Stories utilizing Marvel Comics’ shared universe have entertained readers for years because they offer a chance to experience fantastic and strange events through the eyes of a diverse cast of characters. The three books in Marvel Comics’ “Ultimate Comics” line of titles offer that same experience but with an added twist — the events in the Ultimate Universe can be life altering and in some cases life ending.
The star of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” by writer Brian Michael Bendis is still a teenager granted super powers from a spider bite who is trying to be responsible with the powers he’s been given. Only now his name is Miles Morales and the person who taught him that lesson about power and responsibility was Peter Parker, who perished protecting his friends and family from an attack by his greatest foes. When writer Brian Wood takes over “Ultimate Comics X-Men” this summer the book will still be about super powered mutants trying to exist in a world that hates and fears them, but these mutants are on the run from and fighting back against forces actively trying to imprison and wipe them out. When writer Sam Humphries takes over “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” in May, which features the Ultimate U’s version of the Avengers, he’ll be writing about a group of characters trying to understand and protect a world that’s been drastically changed by the rise of two nations of super powered people.
Change is a constant force in the Ultimate Universe and this July it will rear its ugly head again when “Divided We Fall,” a storyline running through all three titles in the Ultimate Comics line begins. CBR spoke exclusively with Wood and Humphries about the story, which was announced by Marvel today at their Ultimate Comics Universe panel at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo.
CBR News: Sam and Brian, both of you come from an independent comic background. What is it like working on an event storyline like “Divided We Fall?” What do you find most interesting about telling a story like this?
Brian Wood: In my deepest days as an indie/small press comic creator, my assumption was that these sorts of event-oriented comics were, by default, Not A Good Thing. Now, on the other side of that, I can appreciate the amount of work and the care and attention to detail, and I can see how a story can be built up in a collaborative way. It really helps to have Sam to bounce ideas around with, and Brian Bendis obviously. And this is a small “event,” if 2-3 books can even be called that, that it’s easy to keep a handle on it all. So, yeah, it’s been good. When you don’t work in a vacuum like you often are in small press comics, it forces you to up your game.
Sam Humphries: What’s been most interesting to me, as the rookie around here, is that “Divided We Fall” was completely organic. There was no dictate from “on high” to cook up an event. It grew out of discussions we all had together where we looked back at where previous runs were taking the characters and then we talked about what we wanted to do with the books this summer.
Those ideas collided with each other, became bigger and better, and suddenly we had an event on our hands. It happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that for the first couple conversations we were afraid to say it out loud. We called it “the e word.” And the experience itself has been great. It gives me an excuse to call up Wood and Bendis whenever I want and pick their brains. They’ve mostly been cool about it, except for when I called from the Denny’s bathroom at 5 am, sobbing. That only happened a couple of times.
[Laughs] Poor guy. How interconnected is the story that runs through the three titles in “Divided We Fall?” Is this a case of one issue leading into another or something else?
Wood: It’s more a case of books running parallel to each other, telling different aspects of a single narrative. Right now, we’re grappling with this one problem — events in X-Men are getting so hot, so urgent that logically there is no way that Captain America and Fury and the rest of the Ultimates would not interfere, seeing as they are all operating near each other. They would be absolutely compelled to. So we’re looking at ways to address that without those heavyweight characters taking over Kitty and the X-Men, and stepping on my story.
Humphries: The three books already have three very different perspectives on the Ultimate Universe, and we’re going to utilize those perspectives to tell some dynamic and dynamite stories. At the same time, the characters from each book will intersect with each other — in ways you wouldn’t expect from an event.
Will you each get a chance to play with each other’s characters during “Divided We Fall,” or will the main characters all be staying in their respective books?
Wood: It looks like in “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #15, I’ll be bringing in one of the Ultimates characters. I’m sure it won’t be the last time.
Humphries: The Ultimate Universe is a messy, chaotic place. What fun would it be if each character always stayed exactly where you expected them to?
What can you tell us about the events that set “Divided We Fall” in motion? Will we see it in all three books and your individual characters’ reactions to it?
