During the currently unfolding “Secret Wars” event, the Marvel Comics Universe has been refashioned into Battleworld, a patchwork planet made of various realities and a small moon, but this fall it will once again be a massive, sprawling network of galaxies, planets and dimensions. Of course, that also means Earth will again be the target of all manner of hostile aliens and entities looking to conquer, destroy or devour it and its inhabitants. Luckily, the planet will not be defenseless. A band of Earth’s mightiest heroes will be standing guard as “All-New, All-Different Marvel” arrives to combat these particular threats — but don’t call them the Avengers!
While Blue Marvel, Spectrum, Captain Marvel, the Black Panther and Ms. America Chavez have all been members of the Avengers in the past, this fall they’ll band together under a team moniker best known to fans of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe when writer Al Ewing and artist Kenneth Rocafort kick off the all-new “Ultimates” series that finds them operating in the only Marvel U that remains after “Secret Wars.” CBR News spoke with Ewing about his cast of characters, their mandate, their headquarters, and the threats looming in their immediate future.
CBR News: The teaser image for “Ultimates” suggests you’re going to be telling some stories with a grand scope and scale. The feel I get is a team tasked with handling the types of cosmic situations we’ve seen in “Avengers” and “Fantastic Four” stories. Is that a fair comparison?
Al Ewing: Pretty fair. It’s its own thing, and it’s going to be doing its own thing, but there’s a little bit of DNA from the kind of “super-explorer” book in there. We’re going to be doing that thing of exploring strange new worlds and other dimensions, and Kenneth’s absolutely phenomenal when it comes to delineating these otherworldly places — he’s doing stuff I don’t think anyone else is doing, at least in the field of cape comics. He’s been a real inspiration so far in terms of how out there we’ll be getting.
Let’s talk a little bit about the makeup of your team starting with Adam Brashear the Blue Marvel and Monica Rambeau, AKA Spectrum, who were both cast members of your “Mighty Avengers” books. How does it feel to continue writing these characters’ adventures in “Ultimates?” And what’s it like for them to go from a community accessible team like Luke Cage’s Mighty Avengers to a group charged with tackling cosmic level threats?
Obviously, it’s nice to keep writing these characters — I feel like Monica’s story was in the middle, not at the end, so it’ll be nice to keep on there. And I like writing Adam and his family a lot.
I kind of feel like having powerhouses like Adam and Monica on the Mighty Avengers helped us push things further — we kept going to these very strange, cosmic places. A lot of the cosmic stuff we’re doing in “Ultimates” will have seeds in the “Mighty Avengers” run, although you don’t need to have read that to understand this. A lot of the time, because we had these less powerful characters in the mix as well, we couldn’t fully cut loose on the scale and scope that maybe Adam and Monica deserved — although we did sometimes, especially towards the end. I feel like this book is going to be more about cosmic-powered heroes dealing with threats that are on their level. But hopefully they’ll still have that connection to ordinary humanity.
Your cast also includes two Avengers who you haven’t written as much — Black Panther and Captain Marvel. Which aspects of their personalities are you especially interested in exploring? What are their initial roles when “Ultimates” begins and what kind of dynamic do they have between them?
I’m interested in both of them — I was a big fan of Christopher Priest’s run on “Black Panther,” so I’m interested in that always-preparedness, that high level of political power and the way he’s always several steps ahead, playing these intense, geopolitical chess matches with a hundred moving parts. And — like an awful lot of people — I really enjoyed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on “Captain Marvel,” both the Earth-bound stuff and the recent space adventures. It was great seeing Carol as this ambassador from Earth to the final frontier, to these amazing alien worlds — going to the stars and bringing a little piece of that magic back for all of us. So that’s something I’m interested in continuing.
Where they are when we start — the new Wakandan embassy in NYC is one of the three “wings” of the Triskelion, the Ultimates’ HQ. Carol’s new organization is another of those wings, and Ultimates HQ is the third. So everything’s bound up together — T’Challa and Carol are both there representing these big pieces of the puzzle. Without Wakanda’s involvement and the connection to Carol’s organization, the Ultimates would be much less than it is. Likewise, T’Challa and Carol could do what they need to alone, but they respect each other and the team and they understand that there’s a value in working together on big stuff like this.
Miss America Chavez is in an interesting role on the team because it seems like her teammates may overlook some of her input because of her age, but she’s actually a pretty seasoned interdimensional warrior in her own right. What’s her role on the team and how do her teammates view her?
