Ewing Explains Battleworld's Return, Maestro's Ascent in Marvel's "Contest of Champions"

An all-powerful Doctor Doom used his newfound power to weave together a patchwork planet where the survivors of the Marvel Multiverse's destruction fought a daily battle for survival during "Secret Wars." When the Multiverse was reborn and Doom was robbed of his divine power, the planet he created and held together by sheer force of will, Battleworld, crumbled. Yet unbeknownst to the rest of the All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe, it was recently reborn thanks to the will of another newly empowered god-like being who wants to make sure Battleworld lives up to its name.

"Contest of Champions" #6 introduced the resurrected Battleworld courtesy of writer Al Ewing and artist Paco Medina. The series saw the Maestro, a cold and calculating dictator Hulk from a brutal dystopian future, seize control of an all-powerful artifact known as the Iso-Sphere, using its god-like power to reform Battleworld and set himself up as the planet's new god in the process.

Ewing Escalates the Marvel Universe-Changing "Contest of Champions"

The Maestro's rule begins in "Contest of Champions" #7, the first chapter of a new arc titled "Ultimate Fighting," where the title characters of Ewing's "Ultimates" series will attempt to end the future Hulk's divine reign. CBR News spoke with Ewing about the arc, the characters from the "Contest of Champions" Mobile game that will make their Marvel Universe debut in the story line, and how the series will tie into Marvel's upcoming "Civil War II" event.

CBR News: "Contest of Champions" #6 not only wrapped up your first arc, but it also turned everything upside down by having the Maestro seize the completed Iso-Sphere and use its divine power to reassemble the remains of Battleworld. Was the series always designed to lead to that moment? And just how dangerous has the Maestro become? How does his new status change his relationship to Battleworld's other contestants heading into this new arc?

Al Ewing: That was always the Maestro's plan -- to bring back Battleworld. Since "Secret Wars," he's been itching to become sole ruler of Battleworld, so there's a pride issue, otherwise he'd presumably have built a new planet somewhere else, or gone to rule over an alternate Earth. Effectively, he's become a god, which makes him incredibly dangerous -- his only limitations are the ones he imposes on himself. He has weaknesses, as we'll see -- he's a very primal, physical being who thinks in physical terms. He's still the Hulk, and he still likes a fight.

As to his relationship with the other contestants -- they're his prisoners, and he has Jake Gallows as the ultimate warden. As far as he's concerned, the contestants are out of his hair for good, and he can concentrate on deciding what he wants to do with his new planet.

Better known as the Punisher of 2099, Jake Gallows also helped the Maestro pull off his coup against the Elders of the Universe known as the Collector and the Grandmaster who were using them as pawns in a contest. In "Contest of Champions" #6 you showed Jake to be especially cunning and ruthless by indicating that he and the Maestro had survived another one of the Elders' gladiatorial competitions that happened off panel before this series started. What makes Jake tick and just how resourceful is he

Jake Gallows is definitely as resourceful as the original Punisher, but he -- at least, this version of him -- is definitely not a well man. He's obsessed with Frank Castle and his "war diaries," and he's also fixated on the penal system, since that didn't really exist in his future. Crimes could be paid for with a credit card, and that's one of the things that made Jake flip out in the first place. He's recreated his infamous "Punishment Hotel" -- where perps check in, but don't check out -- on Battleworld, with the Maestro's blessing, and he's acting as judge, jury, prison warden and executioner. There may have been some art floating around that showed the final fate of one of our unlucky contestants, as Gallows lives up to his name...

Jake and the Maestro wouldn't be in the position they're in now if they split the Iso-Sphere in half didn't want to be whole and didn't choose the Maestro. Does the Iso sphere have some kind of rudimentary intelligence, or is it actually sentient?

Well, it's similar to the Cosmic Cube and the Infinity Stones -- the stones "want" to be together, and the cube's displayed various forms of sentience in the past. Maybe there's a mind somewhere in the Iso-Sphere, or maybe it just pulls together like a magnet -- just through some strange cosmic physics.

Here's an interesting question -- could someone get it from the Maestro the way the Maestro got it from the Collector, through sheer force of will? And if word were to get out about the Iso-Sphere's power -- who'd come looking for it? Maybe that's what'll put the "Battle" in "Battleworld."

RELATED: Ewing's "Contest of Champions" Pits Hero Against Hero in Battles to the Death

What does the new order on Battleworld mean for the members of Maestro's and Gallows' teams? Will they continue to be a large part of the book?

