have him drawing these issues. It gives our regular artist, David Lafuente, a head start on a much longer arc that follows this one. We want to make sure David is able to completely finish that story. I know people aren’t used to seeing someone help with the art on ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ since we had long runs from both Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen, but David is doing something else with his artwork, and he just needed a bit of a head start to make sure that he can get through the whole next arc,” Bendis explained. “So, better that we have a two issue arc written especially for Takeshi than have David not able to handle the schedule right in the middle of the next arc. So this worked out great. I don’t write a story until I know who the artist is, That’s a big deal for me. Also, these stories fall right into each other. Issues #7-8 aren’t just a two issue ‘off to the side’ tale. It’s an important Spider-Man story.”
The first volume of “Ultimate Spider-Man” ran for 133 issues and had a strong fanbase, and five issues into the second volume of the series, it appears that that fanbase has stuck around…and possibly grown a little bit, which makes Bendis happy and grateful.
“I’m thrilled at the reaction, not only to the storyline but to David Lafuente, who is a very different artist [from the previous “Ultimate Spider-Man” artists]. He’s a Spanish manga artist, and that’s not something you see every day. I know it’s an acquired taste for some, but I’ve seen him win people over left and right as more issues come out. I really want to voice my appreciation for those who are open to a different style and interpretation. And for those who are worried about Peter’s hair, it will be dealt with in an upcoming issue,” Bendis stated. “David is trying all sorts of stuff, and that makes it really exciting to write for him because I’m trying to imagine what he’ll do. He always come back with something different, though. So it’s very cool. I’ll look at David’s pages, and some of them I wrote so long ago that I go, ‘What? Did I write that?’ And I did, but the interpretation is so unique it’s just thrilling.”
Another thing that will be both thrilling and confusing is the upcoming year for the cast of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” “Something comes up in the next arc that’s so damaging to Peter’s life, and is so unique, that I’m looking forward to people’s reaction to it,” Bendis revealed. “It will seem deceptively light-hearted for a while, then all of a sudden you’re going to go, ‘Oh my God! That’s horrible!'”
The new year also kicks off Bendis’s other Ultimate Comics project, the four issue mini-series “Ultimate Comics Enemy.” “[This mini-series] is a story I’ve been sitting on for a couple of years. It’s something I’ve really wanted to do, and when Jeph Loeb told me he was going to drown the Ultimate Universe, I was excited because that set up the world so that I could do ‘Ultimate Enemy,'” Bendis explained. “What we’re debuting in this series is a brand-new villain. It’s a mystery as to exactly what’s coming.”
While the identity of the new series’ titular villain will be shrouded in mystery, it’s already known tha tthe cast of characters includes Sue Storm and Ben Grimm of the Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, Ultimate Nick Fury, and several others. They will all be on the hunt to discover their foe’s true identity and stop him or her from causing any more damage to the fragile post-“Ultimatum” framework of the Ultimate Universe.
“There are attacks happening. People are being assassinated, and that motivates the cast to figure out who is behind what’s happening,” Bendis said. “A couple targets are hit in these attacks. So, just when you thought the Ultimate Universe had no one left to kill, some people get yanked off the board.”
“Ultimate Comics Enemy” will also be a very character-based series. Bendis plans on playing with the status quos and dynamics of several of his cast members. “I think people will enjoy Sue Storm’s new post-‘Ultimatum’ status quo and how much face time Spider-Woman gets,” the writer said. “You also get Nick Fury being reintroduced to Peter Parker and the gang. You’ve got to remember that no one knows he’s around. He’s been a Black Ops soldier for the past several months, and he reappears in Peter’s life here. Fury had almost become a father figure to Peter, and then their relationship kind of fell apart. So it will be interesting to see the two of them interacting.”
The events of “Ultimate Comics Enemy” unfold on a global stage and involve plot threads that Bendis introduced back in “Ultimate Spider-Man” and his 2008 “Ultimate Origins” mini-series. “The story involves things like what was going on with ‘The Clone Saga’ storyline in ‘Ultimate Spider-Man,’ and Roxxon Industries. There is a lot of large scale industrial and superhero style espionage,” the writer revealed. “Everyone is racing to make things like the next Captain America or the Venom suit. So this series picks up on a lot of those established threads. You don’t have to know about any of that stuff, but if you’ve been following it, there will be a nice payoff.”
The tone of “Ultimate Comics Enemy” is one part conspiracy thriller and one part superhero action. “There are periods of the book that very much have a paranoid conspiracy-style feel,” Bendis said. “And then there are parts with these gigantic set pieces which we enjoyed putting together.”
“Ultimate Comics Enemy” may be a four issue mini-series, but it’s also the first chapter of a larger story that will unfold throughout 2010. “‘Ultimate Comics Enemy’ is the first in a trilogy of mini-series. The second series is ‘Ultimate Comics Mystery,’ and the third is ‘Ultimate Comics Doom’. All of them are very connected. I think it will be a grand, epic and cool story,” Bendis explained. “We’re also using these series as a platform for several ‘Young Gun’ artists who deserve their days in the sun. The first one is Rafa Sandoval.
“Much like David Lafuente, Rafa is bringing a new look to these pages. His work on ‘Avengers: The Initiative’ and other series is very unique and expressive, especially in the acting,” Bendis continued. “I’m just trying to write scripts that let him go balls-out crazy. The first handful of pages came in recently, and we we’re like, ‘Home run!’ He did a great job.”
“Ultimatum” literally washed away many of the old trappings of the Ultimate Universe, and with “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Ultimate Comics Enemy,” Bendis wants to make the most of that opportunity by telling stories that are both entertaining and distinctive. “When ‘Ultimatum’ happened, me, Mark Millar and Jeph Loeb started to talk about the stories we can tell, now; stories that are unique and unlike the ones you see in the regular Marvel Universe,” Bendis said. “The Ultimate Universe has turned into something completely new, and it allows us to spin tales that are completely unique. There are so many superhero comics out there that it’s hard to do something that you think hasn’t been seen before. You can always do a better version of something that’s come before, or have a different angle. That’s definitely worth attempting, but when you come up with a unique little yarn, you get all excited.”