Well, if the team underestimates her, that’s their problem. And it will be a problem, because America’s been doing this, operating at this scale, for an extremely long time. While the other team members will acknowledge her experience of interdimensional stuff, and her unique position in the omniverse, there’s still the question of whether they actually get what she’s about. Black Panther might come closest — again, I’m harking back to the Priest years, but when he joined the Avengers, it was partly to check up on them. And America joining the Ultimates is partly to check up on them — to make sure that these newbies know what they’re doing, that they’re not going to wander into her turf and make a mess of it. Because if it looks like they’re going to do that, she’s going to have to shut them down. And the scary thing is — she absolutely can. We’ll see if she has to.
Like the other books in the “All-New, All-Different” line, “Ultimates” begins with an eight-month time jump. What’s the status and dynamic of your team when the series begins? Will they already have a few missions under their belt or will we see the team come together in this initial story?
Basically, the team is formed, the infrastructure is in place, they’ve warmed up a little — there’s a situation in the “Avengers” #0 issue that they take on — and they’re ready to go in and start on the big stuff. So we won’t be seeing them come together — I imagine I’ll deal with that in exposition and maybe a little flashback, but if I do my job right it should be fairly self-explanatory in issue #1 what the deal is — but we are seeing the first serious mission. The first time they do the thing they formed to do — look at a big, cosmic-level, potentially Earth-destroying problem, and decide how to fix it.
The “Ultimates” will be handling a multitude of cosmic level threats, but when your series begins how does the rest of the cosmos view them and Earth? Do the various intergalactic empires still see the planet as a chaotic and potentially terrifying place?
I don’t think Earth is very popular. Earth is kind of a wild card — there’s this weird double standard the alien races have for Earth, which seems to be caused by a clash of pop culture tropes and metaphors. So on the one hand, Earth is seen as a bit backward and unevolved, but on the other hand, they’re really dangerous and sooner or later someone should get around to blowing Earth up before these humans do something too crazy. What the Ultimates might end up doing is getting aliens to see Earth in a different light — like, “Well, they’re advanced enough to do that, that thing they did in issue #2, holy crap, maybe we’d better take them a bit more seriously.” And that could be good, or it could be bad. I don’t know yet.
I’m doing some space stuff in “New Avengers” as well, and some cosmic stuff in “Contest of Champions.” I’m sure there’s other space stuff happening — as long as the Guardians of the Galaxy are running around, there’s going to be space stuff. And I can only imagine that all this space stuff will pinball off other people’s space stuff, and at some point the e-mails will start flying and it’ll all build to a nice juicy critical mass. In space! What happens then — your guess is as good as mine.
We know the initial threat your team will be up against is the planet devouring Galactus. What’s your take of the World Devourer? How do you want to present him in the story? And will he be assaulting Earth on his own? Or will he be accompanied by a Herald?
I figure if we want to play the big cosmic game we need to go deep into the unknowable, right into the liminal spaces. I want to get into that headspace where — remember that first Galactus story, when Johnny Storm came back from some outer zone of totality and he’s screaming about how we’re ants, we’re all ants, just ants? Ants! ANTS!
I kind of want to get something like that going. I’ve been having ideas.
You already talked a little bit about the work being done on “Ultimates” by your artistic collaborator, Kenneth Rocafort, but let’s chat a bit more. Kenneth has primarily done work for Top Cow and DC, but his work on Superman and team books like “Cyberforce” and “Teen Titans” suggests he’d be a great fit for a series that focuses on multiple characters and tackles large scale threats.
This is actually my first real exposure to Kenneth’s work, and I’m excited. I’ve been asking for cosmic, asking for the interesting stuff, the out-of-the-ordinary stuff, and he’s been delivering above and beyond. You can tell I like an artist when I make them draw things that can’t actually be drawn. Henry Flint had to draw a planet achieving sentience once.
We’re getting beautifully designed spaceships, fantastic other-dimensional fauna, and — most importantly — those little human moments in the middle of it all. Without those, it all falls flat, and Kenneth’s been great at them so far.
Finally, we’ve talked about the Ultimates’ looming battle with Galactus, but can you leave us with some hints and teases about some of the other stories you have lined up? What sort of antagonists are waiting in the wings for your cast?
I’ve got plans. I don’t know how many of them I want to mention here — I don’t want to jinx them. Smaller scale — there’s a particular old-school monster I’d like to play with, and I want to do something with the Dreaming Celestial if I get the chance. And we’re going Outside. We’ve had things come in from Outside, but I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone go Outside themselves, and I figure that’s the next natural step in that plot line. And there might be things out there that are too big for even the Ultimates to handle. I feel like the deep end is a good place for this team to be.
I’ll finish up by exhorting everyone to rush to their local comic store and place an order for “Ultimates!” Today! I’m not saying this one’s going to explode into your consciousness with the dazzling, dizzying power of a charging horse with supernovas for eyes, but I kind of am saying that!
“Ultimates” debuts this fall from Marvel Comics.