Humphries Fights for the Soul of America in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates"


Marvel Comics' Ultimate Universe has been experiencing some dark times as of late. Former hero Reed Richards assembled a fantastic force of super humans and used them to devastate Europe and launch an attack on America that wiped out most of the U.S. Government. At the same time, America's anti-mutant extremist movement became a force to be reckoned with when William Stryker Jr., an anti-mutant fanatic, was able to upload his consciousness into the U.S.' high tech fleet of Nimrod Sentinel robots.

Stryker's robot army partnered with various anti-mutant militias across the country, and together they were able to violently seize power in the Southwest region of America. Meanwhile, Richards' attack of America and the rise of another super powered nation, the SEAR, which is now a haven for mutants from around the world, had other regions doubting the future of America. Some states like Texas, have seceded from the Union, and in others, violent militias have tried to seize power.

We may well be in the opening minutes of America's darkest hour, but hope is not lost. In "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #13, writer Sam Humphries kicked off the battle for the United States' soul by putting it's most powerful symbol, Captain America, back in the fight. The issue is also the book's opening chapter to the line-wide Ultimate Universe event, "Divided We Fall." We spoke with Humphries about his plans for the series.

CBR News: You kick things off in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #13 with a map depicting the political layout of the United States as of the start of "Divided We Fall." Brian Wood told me you were the one that came up with the map, which also appeared in "Ultimate Comics X-Men" #14. What was it like designing the map? How much freedom did you have designing it?

Captain America returns to action in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #13

Sam Humphries: Yes! The map! That was a group effort between myself, Wood, Brian Bendis and our editorial team Mark Paniccia and Jonathan Moisan. "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" and "Ultimate Comics X-Men" are gonna get rocked by "Divided We Fall," but through the eyes of a child, and from a street-level perspective, respectively. With "Ultimates" taking the "wide screen" scope, a lot of what you see on the map occurs in that book.You'll see the map evolve as the story progresses.

Anyway, I'm a huge map and atlas nerd. I have a modest collection of various atlases and reproductions from many eras. And who can forget that classic "Age of Apocalypse" map? Things like this really help put it all in perspective -- not just the geography and the moving pieces, but the risks and stakes involved in "Divided We Fall." A fan stood up at the Comic-Con International Ultimates panel just to say the map got him even more excited for the story, and that's the whole point. When you see America in pieces before you, you realize just how big this event is going to be.

The big highlight of "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #13 is the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America after having given up the identity shortly after the death of Peter Parker. What was it like to bring Cap back into the action in the Ultimates and what does he add to the book and the team?

After twelve issues examining the worlds of the City in Europe and the Children in Asia, "Divided We Fall" is a story about the United States -- and you can't do a supercharged superhero story about the United States without Captain America. Bringing him back was bittersweet. It was fun and thrilling to get him back behind the shield and defending America, but at the same time, this country has taken some pretty major hits since he left.

Speaking of those hits, you teed up Steve Rogers return to the book in issue #12 with him witnessing what was happening on the TV news. Ultimately, what was it that caused Cap to pick up his shield again? Why did he pick it up then instead of, say, immediately after Reed Richards' attack on the U.S.?

After the death of Peter Parker, Cap went off on his own version of a spirit quest, haunting the most remote regions of the United States. He wanted complete isolation, and he got it. Only when he needed supplies at the end of issue 12 did he get exposed to a tiny bit of civilization and realize everything that has been happening in his absence, including the Southwest and the attack on Washington. At that point, Cap had the option to stick his head back in the sand (or snow) and ignore what was happening. But they don't give the red, white, and blues to cowards.

We've talked before about how one of the big differences between Marvel's Captain Americas is that 616 Cap is more verbose and it's easier to guess what's on his mind. In #13, Ultimate Cap's body language suggests anger and focus, but what else is on his mind? Does he feel any guilt over what happened to America during the time period when he gave up the Cap identity? Does he blame himself at all for what happened?

Art by Billy Tan

This Cap keeps things close to his vest. He still feels guilt over the death of Peter Parker. He feels conflicted about the role of the superhero. Thus, he wandered off into the wilderness. But while he was gone, the world started raining fire on America. This country is transformed and can't ever go back to the way it was before he left. He dropped his guard. For a man who values duty, responsibility and his country, that's gotta weigh heavily on him.

The return of Cap sends both Tony Stark and Thor charging back into action with renewed vigor. What do you think Cap means to these guys?

