The cast of Marvel Comics Ultimates 2 (by writer Al Ewing and artist Travel Foreman) have been gathered together by the cosmic entity known as Galactus to perform a seemingly impossible task; help him liberate Eternity, the physical embodiment of all life in the Marvel Multiverse, from the clutches of a mysterious entity that has imprisoned it. For months, Eternity's captor struck at the Ultimates through its agents, but in Ultimates 2 #6, its true identity was revealed as it stepped out of the shadows to escalate it's cosmic war -- an event that couldn't have come at a worse time.
The Ultimates have found themselves up against the First Firmament, a sentient, malevolent embodiment of the universe. Worse, its coming after the team while they are caught up in the chaos and carnage of Marvel's Secret Empire event. We spoke with Ewing about the origins of the First Firmament, its goals, and the other characters that have and will be caught up in the Firmament's machinations like the Marvel Universe incarnation of Psi-Force, the Maker and Ego the Living Planet. Plus, the writer opens up on his plans to celebrate a big milestone for the team with August's Ultimates #100
CBR: So now we now know the identity of the villain behind Eternity's imprisonment, and quite a bit of the cosmic upheaval occurring in the Marvel Multiverse. What inspired the creation of the First Firmament? And what can you tell us about its ultimate goal?
Al Ewing: I came up with the idea of Eternity in chains very soon after we started - the book was fairly open-ended, originally, but that gave it a shape, a mystery to solve and an enemy to fight. So the immediate question is, what enemy could chain all reality? And having already established that Eternity was the eighth iteration of everything, it seemed like one of the earlier ones would be ideal to fill that role. And what better than cosmos number one? Although he didn't become "the First Firmament" until I was flipping through an old issue of Morrison and Jones' Marvel Boy.
As for what he wants - it's relatively simple, as cosmic entities go. The First Firmament is just one big universe, but due to a cosmic war in his innards a multiverse split off from him. He hates that - hates the whole concept of multiverses, hates that there can be different points of view, different backgrounds, different ways of life that aren't entirely about him. So he wants there to be just one universe again, and he'll do whatever it takes to force that situation into being.
What was it like coming up with the story of the First Firmament? It feels like you're having a great time on this book and quite a bit of your other Marvel work playing with existing and adding to the large mythos of Marvel's cosmic and abstract entities.
The wonderful thing about shared superhero universes is that they're essentially made of Lego. As in, you have all these wonderful constructions that come in the boxes provided, but you can take bits of one and bits of another and connect them up and build something completely new. I was very happily surprised, once I had the idea of what became the First Firmament, to go back over old comics and see how perfectly everything lined up already, even providing a name - so in one sense, that's like Lego, and in another sense it's like numerology, where you pick a number and go back seeing how perfectly everything connects to it, even though you're just assigning those connections yourself after the fact. It's fun, anyway. I'm sure someone will come along after me with an even bigger and madder idea and turn my stories to their service - there'll always be a niche somewhere in the Marvel Universe for giant, cosmos-ranging, head-exploding concepts, and writers who feel at home in that niche.
In Ultimates 2 #6 you revealed the story of the First Firmament while your cast did battle with one of its aspirants, Rostov. During that battle Blue Marvel and Spectrum merged their forms together into a more powerful one and when they did that Monica noticed Omega symbols on the palms of the being they merged into. So is there more about their combined form to be revealed later? And how has being able to merge together impacted the relationship between Monica and Adam? How close are they now?
Well, remember that Monica and Adam have merged in the past - at the end of the first Mighty Avengers volume, they merged with the rest of the team. So this isn't the first time. It'll certainly have brought them closer together as a couple, though. That said - one of my bugbears in a big-multiversal-concepts book like Ultimates 2is that there's only room for so much. Giant, universe-shaking moments demand a lot of page space, and one of the things that's a little sparser than I'd like as a result is the romance. Adam and Monica's romance has blossomed mostly as background music across various books - hopefully that'll change in the future, once the characters get a breather from all the cosmic explosions. (Meanwhile, romance is a lot more front-and-center in Royals -that's just how the book's turned out, but maybe I'm learning.)
Another interesting aspect of the battle in issue #6 was the introduction of the Marvel Universe incarnation of Emmett Proudhawk, the Psi-Hawk, who made his comics debut as part of Marvel's 1980's “New Universe” line of books. What made you want to introduce him and Psi-Force into the larger Marvel U? And it feels like there's a lot more interesting stories to be told with Emmett and the Psi-Force. Will we see those characters again soon?
