Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov has been a major force in Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe of late, having crafted the lead up “Ultimate Comics Ultimates” arc to “Cataclysm” and shepherding both the Ultimates and the Ultimate X-Men into the Galactus-sized event. Indeed, Fialkov has a tough act to follow: Brian Wood’s critically-acclaimed run on “Ultimate Comics X-Men” that ended with “World War X.” But that hasn’t stopped Fialkov from taking a squad of X-Men headlong into the battle against Galactus, as the first issue saw a small contingent of mutantdom’s finest going up against the powered Gah Lak Tus swarm.
Fialkov joined X-Position this week to discuss his work so far on “Cataclysm: Ultimate X-Men,” his love of old “Classic X-Men” reprints and why Rogue made for the best point-of-view character. Plus, he talks giving the Ultimate treatment to Strong Guy and Beak and what he might do if the Ultimate Universe survives “Cataclysm.”
CBR News: Josh, let’s talk a bit about “Ultimate X-Men.” You’ve had a major hand in building up “Cataclysm.” What was your goal when approaching the series as Brian Wood left it?
Joshua Hale Fialkov: I think Brian and Nick [Spencer] before him — “Ultimate X-Men” has had such a string of amazing guys work on it. For me, it was really about looking at what I like most about these guys and what they’ve done and the work that everyone has done on the book and pulling out the stuff I really like. At the same time, a lot of our main characters are tied up with the main event. I took it as an opportunity to spotlight some of the smaller characters, some of the characters who have gotten less screen time. I’m hoping we’re doing justice to the great work that Brian’s done.
I think Brian Wood actually did the seminal run on the book. I don’t think anyone’s had as much of an impact on that series since the first Mark Millar stuff than Brian. It’s really about following his path that he laid.
I know you can’t give anything away about “Cataclysm” —
The whole universe is all over. It all ends. I’m already queuing up in the unemployment line. I cry myself to sleep every night, which is actually the last issue. I think Brian [Bendis] really captured the misery in that last issue, too. It just ends with me standing outside the Marvel offices crying and banging. It’s like the end of “The Graduate” but super depressing.
[Laughs] Will readers get to see the Ultimate X-Men fighting alongside the Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man for the first time in forever?
Brian [Bendis] and I have talked about the event with Mark [Paniccia] and Emily [Shaw], our editors. The idea really is that this is the kind of threat that they can’t all solve on their own. This is the kind of global threat that is going to force everybody to come together. What I took as my task was to give them obstacles that keep them apart so that everyone is fighting to get back to where they need to be. They’re fighting to get back together.
Does that happen at the end? I don’t know, I don’t want to spoil it!
I wish you could capture sarcastic tone. [Laughs]
Before getting into reader questions, what’s been your favorite interaction between X-Men to write so far?
I got to do Ultimate Beak, which has been a lot of fun. I made him just a sad punk rocker, which is delightful. I really like writing Jimmy and I love writing Rogue. I get to use Rogue — especially in the upcoming issues — she uses her powers in what I think are some pretty awesome ways.
A lot of it, honestly, is that I grew up with — and I remember — the first comics I read were “Classic X-Men,” the reprints. I devoured them. They were my favorite thing. Those were what I back issue dove for and I could never quite figure out that they were comics that had already come out, so they were sort of valueless. I searched high and low for those books. To now, years later, get to tell stories about some of those characters is just so gratifying, to get to tell stories with characters who I think really capture the spirit of what the X-Men are about. They’re certainly different than their 616 counterparts, but they’re a lot closer together than where some of the other Ultimate characters have gone. In my head, I get to write an awesome “Classic X-Men” team-up book and Captain Marvel, for God’s sake!
Mathieu kicks off reader questions with a trio — two about “Ultimate X-Men” and one about your other work.
Which X-Men character were you most interested in writing and why?
I think it was definitely Rogue. Rogue — especially Ultimate Rogue — her story is so complex. It’s this thing about faith and redemption — especially in this volume, you’ve been able to track her journey. Coming off of “World War X,” before the shit went down, she finally found some peace and some joy and a place in the world, where someone who can’t touch and can’t ever really be a part to find that kind of peace is obviously very difficult. To have it wrenched away from her and to have her know, “That’s it. I’ll never find it again. I’ll never find the happiness and comfort that I had.” To some degree, it’s her own fault. All the things that happen to them are seeded by their own behavior. Writing that complex character is really satisfying. I hope I do her justice.
Which Ultimate X-Men villain would you most like to include in a future arc (that is, if book and characters survive Galactus)?
They really plumbed a lot of the X-Men stuff, but I think getting to do what Brian [Wood] did so well, which was to create new threats — create threats that are less based on crazy terrorist mutants and more based on what would actually happen if there was this ethnic group where it’s not just theoretical that they have the power to do something terrible. It’s literal. They literally can destroy the work and have done it.
