Facing down a gigantic cosmic entity that’s come to consume your planet is a harrowing experience, even for the most seasoned of the defenders of Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe. So the fact that rookie adolescent hero Miles Morales — Peter Parker’s successor as Spider-Man — is standing tall and using his super abilities to protect the people of New York and Earth speaks highly of his character, proving once and for all that the heroic legacy Peter established is in good hands.
While the current Ultimate Universe event story line, “Cataclysm,” is a major turning point in Miles’ super heroic career, come April, Miles will be one of a multitude of characters looking back at the life of his predecessor in “Ultimate Spider-Man” #200, by writer and series creator Brian Michael Bendis and artist David Marquez. Then, the time for reflection will be over as Bendis and Marquez kick off a new era for Miles’ with the launch of the Ultimate Marvel NOW! series “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man,” which begins in May. We spoke with Marquez, whose Archaia graphic novel “The Joyners in 3D” was released this week, about his work on the landmark character.
CBR News: David, you didn’t come on board the recently completed volume of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” until issue #9, but since then, you’ve drawn a number of issues and major events in Miles Morales’ life. How does it feel to be part of the relaunch of the character’s adventures in a new series? What does Miles mean to you?
David Marquez: I’ve really grown to have a shared sense of ownership with the character and the book. Obviously, it was Brian [Bendis] and Sara [Pichelli’s] book before me with Miles. Even before that, it clearly goes back with artists Stuart Immonen, Mark Bagley and David Lafuente. There’s a long list of artists that I’ve been inspired by and I’ve felt the need to elevate my game to compete with.
At this point though, having drawn about half of “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” Miles is as much mine as he is anybody else’s. I’m not saying mine exclusively and proprietarily, but I’m invested in the character, especially the older version of the character that arose when we did the one year later jump in the “Spider-Man No More” story line.
Moving into this new version of the title post-“Cataclysm” gives me a chance to, not start from scratch, but to build from a tabula rasa to some degree. The Universe is somewhat doing that, and it’s nice to be able to do that where I’m not quite riding so specifically on the shoulders of others. I’m getting to create my own play space in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Before you start “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man,” you’ll be part of a pretty big milestone with the 200th issue of “Ultimate Spider-Man.” How does it feel to celebrate that with the writer who launched the franchise?
It’s crazy. This is a book that I read in college. I started reading “Ultimate Spider-Man” with issue #1 back in 2000. So now getting to work with Brian on the 200th anniversary issue is more than a dream come true. There’s so much meaning to it. It’s getting to commemorate a book that meant a whole lot to me as a reader, and even more to me as a creator; being the regular artist on a book with such longevity as this.
Then, getting to do a split cover with the book’s original artist Mark Bagley was incredible. Getting to know Mark and Brian has been awesome, because on one hand, you kind of never want to meet your heroes because you’re afraid they might be dicks, or you’ll lose something, but Mark and Brian are great people and getting to collaborate with them on their baby has meant a whole lot.
You and Brian have worked together quite a bit, now. What do you enjoy most about working with Brian and the scripts he provides you with?
I think it’s two main things. He and I have a lot of similar sensibilities when it comes to storytelling. We enjoy emotional, character-driven stories. When I’m drawing, I really get into making my characters emotive. Brian’s dialogue and his stories help me elevate that to a higher level. In addition to the emotion there’s some great action. You got to have balance with stories playing off quiet intimate scenes and then big dramatic explosions destroying all the New Jersey coastline.
He also pushes me to draw stuff that I normally wouldn’t tend to do on my own. He’s a writer that writes to his artist and not just their comfort zones. He pushes me and challenges me to do things differently than I have before, or to draw things that I might not want to draw, which is important for the growth of any artist. He’s a great collaborator.
By the time his adventures begin in “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man,” the title character will have gone through a whole lot, both in the current “Cataclysm” event and “Ultimate Spider-Man.” What can you tell us about Miles’ mindset at the beginning of issue #1? How does that carry over to the way the character moves and carries himself?
Miles has been forced to grow up well ahead of his time, which was true for Peter Parker before him, but Miles started as Spider-Man two or three years younger than Peter did. In a — roughly speaking — year and a half to two years of story time, he’s become a super hero. He lost his uncle and assumed that he was responsible. Then his mother died, and he felt responsible for that. And now, his father has abandoned him.
â€¨This is a guy who has no foundation and no center other than the friends he’s made. Ganke has always been there by his side, but now he’s part of an entire team in the form of the “All-New Ultimates.” He’s developing a new adventuring family; he’s having to find a new way of making his way in the world without his parents and his old life.
â€¨As to how he moves and carries himself, he is maturing and he’s getting a handle on being Spider-Man and being a super hero. There’s a lot a more confidence and capability now, whereas when he was web-swinging before, he’d be lucky if he landed on his feet. He knows what he’s doing now, but still has a great deal to learn.
You’re not just drawing Miles, you’re also drawing the world he inhabits. In “Cataclysm” that world was turned upside down by Galactus invading Earth and destroying New Jersey. Has a sense of normalcy returned with the new series? Or is the world and the New York area still recovering from Galactus’ attack?