The Troubleshooters get a cameo in the current U.S.Avengers arc, which ties in in a very small way - more of an easter egg than a crossover, but we do get to see Paco Medina draw Galactus, and he does a wonderful job. As for the whys and hows of the Psi-Force... I think back in the mists of time I had an idea for a kind of "government Ultimates,"a sort of foil for the team that could eventually fight them. And for whatever reason, I decided to use Prime Universe versions of the old New Universe characters.
I think it might have been that I had a fun idea for how to do Justice, a kind of reversal of the old "forget the magic fantasy world and bring him into the real world" idea that people had in the past. Instead, I started with the Spring vs Winter stuff and made it the core of the character - taking inspiration from Jim Channon, made famous by Jon Ronson's The Men Who Stare At Goats.(Worth a read.) And from that sprang everything else - the Troubleshooters as new age psychic warriors in the mold of the First Earth Battalion. From there we got to the new "Psi-Force", because I couldn't resist, and by the time we get to the Psi-Hawk the snowball is careening down the mountain at full tilt.
I'd love to do much more with the Troubleshooters - they're probably the characters I'm most likely to bring back, if only because so far they've been portrayed as stooges to an extent, and I'd like to give them a bit more agency and autonomy before I release them to other hands.
In Ultimates 2 #7 the Ultimate's battle against the First Firmament was interrupted as they and several other cosmic heroes were forced to repel wave after wave of Chitauri invaders. How did that effect your cast's dynamic and morale? What's their sort of mental and emotional statuses when you pick up with them in issue #8?
I figured it'd be nice to take a breather issue, especially if by doing so we could ramp up the pressure on everyone. So Secret Empire provided a nice way of doing both. Needless to say, morale is in the toilet - they're being hit constantly by an endless alien invasion and we can already see in #7 how it's starting to affect them. (And we'll be seeing more in other tie-in books, I'm sure.) And it gets worse for them - #8 is our Galactus solo issue, so they don't get any kind of break until #9 - when they have to fight the Eternity War.
In Ultimates 2 #8-9 the Eternity War heats up and grows as new players become involved like Ego the Living Planet, the High Evolutionary, and the Maker. What hints and teases can you offer up about these issues and those characters' roles in the conflict?
They've all got their roles to play. #8 is what might end up being the final conflict between Ego and Galactus - you'll see how that plays out when it drops, but I think it might be the last go-round on that score for at least a few years, and as is my wont, I try to leave Ego in a better place than I found him. #8 also provides some clarity on what's going on with the Maker and the High Evolutionary - although it doesn't answer everything. For instance, isn't the Maker stuck behind the shield as well? And for that matter, wasn't he in a cell made of similar stuff? There's an answer to both those questions coming in #9, and it turns out to be a fairly elegant one, if I say so myself.
It looks like Aud Koch, who provided the pencils for issue #7 will also work on issues #8-9, correct? I enjoy Aud's fun, imaginative style, and knack for acting. What do you like most about her work?
Aud's with us for #8, but Travel is back on #9 - and his work on that issue, and what follows, is superlative as always. Aud's been absolutely fantastic - she's one of the few artists whose work I have up on my wall, and it's actually a page from issue #8. (I'll let you guess which one.) In the main, I try not to compare artists to other artists, but there's something redolent of Aubrey Beardsley in her work that I really dig - it's a style that works incredibly well in the Galactus/Ego story, giving it this quietly ethereal, evocative quality. The smart people are taking notice of her style, so I'm pretty sure we'll be seeing her on something groundbreaking and award-winning before very long at all.
Finally, in August you're celebrating a big milestone issue with the release of Ultimates #100. How does it feel to be given a chance to tell this tale? And what can you tell us about this story? The cover and the solicits for the issue suggest you'll be celebrating the legacy of both the Marvel and Ultimate Universe incarnation of the titular team, correct?
For a start - it's thirty pages long. And those pages are jam-packed, full to the gills. Dropping in August, #100 falls pretty close to Kirby's 100th, and I wanted to celebrate that with something big and mad and wonderful, pushing everything forward into new territory, new blazing ideas. And it's pretty close to my 40th as well, so it's in a position to act as the culmination of a particular phase of my work. So it's where pretty much everything we've been doing on the book - as well as things I've been doing on other books - builds to a crescendo. It's quite a special issue for me, all told, and I'd like to make it special for all the readers as well. And on that note - yep, the original Ultimates, minus Thor, are all back, hale and hearty. We'll find out how that could possibly be in the months to come, and it should hopefully make for some fun moments - but that's just one detail of what's going to be a very big issue for Ultimates fans and cosmic Marvel fans everywhere.
I'll finish up with my usual big thank you to all those who are buying and reading my work - it really means a lot that you've kept up with this, and I hope you'll stick with me in the future.