There's only one team now -- the prisoners! Cooped up in the lowest levels of Jake Gallows' deadly dungeon, our heroes and villains have to rely on each other to survive and break out. It's especially bad news for Outlaw -- being a Punisher who's gone non-lethal, he's gotten onto Gallows' radar in a big way. We're going to see the body count rise, I'm afraid -- at least two of our marauding misfits don't make it out of this two-parter alive! So maybe the answer to your question is, "Yes, but maybe not for long..."

Issue #7 starts a new arc of called "Ultimate Fighting" that brings White Fox and the cast members of your "Ultimates" series into the book in a big way. What made you want to bring the Ultimates into the book? What's it like bouncing them off the world you built in "Contest" and the cast you assembled?

Well, we all thought it was time I brought a couple of my books together, and with Maestro achieving god-like power -- and what with a couple of other twists over the course of the issue -- the Ultimates might actually have a proper fight on their hands. Their own book is quite thoughtful -- violence isn't really the point of that one -- so it's fun to bring them over to a book that's all about super-people punching each other very hard.

They do actually manage to give the Maestro a decent fight, even considering his godhood -- that said, they have help. It'll end up being one of the stranger, more out-there fights we've had in the book -- I guess the Ultimates just bring that with them.

Can you hint or tease some of the action we'll see in "Ultimate Fighting?" It looks like you're bringing another element from the "Contest of Champions" mobile game into the book in the form of the Symbioids, correct?

Well, I said the Ultimates have help, but "help" isn't quite the right word for these beasts -- they're more a spoiler force that attacks everybody. And they're a lot tougher than the ones in the game -- they're what happens when you merge the Venom symbiote with the Void entity, making them very powerful and nasty indeed. How they end up coming into being is a mystery that'll have to wait until issue #7 -- although it might raise some questions about just how dead the Void and the Sentry are.

How accessible will "Ultimate Fighting" be for "Ultimates" readers whomay not have tried "Contest of Champions," yet?"

It's the start of a fresh new arc, so hopefully "Ultimates" fans dropping by for the first time will be able to pick things up as they go along -- at the worst, it'll be like when I was a kid and I'd get a comic for the first time and try to work out who the big metal guy and the blue furry demon were. (The original "Secret Wars" had a lot of ground to cover. I spent a week thinking Colossus was telepathic.)

I've just had a read through it again, and all the beats are fairly well laid out -- the god-like Future Hulk and his Future Punisher sidekick, the aftermath of the cosmic contest, the interdimensional prisoners, the high-level superteam investigating in the "real" universe. Everything's explained in the dialogue, and hopefully new readers will have their interest piqued enough to go back and read what went before.

It looks like with "Ultimate Fighting" you welcome a new artist in the form of Rhoald Marcellius who did a little bit of Marvel work last year, but is still relatively new to the company. What do you enjoy most about his style?

Rhoald has a great command of expressions -- he's got a really lively, fun style, that reminds me of Tradd Moore in some ways. He's fantastic on the conversational pages, and when it comes to the action -- I can't wait to see what happens when issue #8 hits and things really get crazy!

In June it looks like Paco Medina returns to help you kick off a new arc in "Contest of Champions" #9 which features some new contestants. What can you tell use bout his return and the storyline in general?

Well, we're tying into "Civil War!" "Civil War" One, that is! I'll be honest, we thought it'd be funny. Basically, we take a peek into a world where Iron Man won the Civil War even more decisively than he did in the main Marvel Universe -- to the extent that heroes like Clone Thor, Penance and Iron Spider are revered by the people, while Steve Rogers rots in jail. But what dark price did Tony pay for this total victory -- and when he and his team of Pro-Registration Avengers come to Battleworld, how do they stand up against the decidedly unregistered combatants? This isn't just goofing around, mind you -- the "Secret [Origin] of Tony Stark" will have major consequences for the Maestro down the line.

And, obviously, in another decade or so when "Civil War III" hits, we'll know how we're going to tie into the second one. It'll be our 120th issue spectacular!

I want to finish up by thanking all our readers for picking up the book! People seem to be getting right into the spirit of "Earth's Fightiest Heroes", and we can promise much more cosmic craziness to come over the next few issues. Before we're done, we'll have cemented Battleworld as the destination spot in the Marvel Universe for anyone who wants a really good punch-up -- and everyone's invited to the fray! Until Maestro loses the Iso-Sphere in a bake-off challenge against Paul Hollywood -- Make Mine "Contest Of Champions!"

"Contest of Champions" #7 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.

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