I have to be careful about the way I answer this question, because “Cataclysm” is still playing out. I can say, though, that the events of “Cataclysm” will have a lasting impact on the Ultimate Universe and the characters specifically. I can’t talk about how much the destruction stays or anything like that without spoiling things.
Fair enough. But while we’re on the topic of environments, as an artist, what’s your approach to and feelings on backgrounds? Are they something you enjoy illustrating? And are there some environments that fire your imagination more than others?
It’s a case by case basis and kind of a love/hate thing. I’m very outspoken about my use of 3D modeling in my art. I work almost all digitally on my interiors, and more traditionally for covers. The reason why is, I have a very tight, technical and “literal” style. When I’m drawing a background and an environment, I will noodle with the details until the cows come home. When trying to carry on a monthly title that’s just not a feasible proposition.
With 3D modeling, I’m actually able to spend a great amount of time building these elaborate models for the environment. Plus, I’ll hopefully get to reuse them if I’m using the same environments from issue to issue. That allows me to speed up and really focus on what I love drawing, which is the characters.
â€¨That said, I can’t always rely on 3D modeling for the background, especially when you look at three issues of “Cataclysm.” There’s a whole lot of rubble and destruction going on, and that’s not something that 3D modeling kind of lends itself to. In those cases, I have a lot of fun going in and drawing things like the broken sides of buildings and flipped cars. I kind of draw on Bryan Hitch’s work as inspiration for that. I established a lot of my artistic tastes in the early 2000s with guys like him and J.G. Jones, but Bryan in particular draws amazing destruction. It’s really kind of fun to lean on that influence when I choose to draw these backgrounds by hand.
Do your initial stories for “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” afford you the chance to do any design work for Miles’ supporting cast?
In the first run on “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” that I did, which was issues #9-18 — I think there was one fill in issue there that I didn’t draw — I got to design a number of villains. I got to kind of tweak the Rhino’s design, and I got to play a bit with Batroc the Leaper and a couple others. Then, in my second run which began with issue #23, and I guess I’m still on right now, I got to do a lot of designs for protagonists.
With the one year later jump, I got to age up all the characters and play with things like how their bone structure changed. I got to show how a 14-15 year old looks differently from 12-13 year old. That was fun, but as far as actual costume design, I had a lot of freedom to redesign Bombshell and Cloak and Dagger in their Ultimate incarnations. I had a lot of fun with Cloak and Dagger. They’re one of those classic pairings of characters that tons of creators want to take a crack at. They’re a really cool visual concept and they were guest star characters in “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” but they almost starred in a number of the issues. With them front and center, I got to do a design that would last and is now carrying over into the “All-New Ultimates” title. That’s a lot of fun.
Are there any supporting characters in this title that you especially enjoy drawing? And are there any that were difficult to get the hang of?
Two things come to mind: I already mentioned Cloak and Dagger. I’ve always loved their design, and I’m very fond of the designs I came up with for them for the Ultimate Universe. It’s one of the few cases where I look at work that I’ve done and I’m actually pretty happy with it. Myself and many of my peers, we look at our work at are critical of many of things we see as mistakes. These are two designs I’m really happy with.
Additionally, I really like drawing Gwen Stacy. Maybe it’s just getting to draw pretty girls is fun, but one of the benefits of working with the Ultimate Universe is that you get to play with different toys than you would in the 616. A great one is Gwen Stacy, who really doesn’t show up anymore in the 616. Here, though, she’s front and center as one of the main supporting characters of the book, and like I said, she’s pretty and fun to draw.
How will the overall look of compare to you work on “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man” and “Cataclysm: Ultimate Spider-Man?”
I’m always trying to innovate and never grow complacent in my art, so there have been opportunities through out the book to experiment with style and things like that. One of the words that Brian and I have been tossing around to distinguish “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” from “Ultimate Comics Spider-Man,” the last series, is that this is a fiercer book. It doesn’t go to a darker place, but Miles is slightly more jaded and there’s an edge to him where there wasn’t one before. I want that to be reflected in the art.
Usually, when I try to grow and adapt my style to any given book, I try not to have too many preconceived notions of what I expect it to be. I allow it to come out of my pen as I’m drawing on the page. Hopefully that “fierce” idea will come across in the book.
To use a cop metaphor, he’s no longer a rookie. He’s now a little more world weary and a little more seasoned.
Exactly. He’s still a kid, though, and there’s a wide eyed optimism that goes along with that. We’re not going dark and gritty with things, but yeah — he now has more under his belt than he used to.
Finally, can you offer up any hints or teases about the plot of your initial “Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man” story? Are there any elements in there that you’re especially excited about?
All I will say is that there’s a through line from “Cataclysm” through issue #200 that leads directly into our first issue. I know that’s really vague and I’m intending it to be vague, but for readers from the previous series and readers who pick up issue #200, when the events of issue #1 happen things will click into place. Hopefully it will shock people the way we want it to. Hopefully they will be on board for a fun ride.
When I was given the opportunity to do this relaunch versus other big opportunities in the Marvel Universe this was the book that I really wanted to do. So I hope everyone joins in. It’s going to be a really fun time and I’m looking forward to it.