As Marvel Comics’ Ultimate line heads toward “Cataclysm” the Ultimates are in dire straits. With the recent reveal of a future Sue Richards as the manipulative Kang and the world’s heroes on a collision course with Reed Richards and his Infinity Gems, writer Joshua Hale Fialkov has everything all set for an incredible conclusion of his first arc on “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” — but the Ultimates have much more coming. “Cataclysm” hits in November and brings Galactus of the Marvel Universe to the Ultimate Earth — and he’s hungry.
In order to glean more information about the circumstances of the Ultimate Universe’s premiere team, CBR News spoke with Fialkov, who discussed his love of the Ultimate Fantastic Four, casting future Sue Storm as Ultimate Kang, taking over “Ultimate Comics X-Men” following the conclusion of Brian Wood’s run, the challenge of crafting an Ultimate event and more.
CBR News: Josh, I definitely want to get into what’s coming down the line for your “Ultimate Comics X-Men” arc, but let’s discuss the big reveal at the end of the most recent “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” issue. You’ve expressed your love for the Ultimate Fantastic Four before, and you’ve managed to bring them close to the forefront in your run on the Ultimates — especially with the big reveal of Sue Storm as Kang! Now that the information is out there, how many hints did you drop during this story that it was actually Sue?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I look at it from a plot standpoint as, “What could make Reed Richards do the things he’s done?” While certainly his core belief being that he’s going to save the universe and save the world is a really big part of that, the truth is there’s one person who he trusts and one person who he’s proven time and time again he’ll do literally anything for, and that person is Sue. More than anybody, including his family. I think there’s that part of it, which is me extrapolating out from what’s come before. I think there’s a bunch of stuff there. Without spoiling [“Ultimate Comics Ultimates”] #30, it’s kind of tough to talk about. I spend a lot of time in #30 explaining every time we’ve seen Kang do stuff how she’s been doing that — how she’s been able to use Sue’s powers to accomplish the things she’s been doing. You’ll get a picture of that as we go.
I looked at the story and there were always two characters it could have been the whole time. It either could have been Sue or Wanda. Wanda’s dead, so it’s not a great solution, but look, she’s got hex powers. There’s the case to be made that she was shot, then she teleported out of harm’s way. But I look at it from a story standpoint and what the story is really about is this entire volume to some degree has been about Sue and Reed. You look from Jonathan [Hickman’s] stuff onward, the thing with The City — all that stuff and Sue constantly getting roped into the story has really just been about that relationship: Sue defining herself as a separate entity from him and Reed not being able to. Everything he does, everything he’s been doing this entire volume has been, to some degree, to prove himself; to prove himself worthy and become the man that future Kang is going to love, which I think is nice.
Keeping on the track of the Ultimate FF, fans of Ultimate Johnny Storm were both excited and saddened by his reappearance in “Ultimate Comics Ultimates.” [Laughs]
Any chance of finding out more of what happened to him after his split from Kitty’s X-Men?
Sure. There’s no hard plan right now, I think what’s there is about as much detail as we’re going to get in the immediate future. When she abandoned him, the tunnels were about to be looted by cops and military and in the process of saving some of these kids and being a hero, he got hurt. There’s always that thing where he spontaneously goes into a coma every once in a while to regenerate. If you want fill in the blanks, I’m perfectly okay with that being the other explanation.
I know you’re such a fan of the Ultimate Fantastic Four, why bring Johnny back with a role that’s essentially an actual human torch, so to speak?
[Laughs] Well, look, just because that’s his appearance now doesn’t mean that’s how he’s going to stay. Spoilers!
I wanted to find a way to bring him back and a lot of what Reed is doing is he’s using the Ultimates against themselves in a very concrete way. Using Johnny as a human blow-torch as a way to get what he wants is such a nice piece of imagery and a great cliffhanger, but beyond that, it shows the desperateness not only of Reed, but ultimately of Kang — that Kang allows this to happen. That’s because we’re standing on the precipice of the end. We’re standing facing a gulf of nothing and they have to do whatever it takes to get them where they need to be.
Introducing an Ultimate version of the Secret Warriors was an awesome surprise, and certainly something that fans might not have expected.
Yeah! I love them, they’re my favorite.
Considering how careful the Ultimate Universe writers are with introducing Ultimate counterparts of 616 characters, how much planning and design went into introducing this new team?