Humphries: It’s difficult to say without spoilers — but it all grows out of the seeds of the past year or so of Ultimate books. Global instability, anti-mutant hysteria, new players on the world stage eclipsing America — then at the end of “Ultimates” #9 — well, everything gets pushed off a cliff. There’s no going back from that.
Both of you write team books with rather large casts. Who are some of the characters you’ll be focusing on during “Divided We Fall?” What makes their perspectives on this story particularly interesting and relevant to you?
Wood: I am going much tighter with the cast of X-Men, which in its first year was quite sprawling and all-encompassing. I’m making Kitty Pryde the clear leader of the group, and sticking with her core team of Rogue, Bobby, Jimmy Hudson, and Johnny Storm. In #13, Kitty has a personal revelation that’s going to prompt her to radically re-orient her mission and priorities, and in following, the direction of the book. They’ll all become very proactive and aggressive, no more hiding in tunnels, and we take it from there. I think one of the taglines or solicitation bullets says that Kitty is out to “save America,” which can sound kind of bland until you question it a bit. Save America from who? Who is she saving it for? And how, exactly? What will this America look like when she’s done?
Humphries: The big, character-based news for the “Ultimates” is that Captain America is back from retirement. He’s been gone for a long time, playing Boy Scout in the desert. When he pokes his head up again, America is — well, the place done changed, and not for the better. Cap is going to have to come to terms with what happened when he wasn’t paying attention. How that affects him and how that challenges him to be a better Sentinel of Liberty is going to be a huge part of what happens in “Divided We Fall.”
In terms of plot and themes what are your “Divided We Fall” stories about? How long are the individual stories you’re telling?
Wood: I’m telling shorter stories. My #13 is a one-shot, a re-introduction to Kitty and the series and setting things up. #14-15 are my issues dealing with “Divided We Fall,” and from that point onwards we’re looking at arcs of 3 issues or so. I have the book planned out for about a year.
Humphries: We’ve got the “Ultimates” mapped out for a long, long time. How long “Divided We Fall” lasts is a secret I’m not telling.
How big is the scope and scale of “Divided We Fall?” What are some of the important locales where the action unfolds? What kind of forces are your protagonists up against?
Wood: In “Ultimate Comics X-Men,” we’ll see the team in the Southwest states of America, dealing with the Stryker regime and the Sentinel forces; also the militia that have allied with Stryker and are sympatico with his goals. The big set-piece action and world-building is going to happen in the Ultimates, and the smaller, more personal reflection of all that is what the X-Men is for.
Beyond that, we’ll revisit Karen Grant and the SEAR later on in the year.
Humphries: In “Ultimate Comics Ultimates,” it’s BIG, as big as America itself. We’re not going to see Thor and Tony hop on motorcycles and ride the freeways searching for truth and freedom like in “Easy Rider.” But we are going to see quite a bit of the United States. “Ultimates” is a big picture book with a big scope, and we’re not going to shy away from that.
During chaotic events like this heroes and villains tend to rise and fall. I imagine you can’t comment on whether or not death will be a part of this story line, but will we see some characters make their Ultimate Universe debuts during “Divided We Fall?” If so, can you offer up any hints as to the identities of these characters?
Wood: I can’t guarantee anything, but its a goal of mine — in both X-Men books I’m writing — to use as many of those old “Generation X” characters as I can. I found out I missed writing them.
Humphries: The cast of “Ultimates” is going to zig and zag during “Divided We Fall.” It’s a team book and you’ll see the shape of that “team” shift along with everything else. Whether that includes new Ultimate characters, I cannot say at this time. Okay, okay! We’re introducing Ultimate Forbush Man.
Hu-Ray! Oh wait, I think you might be kidding. In that case let’s wrap things up. What’s the size of the fallout from “Divided We Fall?” How big of an effect will it have on the status quo of your books and the Ultimate Universe? Is it comparable to the last line wide Ultimate Universe story line “Ultimatum?”
Humphries: “Ultimatum” was a great, glorious disaster epic. “Divided We Fall” is going to be a very different kind of story, but will it still gloriously upend the status quo of the Ultimate Universe? Yes.
“Divided We Fall” strikes Marvel’s Ultimate Universe in July.