Fialkov Builds A Foundation for the Future in "Ultimate FF"

This spring, in the aftermath of Galactus' attack on Marvel's Ultimate Universe, a group of heroes will come together to attempt to defend the post-"Cataclysm" Earth in a different way, one which will no longer rely solely on the efforts of S.H.I.E.L.D. Brought together in "Ultimate FF," a new ongoing series by writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artists Tom Grummett and Mario Guevara, the team of geniuses' goal is to protect the world by preventing another event the likes of Galactus' incursion, the tidal wave attack on Manhattan by the mutant terrorist Magneto or the recently-concluded second United States Civil War which saw Captain America rise to the position of President for a short time.

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CBR News spoke with Fialkov about the book and his cast of characters, a Future Foundation of genius heroes funded by Tony Stark, led by Sue Storm in involving Falcon, a newly-introduced Machine Man and Agent Phil Coulson.

CBR News: Josh, in a relatively short amount of time, you've worked on a number of Ultimate titles, all involving world-shattering crises. How does it feel to be part of a new line up of Ultimate titles with a monthly ongoing book that will allow you look at the Ultimate Universe in a variety of ways?

Joshua Hale Fialkov: That's the most exciting part. [Laughs] I have a good two year plan.

From the minute I started in the Ultimate Universe it's really been about building up to "Cataclysm." When I first started, it was really about wrapping up what Sam [Humphries] and Jonathan [Hickman] had done in "The Ultimates." We established what I wanted to do right around the time we figured out "Hunger" and then "Cataclysm" right after it. So it's been fun, challenging in all the best ways, and I'm really proud of those books, but now with "Ultimate FF" I really get to tell a story that I'm excited about that is 100 percent mine, or as much mine as any work for hire comic can be.

The best part of the book is that because the universe ceases to exist prior to its starting, the book is literally just blank pages. I figured out that if I turned in scripts I get paid. So we're going to run with that as long as we can; until someone notices there's no more Ultimate Universe. [Laughs] No, I'm kidding of course.

I know you have to be wary of spoilers, because "Cataclysm" is still unfolding, but obviously the Ultimate Universe still exists in "Ultimate FF." So what can you tell me about the world of "Ultimate FF" when the book begins?

It's hard to talk about, but things are going to be massively different. This is a whole new book. It's not like any book with the initials FF that you've seen before. We're super excited about what we're doing, and this book is pretty much my dream book. It's the book I always wanted to do. It allows me to explore the Ultimate Universe and maybe even the Marvel Universe in some pretty awesome ways.

What can you tell us about the physical and sort of cultural environment in "Ultimate FF?" How does it inform the mandate and status quo of the team?

As we were working on "Hunger" and preparing "Cataclysm" Me, Brian [Bendis], Mark [Paniccia], Emily [Shaw], Axel [Alonso], and Tom [Brevoort] had a talk about what we wanted afterwards. We asked what was our perfect world version of what we wanted to do?

The Ultimate Universe is an interesting beast because it's both iconic and wholly original at the same time. It's something new and fresh, but at the same time it dances to some of the same chords we know really well. So our question was, if we were going to do a book that uses the moniker of "The World's Greatest Comics' Magazine," how do we do it in a way that's totally different? And with James Robinson getting ready to launch "Fantastic Four" over in the 616 -- how do I do I compete with the guy who wrote "Starman," for God's sake? How do we do a book that's radically different? And I think we did that.

I remember reading "Fantastic Four" comics when I was a kid and thinking, "You know what would be awesome?" And that's pretty much what this book is.

The last incarnation of the Ultimate FF was associated with S.H.I.E.L.D. Is that the case this time? Who's running and funding this new group?

The idea behind this is, we had S.H.I.E.L.D. running the show, and it didn't work. It was not an effective deterrent against giant, hungry, purple man that wants to eat your planet. And when you're talking deterrents and giant purple men, you need something effective -- otherwise New Jersey gets blown up, or worse, which is what happened.

The idea is, we tried it that way, and it didn't work. So now, some of the world's smartest people get together, and with Tony Stark's money and Sue Storm leading the charge, they've assembled a team of the smartest people in the world. Their primary goal is to try and prevent the universe from tearing itself apart.

Let's talk a little bit about your cast of characters starting with Sue. What do you find most interesting about her? And what can you tell us about her state of mind at the beginning of "Ultimate FF" #1?

What I love about this Sue that's so different from the Sue of the 616, or almost any version of her, is that she's defined much less by the family around her. She's a formidable character in her own right. I always go back to those first few issues of "Ultimate Fantastic Four," where she's exploring her teammates, getting to know their physiology. She really has an understanding of the consequences of interdimensional travel changing your body and the consequences of the relationships that she's in.

She's gone on this journey and lost so much in way that Sue Storm in the 616 never has. The 616 Sue lost her parents, but she does have a great family that supports her and believes in her. She's a mother and a celebrity. She has all these things that this Sue Storm does not have. The Ultimate Sue was a celebrity for a little bit, but then she became the girl that was dating the sociopath.

I think she's had to come into her own, and Jonathan and Sam did such a great job developing her character in "Ultimates." She's such a great, strong character, I love writing her voice and I love getting to present this character in a leadership role in a book, especially this one, because it really tickles the format.

I understand "Ultimate FF" will feature some characters new to the Ultimate Universe, like Machine Man. How similar and how different is he to the Marvel Universe incarnation of Machine Man?