It was a combination. There were a bunch of characters like Falcon, who we haven’t seen in a while. I wanted to put Falcon in there and he served a dual purpose — both as being the brains and also wings of the team. Abigail Brand was something that Sam [Humphries] introduced during his run. Those characters exist. The rest are all characters who each serve a distinct purpose down the road. The Commandos are the first thing in the Ultimate Universe that I did where I thought, “What is my legacy? Who are the characters that I can put my own stamp and my own mark on — change them and do something special with them?” I think as we move in to “Cataclysm” and “Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Ultimates,” they play a much more central role in the miniseries. That worked out nicely.
Can you tease how big a role the characters might play moving into “Cataclysm?”
What I’ve looked at and what I’ve really tried to do is go back and look at the classic story lines and see what loose ends are still hanging for the Ultimate Universe. There’s a bunch of loose threads left hanging, and those loose threads are all going to come back and bite them. The world is a radically changed place and with the changes Reed Richards and his team have put into the world, there’s a big power vacuum. That’s the first thing that Nick and his team have to deal with is there’s a power vacuum happening in Europe where all of a sudden, some of these countries that have had big governments, all those governments were deposed. So, what does that mean? It means there’s no one steering the ship when Galactus shows up. That’s really the fallout. And who steps up to really take over those countries is a pretty cool surprise that longtime Ultimates fans are going to be fans of.
You’re very much the new writer on the block when it comes to the Ultimate Universe, and you were thrown in with a lot of responsibility. You get to set up Cataclysm, steward the Ultimates, but at the same time — and this gets into territory that you likely can’t discuss — it seems, from an outsider’s perspective, that it might be slightly disappointing to come on right before a series called “Cataclysm” that opens up discussion for the Ultimate Universe to cease.
[Laughs] Yes and no. This is literally the biggest story we could possibly tell. It’s an opportunity from that standpoint — at least I’m coming in and so much of the groundwork has been laid that my job is really just to get us from point A to point B. Once we get to point B, everything is so different. What we come out of this story with is so cool, people are going to be so excited. It’s a combination. “Ultimates” for me is — it’s funny because I feel like I’m still telling other people’s stories. The story that I’m telling in “Ultimates” is the story that we need to tell to get through the story that Jonathan started and Sam set up and bridge it into “Cataclysm.” I sort of look at “Hunger” — that to me is my Ultimate Universe. That’s the start of a story that’s very much my own. I think “Cataclysm” is the same thing. What I get to do both in “Ultimates” and “Ultimate Comics X-Men” is really tell these cool, unique stories that are really well-suited to what I do. I’m also a little more confident at it. I went from going my indie comics and writing solo character series at DC and Marvel to writing a book with 400 characters. There was a learning curve there — who knew? [Laughs] By the end of “Hunger,” there are four main characters and I thought, “This is easy! This is simple!”
I’m genuinely excited for what comes next. I think when people see “Cataclysm” and how the stories of “Hunger” and “Ultimates” and “Ultimate X-Men” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” and all that stuff dovetails into itself, I think people are going to be really excited. It’s really, really cool.
Speaking of “Cataclysm,” you’re taking over the Ultimate X-Men for the duration of the event with a miniseries that takes the place of the ongoing. Obviously, “Cataclysm” affects the entirety of the Ultimate Universe, but specifically, what will the role of the Ultimate Universe’s mutants be?
You know, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling what Brian [Wood] is doing. “World War X” is totally awesome. It’s so good and so smart and the pacing is fantastic. Brian has taken this book to a level that I don’t think it’s ever been at. I think he’s done a brilliant job and — by the way — doing it without most of the recognizable X-Men at the same time, which is a pretty amazing feat. He’s really done an amazing job. So, to some extent, there’s a little bit of pressure — there’s a lot of pressure to live up to that.
I look at them and the mutants in the Ultimate Universe are just so different than the 616. When you kill Charles Xavier in the 616, there’s other people who can serve in that role. There’s such a hierarchy built. In the Ultimate Universe, there isn’t. Even the people who could wrongly fill that void like Magneto — dead. Cyclops — dead. There’s not the same level of infrastructure for the mutants. Once everything’s happened in Brian’s story and we see what little infrastructure has been built between the two countries as they turn on each other, you start to see that, “Oh, these poor bastards! These poor people who are stuck in the middle of it!” That takes a toll because you don’t have a compass.