Cap is a leader, and as strong as Tony and Thor are, both physically and mentally,the problems of "Divided We Fall" are immense -- almost too immense to comprehend. Cap on the ground, throwing punches, provides a focal point for them. They may not know how to fix the country as a whole, but Cap shows that doing something is better than doing nothing at all.

Thor and Iron Man certainly appear to be happy to have Steve back as Cap in issue #13, but are they harboring any feelings they're not telling us? Is there any part of them that's angry at Cap? That feels like if he hadn't disappeared maybe the world wouldn't be in as bad a shape as it is?

I think it's safe to say that every character is harboring feelings they're not saying out loud. At the moment, they don't have time for the blame game. But that won't last forever.

In the 616 Marvel world, Cap, Thor, and Iron Man are considered the trinity of the Avengers, but the Ultimates are a different team than the Avengers. From your perspective, are Cap, Thor and Iron Man the major trinity of the Ultimates? What does the combination of these three characters mean for a group like the Ultimates?

The Ultimates are a much more flexible unit than the Avengers, and thus I see the "trinity" of the group as a more malleable concept. Cap, Thor and Iron Man are such fantastic characters, it would be hard to let any one of them out of the spotlight for too long. Really, the most important trinity of the Ultimate Universe is Captain America, Kitty Pryde and Miles Morales. They represent everything about what makes the Ultimate Universe special. Keep your eyes on those three, and you'll be right in the middle of the action.

That said, during this summer's event and beyond, you'll see an Ultimate step into a much more prominent role than they are used to.

Now that you've got Cap, Thor and Iron Man back together, what about the other members of the Ultimates that have either fled from or been captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. and its new anti Ultimates director Marvin Flumm? Will they come back into the story, or is "Divided We Fall" primarily a tale about Steve, Thor and Tony?

"Divided We Fall" is primarily a story about Steve, but it's also a story about unity -- both for the country and the Ultimates. Issue #13 saw the reunion of Cap, Tony and Thor, and you'll see the more members of the team return to the book with every chapter.

Issue #13 also showed us quite a bit of a man out to make life miserable for the Ultimates in this story, the mysterious Mr. Morez. I imagine we'll find out more about him as the story continues, but how significant is that shot at the end of issue #13 where we can clearly see his two different colored eyes and his ring? Are these clues as to the true nature of Morez?

That shot is significant, because his [CLASSIFIED] and [CLASSIFIED] show that Morez is [CLASSIFIED] as [CLASSIFIED] [CLASSIFIED].

Yep -- I think I'm pretty clever.

Very nice! Let's move onto another question where our security clearance might be a little appropriate. With "Divided We Fall" running through September's "Ultimate Comics Ultimates" #15, can you hint, tease or talk about the story that comes after? I noticed Brian Wood is following up his two "Divided We Fall" issues of "Ultimate Comics X-Men" with a "United We Stand" story arc. Will that be the case with "Ultimate Comics Ultimates?"

All I can say is that "Divided We Fall" ends on a big moment and what comes next is even bigger.

We've talked quite a bit about story, so let's start to wrap things up by chatting about your artistic collaborators for the next few months on "Ultimate Comics Ultimates." Who are you working with on "Divided We Fall" and its follow-up story?

We've got Billy Tan on "Divided We Fall" and the return of Luke Ross on the following issues. Both those guys are super-dynamic storytellers with powerful pens and a bag full of tricks to keep you on your toes. As the summer progresses, you'll see just how important it is to tell this story with talents like these guys and how key they are to the whole event.

Finally, with Cap, Tony and Thor back together, it looks like the tide might be turning and the battle for America's soul may not yet be decided. Should the Ultimates prevail, is it possible to go back to the way things were before this all happened? From your perspective is there such a thing as status quo in the Ultimate Universe, or is the Ultimate Universe a place where the only real constant is change?

"Status quo" can be very fluid in the Ultimate Universe. After everything that the world has seen, I don't think it's possible to go back to the way things were. With new risks on the global stage, some people may actively resist going back to the previous status quo. "Victory" may take on a more ambiguous meaning. And the way the Ultimates see themselves will be changed forever by this arc.

"Divided We Fall" runs through September in "Ultimate Comics Ultimates, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man."

Tags: marvel comics, philip tan, captain america, ultimates, sam humphries, luke ross, ultimate comics, ultimate comics ultimates, divided we fall

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