I'm a huge fan of all the Jack Kirby creations, and he's one of the big missing pieces for me that didn't make it over to the Ultimate Universe. You sort of already had something pretty similar to him in the form of the Gah Lak Tus Swarm. So what happens is, there's still a little bit of the Swarm left, but it gains the consciousness of a very surprising and pissed off character. It then forms itself into Machine Man. You can find out exactly who he is in "Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics: Ultimates" #3.

All these characters have touched parallel universes and alternate dimensions and been touched by them. Whether it's Falcon, who spent all that time with the Ultimate Vision and learned so much from her, not just about cybernetic creatures, but the history of this universe and what else is out there, or Tony Stark, who has left this universe. He's gone to the 616 and knows and understands that there are other worlds out there. Then with Sue, her powers come from having passed through another universe. So each of them have that experience.

Machine Man is a personification of the Gah Lak Tus Swarm, which was the most powerful threat in the Ultimate Universe. That was stopped pretty easily, though, by Galactus. That, to me, is symbolically all about the fact that there are much scarier things out there than they understand or know.

Another cast member new to the Ultimate Universe is Agent Coulson. Since S.H.I.E.L.D. is not a part of "Ultimate FF," what can you tell us about his role in the book? And how different is this Coulson from the Marvel Cinematic Universe character portrayed by actor Clark Gregg?

Our Phil Coulson might've started out like the 616/movie version, but he's found himself in charge of a bunch of people way more powerful and way smarter than him, so he finds himself in over his head, almost right away. And, unlike Nick Fury, he's going to have to earn the team's respect over time. It's a very, very different dynamic to see, and has been so much fun to write.

Machine Man, due to his being part of the Gah Lak Tus Swarm, was partly responsible for the death of the Ultimate Vision, a being Sam Wilson was in love with. What's Sam Wilson's state of mind at the beginning of this book?

He's still dealing with the death of the Vision, and we got to see a little bit of that in the "Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Ultimates" miniseries. He's got almost more determination now though because he's taken over her role. Vision was a protector of this universe. She was fighting to keep this universe intact and preserve life. Now, he's taken up that mantle.

I understand the identity of your other cast member will have to remain a mystery until the end of "Ultimate FF" #1, but can you offer any hints about this character?

It's a character we know very well and it's a character who is far and away one of the worst creatures in the Ultimate Universe. Plus, he's the smartest, or perhaps second smartest, person on Earth, depending on who you ask.

Artists Tom Grummett and Mario Guevara are handling art duties. What do you feel these guys bring to the book as artists?

Tom is doing layouts and Mario is doing finishes over him. The combination of the two of them is just amazing. Tom has such a great knack for storytelling, comedy, pacing and action. Mario, in turn, has a brilliant sense of design and brilliant style. There's something very European and different about what Mario is doing that I think is going to blow people's minds when they see it all together.

What can you tell us about your initial "Ultimate FF" story?

It's really about fallout. These characters, for good or for ill, have become firemen. Their job is to literally run around the world and prevent the universe itself from cracking. Our first story finds them on like their thirtieth of these missions. They've just been doing this over and over, and in this story, they come up against something that they can't handle, so they have to ask for help. And who's left after "Cataclysm" to actually help them?

It's going to be really fun. As Michel [Fiffe, the writer of the new "Young Ultimates" series], Brian [Bendis, the writer of "Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man"], and I all talk the thing that's overwhelming is how much we all care about what we're doing. This is Brian Bendis' baby. "Ultimate Spider-Man" is the book that cemented him, and it's obviously the longest book he's worked on. The Ultimate Universe is something we're all really passionate about. We want to keep these characters alive and vibrant and create a universe that's really its own thing. What makes these characters so wonderful are the differences, and I want to celebrate those differences.

The best part is, you have this really tight continuity. You only have to read three books. You're not getting locked into a ton of titles. So it's a great time to jump on the books in the Ultimate line. They're all really accessible. We're all making an effort to bring in new readers, but also service existing readers who, are a big priority.

Beyond this, what types of stories will we see in this book?

I love the kind of "Planetary" and "Nextwave" stories that have an almost technical, "Twilight Zone"-style structure, but are told very much from the soap opera that comes with all of these characters. They've been through so much, and their world and their understanding of it have grown so much faster than it has for the heroes of the Marvel Universe.

In the Marvel Universe, the characters found out about the Watcher and all these other cosmic things over time, and they've gotten used to then. When Galactus appeared over the skies New York in the Ultimate Universe, that was a first. [Laughs] That was something that rocked them all to the foundation. A world that was left in a state of shell shock is really where we're starting.

One of the things Bendis and I have discussed is, if the Ultimate Universe is at its core a more realistic and grounded version of the Marvel Universe, we want to deal with the repercussions of these horrible things. That being said, as anyone who has read my Ultimate stuff knows, I love big, bombastic action and crazy, fun stories. There's going to be more room and time to do that, and I'm so excited to tell some of the stories we have coming up.

There are a lot of classic characters we haven't seen in a while, some new characters, and there might be some Rick Jones, because I do have a thing for him. We'll probably get some Hulk down the road. My favorite is we might see some parallel universe versions of characters as they start to have a better understanding of their universe and what it means.

Is there a chance it could tie into other Marvel Universe books that deal with alternate realities, like, say, "New Avengers?"

You're going to have to read the book to find out. Jonathan and I have been friends for a long time, though, and we talk fairly regularly. There certainly could be something go on there.

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