Charles Xavier, for every right and wrong thing he did as a character, was a compass. He told them, “This is what true north is. This is what we’re aiming to be and aiming to mean.” If you take that away, suddenly, all you see is — “Look, I did what I believed in and I just watched thousands of people die. I just saw women and children get murdered.” That does something to you, and it’s something that’s happened to the X-Men since the start of that book. So, for years of story time as they keep trying to stand up for themselves, all they see is the death that it causes. And it’s the personal trauma of losing that many people you know over and over and over.
This is dark.
And then they punch stuff! And then after that, they use their laser powers!
…Nobody has laser powers. It’s sad that nobody has laser powers.
No, but it’s that and I actually looked at both these series — because both “Ultimates” and “Ultimate X-Men” are coming right after these climactic final issues of the two main series. I took both of them to serve as what would normally be an epilogue, because we have this tradition in comics doing the epilogue issue where everyone stands around and is maudlin about what happened and there’s a little bit of schadenfreude. Everyone’s so sad and we’ve lost so much! Except they don’t have time to do that because Galactus shows up. I think that feeling is so much fun. That’s the genesis of “Ultimate X-Men” for me. They have spent so long not having time to cope and all this is, is yet another time when they have the greatest amount of suffering that they’ve ever had and, by the way, the world is going to end. You’ve got to get your shit together as fast as possible.
It’s like a speed epilogue.
[Laughs] Yeah, exactly! One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Bendis and to our editors Mark Paniccia and Emily Shaw about is how we can tell these big stories and have them contain all of the books so that there’s a nice, linear continuity and we understand where things are happening and why things are happening so there’s a feeling of consequence. This event is about consequence. Yes, you can just read any individual series and you will understand that each one is a complete story on its own, but we have this opportunity to do something we don’t generally have in a crossover, which is that it’s not that many books — so you can read 17 comics and you will know everything there is about the Ultimate Universe contained in those 17 books. There’s no story you’re going to miss, there’s no story that’s going to be left out. You’re going to know where all the characters who matter are. That’s something that I think you haven’t seen — you’ve seen it in the Ultimate Universe one other time and that’s “Ultimatum.” With this, because Brian [Michael Bendis] and I are both theoretically sticking around for the long haul, this is a story that’s been planted and seeded and grown. The aftereffects of it are things that we’re going to be around to keep pushing through.
I’m glad you mentioned “Ultimatum.” Even though it wasn’t the most beloved book, it definitely took the Ultimate Universe in an interesting storytelling direction. Does “Cataclysm” have a similar storytelling effect, or will it change even more about the Ultimate line?
The thing about “Ultimatum” is that whether you liked it or hated it or whatever, that book is a book people talked about. That book changed things and that book brought the focus back onto the Ultimate Universe. That’s something that Brian and I have talked about at length. That’s something that’s our goal: how do we tell a story that both showcases everything that’s wonderful about this universe but at the same time serve as a nice entry point that brings you into it, that takes you along the journey so that when we come out the other end — and when you see what comes out, you’ll understand — we want to make sure people have been along for that ride and that they’re rewarded for their time and their investment in the 12 years of the Ultimate Universe.
For “Cataclysm,” it’s basically just you and Brian Bendis as stewards of the entire Ultimate Universe, which goes back to the Ultimate line’s roots when it was just Bendis and Mark Millar. That said, you’re still relatively new on the Ultimate block. What challenge did you have in coming up with new concepts for the Ultimate U as “Cataclysm” rolls around?
The Ultimate Universe is two things simultaneously and you spend a lot of time as a writer fighting for and against those things, because they’re sort of counter to each other. On the one hand, it’s the best version of the Marvel Universe. It’s the most streamlined, you can get rid of any of the stuff that doesn’t make sense or the clunky stuff from the ’90s. Whatever you don’t want isn’t there, so you get to tell the most iconic version of these stories. But at the same time, we have a responsibility that has been put in place by the work that Brian and Mark have done early on and everyone who’s come after — we have a responsibility to these characters and this universe to also tell stories that are radically different, that are like nothing you’ve seen before. That’s the challenge. It’s a challenge because it’s two ideas that are actually sort of opposed to each other.
One of the things that Brian has done and the thing that I look to when I’m sitting down to write is I think a lot about Miles Morales. Miles Morales is something wholly new, completely new and original that could not be more iconic Spider-Man. Our goal as we’ve talked about these books and talked about these stories and talked about this event is how do we bring that? If you could bottle that, comics would be in a much better place as an industry. The hope is to bring that into the other books as well, taking those big risks that drastically change things while still maintaining everything that people love about these characters.
“Ultimate Comics Ultimates” #30 by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Carmine Di Giandomenico goes on sale September 11.