Marvel Gives Out 'Ultimate' Answers

For a project ambitious in scope and to which quite a bit has apparently been invested, in every sense of the word, Marvel Comics has been rather reticent about their Ultimate Marvel line, which aims to (re)gain mainstream readership by launching new titles starring fresh takes on their biggest characters.

Wednesday, Marvel Comics spokesman Bill Rosemann broke the silence from the House of Ideas, with a release running down the company's plans for the Ultimate line, including the "Marvel Ultimate Magazine," which will reprint stories from "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Ultimate X-Men" and other titles.

"Right now I'm playing a Contributing Editor role for 'Marvel Ultimate Magazine,'" Rosemann said in the release, "Commenting on everything from what the cover should look like to what comics will be reprinted to what the articles should cover.

"The actual editor of the magazine will be the person who steps in as Reprint Editor, a spot recently left open by the departure of Polly Watson.

"And the man overseeing everything is Bill Jemas, who is the visionary behind the entire Ultimate scene. He'll be commenting and contributing to all things Ultimate, from the original comic books, to the magazine, to the ads to the Point of Purchase material. Jemas is the one who deserves all the credit for creating, supporting and shaping the Ultimate project."

As for the "Marvel Ultimate" magazine itself, Rosemann said "the format will be a monthly, full-color, 80-page magazine that will measure 7 1/4" by 10 7/8". The reason we're going into the newstand market with a magazine format is simple: The newstand wants magazines. Newstand agents and distributors don't particularly care what the magazine is about (it could be 'Maxim' or 'Cat Fancy'), what they care about is the format and cost. They'd rather sell 1 stack of a $3.99 magazine then a spinner rack of 50 different comics that cost $2.25 (that they have to keep organized, strip covers each month, etc.). Ironically, while we think comics should cost less, they think they don't cost enough! The bottom line is that newstand agents think comics are a hassle, and therefore don't want them. So we're giving them and our audience what they want.

"We all know that both 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'Ultimate X-Men' are great for new readers. Both deserve to share the spotlight, and both deserve their own place in the sun. Each will be reprinted, but in alternate months. Here's a rough breakdown for the 1st four issues:

"Issue #1: Ultimate Spider-Man #1 (a 48-page story) & #2"Issue #2: Ultimate X-Men #1 (a 48-page story) & #2"Issue #3: Ultimate Spider-Man #3 & #4, plus an additional reprint"Issue #4: Ultimate X-Men #3 & #4, plus an additional reprint

"The additional reprint material is currently being selected. The goal is to pick content that is both new-reader-friendly and as strong as the Ultimate content. It could be a classic story (i.e. 'The Kid Who Collected Spider-Man'), it could be recent Marvel Knights material (i.e. 'Black Widow,' 'Daredevil: Ninja'). Whatever we choose will be of the highest quality, will be a logical fit, and will show new readers just how cool the entire Marvel Universe is!

"As for the alternating spotlight, we thought it unfair to have someone who really digs Spider-Man to get 1/2 a magazine starring the X-Men, and vice versa. While there may be some overlap between these fan groups among our current Direct Market readers, more than likely mainstream readers really like one or the other. And if you're buying a magazine promising X-Men comics, then it better deliver 100 percent, right?"

In addition to comics and comic reprints, other material will be included in the magazine.

"We're looking at supplying anywhere from 5 to 12 pages (depending on the length of the comic material) of short, graphic intensive entertainment features that our readers hunger for. It may be an interview with Tobey MaGuire on how he nabbed the role that every young actor in Hollywood was gunning for. It might be an inside look at the two new X-Men video games that are being made by Activision. It could be a quick talk with the band PowerMan 5000 about how Luke Cage inspired their name. We will focus on the movies, TV shows, video games, new technology and trends that our readers are into... and we'll make sure there's a Marvel spin to the entire package."

The whole notion of the Ultimate Marvel concept has been controversial in some quarters, and Rosemann set out the company's position in the release:

"'Marvel Ultimate Magazine' will feed readers into the direct market. That is the #1 goal that drives us. When I was a kid, I bought comics wherever my Mom took me, which meant grocery stores, drug stores, etc. Then, when I was old enough to earn my money and had my own transportation, I sought out specialty shops and discovered a whole world of comics (that I spent lots of moolah on!). We want that pattern to continue. But if it takes producing a magazine to get back in the newstand, then that's what we'll do.

"And the best thing of all is that 'Ultimate Spider-Man' and 'Ultimate X-Men' aren't replacing 'Amazing Spider-Man,' 'Uncanny X-Men' or any of the existing mainstream titles in any way. We were very careful to protect the history that we and our readers cherish. So not only will 'Ultimate Marvel Magazine' steer readers to the mainstream books, it will also prime them to explore our entire Universe of characters. If they like Spidey, we're willing to bet they'll also think Daredevil and the Hulk are cool. If they like team books like the X-Men, they'll probably also want to check out the FF, the Avengers or the Defenders. This magazine exists to steer readers right to the books on the shelves of the Direct Market.

"We want to entertain anyone who craves heroic adventure in the Mighty Marvel Manner. It's for the 12-year-old who watches the X-Men cartoon and wants to read more about them. It's for the 27-year-old who came out of the X-Men movie looking for more Wolverine. It's for the 36-year-old who used to love Spider-Man but lost touch and doesn't know where to buy comic books.

"That's the thing about the newstand: the audience is unlimited! And that's the great thing about the Ultimate stories: they work for everyone! Think about it: did you pass on your copy of 'Ultimate Spider-Man' #1 to a friend or wife or co-worker or nephew like I did? Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Mark Millar, Adam Kubert and Bill Jemas are telling stories that they work for everyone, whether you're new to the scene or have been reading for decades! You'll be able to hand 'Marvel Ultimate Magazine' to anyone who dug the X-Men movie and say, 'Read This! This is why I love comics!'

"Out of all the big projects we're lining up for 2001 -- including [J. Michael] Strazcyski on 'Amazing Spider-Man,' the new X-Men writers, and all of the cool projects we'll be announcing soon -- the one thing I am most excited about is 'Marvel Ultimate Magazine.' This is our strongest chance to storm back onto the newstand and create the next generation of comic book readers.

"I have been fighting for and supporting a magazine initiative for years. A comic book company that refuses to publish in the magazine format is like a music company that will only publish vinyl albums. For years we were that company, saying, 'Hey, we love vinyl albums! They're groovy! We'll just wait until everyone realizes we're right and comes back to them.' That is illogical thinking. And that's coming from someone who grew up on comics ... who loves comics ... who chose to go into comics as a profession. But I'm also someone who doesn't confuse comics content with comics format. Music and movies don't have to come in only one format, so why should comics? People want a format that is convenient and delivers a desired experience. In the case of music, first it was albums, then cassettes, now CDs. In movies there was a time when you could only see a film at a theater. Then came the VCR tapes, cable, pay-per-view and DVDs. In publishing, the newstand market wants the magazine format... so, again, we're giving them what they want.

"Is this a risk for Marvel? Hell yeah. But is it a risk worth taking if we wish to embrace the future? You better believe it!"

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