I would like to clean up the Phoenix stuff. I love Jean Grey. One of my first Marvel projects was a Marvel Girl one-shot. She’s such a great, interesting character. I think the Ultimate version is really great and really complex, but there’s also an elegant solution for her and for what the Phoenix force is and what the Phoenix means in the Ultimate Universe, especially now that we’ve really opened up the cosmic stuff.
Also, I really enjoyed your Alpha miniseries.Â Any chance of you returning to that character?
All letters can be sent to Steve Wacker. I recommend hurling abuse, he responds very well to that. If you want to, you can blame him for killing Spider-Man while you’re at it. You can sandwich those two things together and you’ll probably get a good response. [Laughs]
I love the character. My favorite thing to write is teenagers, the coming-of-age teenager story. To some degree, that’s what “Ultimate X-Men” is, too. To get to do those coming-of-age teenage stories is meaningful to me. That miniseries, apart from that just getting to work with Nuno [Plati] who is a wonderful friend and very talented, and getting to stand on Dan Slott’s shoulders was really so much fun. I’d love to do more over there in that side of the world.
cora reef is up next with some questions about characters and interaction.
Dear Mr. Fialkov, I was impressed that you’re reuniting Iceman and Rick Jones after all this time. I read an interview with you somewhere that you feel like you’re the person who’s tasked with wrapping up all the loose ends of the Ultimate Universe. Is this part of that?
Yeah, it’s also — that last page was I knew that joke was going to get in there and [Iceman] was the character that had to say it.
I think that era of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” when it was the super-friends, was so cool. People really responded to it so well, and it’s something that comes up all the time. To touch back on some of that stuff and bring it back, it felt too good to be true.
It was also interesting that you were still able to Ultimate-ize some characters that haven’t been yet. Why the love for Strong Guy and Beak?
I think Beak is just awesome. He’s an awesome character. I don’t think he’s been around the 616 for a while — we haven’t seen him for a while. I think he’s really cool, and I think he’s also quintessentially an Ultimate-style character. He’s the worst-case scenario. He’s your nightmare mutation that every kid thinks they’re going to turn into. That’s always your fear is that something horrible is going to come and disfigure you. The idea that he kind of lives through that and has an okay attitude is so interesting. It’s so much fun.
Strong Guy — I have a weird, inexplicable affinity for Strong Guy. I wish I could put it into words. I remember there being a specific Rob Liefeld cover with him on it that’s stuck in my craw. He’s a fun character, and I want to write The Thing so badly that I will take any character that’s Thing-adjacent. [Laughs] He’s a fun character with a great voice and I was looking for characters to serve as counterpoints to how serious and grim their situation is because I like writing jokes so much. He just fit the bill.
Next, ConfernallyEfused wants to know more about following up Brian Wood’s run.
After such a fan-beloved run by Brian Wood, what was it like for you to follow it up? Do you feel like he left it in such a place that you could continue the book if the Ultimate Universe survives?
Yeah, Brian [Wood] and I talked toward the end of his run. He knew our plans and what Brian [Bendis] and I were planning for the event. We got to talk and set things in motion. We’re picking up where Pixie is, which was left from his story on purpose for us. It gave us the chance to — again — piggyback on it, but Brian and I are really, really different writers. For me, it’s getting a chance to explore a lot of his themes using my own voice.
Finally, Tim asks about the decision process for selecting the series’ POV character.
What made you decide to go with Rogue as the POV character for the first issue? Does the POV character change during the rest of the series?
It’s Rogue the whole way through. Again, I think where she as a character is so interesting. There’s a level of vulnerability to her that you see in that character. It’s inherent to the character, but also naturally opposed to what the character stands for; that she has finally found happiness and had it wrenched away from her. That’s my M.O. — “Who can have the worst day possible?” If I knew this is what’s going to happen to these characters, who’s the person that’s going to break? Who’s going to be the one that it’s too much for, that they’ve already experienced too much.
Rogue is one of the characters who the events of “World War X” really hit in such a deep way, but at the same time since she wasn’t the focus of the series, she was a bit marginalized. I thought to take the time to explore that stuff was well worth the energy.
Special thanks to Josh Fialkov for taking on this week’s X-Position questions!
Next week, it’s time to head back to the Jean Grey School as Jason Aaron rejoins X-Position to take on all your questions about “Wolverine and the X-Men,” “Amazing X-Men” and everything in between. Got a question for Jason? Send in any questions via e-mail with the subject line “X-Position or in a 140 character question via Twitter. Either way, make sure those questions are in by Friday! Do it to it!