Mark Millar -- increasingly one of the hottest names in Hollywood, these days -- is coming back to Marvel's Ultimate Universe in 2009 to kick-ass. And we don't use that phrase lightly.
It was announced Monday night at the Diamond Comics Distributors Retailer Summit in Las Vegas that the superstar Scottish scribe would be writing a new series entitled "Ultimate Avengers," which will spin directly out of Jeph Loeb and David Finch's upcoming universe-smasher, "Ultimatum." And what Millar has planned for Ultimate Universe's new flagship title is something he has been working towards since he created "The Ultimates" in 2002 with artist Bryan Hitch.
"This was my plan with 'The Ultimates.' I had a notion of the Ultimates splitting into two groups," Millar told CBR News from his home in Scotland. "But I felt that 'The Ultimates' should have been a book about the Ultimate brand and that universe with Nick Fury and SHIELD and the entire Ultimate franchise, essentially, and at the end of 'The Ultimates 2,' Captain America and Thor and all of those guys would go off and form the Avengers. SHIELD would start to generate their own super-soldiers -- we saw a bit of that in 'The Ultimates 2'-- and these soldiers would all go off and fight in the Gulf and all the stuff that we have been seeing in 'War Heroes,'" the writer explained, referring to his newly released, creator-owned title from Image Comics with Tony Harris. And I thought 'Ultimate Avengers' would be more of a traditional superhero book where you would have Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Giant Man all fighting super-nemeses. This is the thing that I always wanted to do in 'The Ultimates' but just never got around to it. We'd see these guys fight traditional Marvel super-villains."
Millar quipped that it took he and fan favorite artist Bryan Hitch a tad longer to tell the origin story of Earth's Mightiest Super-Heroes than it did Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1963. "If you think about it, in the five-and-half years it took us to do 26 issues, which is ridiculous, it was really just an origin story," laughed Millar. "And it really was the first issue of 'The Avengers' where the team was formed to fight Loki. And we only got to fight one super-villain in 26 issues. The rest of it was a very different kind of comic."
The writer continued, "I always wanted those characters -- Ultimate Cap and Ultimate Tony -- to go off and actually fight Ultimate Kang and Ultimate Red Skull or whatever. I wanted to do some kick-ass adventures with these heroes because we really never saw them do that kind of stuff. And I also wanted it to be non-traditional. I think 'The Ultimates' was a sort of reinvention of what you would expect from a superhero origin story. So now I want to reinvent how we do superheroes fighting super-villains. I want to do something different with it."
Quite simply, "Ultimate Avengers" will be the equivalent of an "event" series happening two times a year. "The way I keep describing it to Marvel is it's going to feel like 'Civil War' or 'Secret Invasion' or something every six issues," Millar remarked. "Twice a year, there will be a six-issue story where a different big catastrophe hits the Ultimate Universe," revealed Millar. "And Nick Fury has to assemble a bunch of bad-ass guys to go and deal with it. So the first storyline will involve Ultimate Kang and you get Captain America and Thor and all of those guys we've seen in 'The Ultimates,' but we also have some of the X-Men and Fantastic Four and so on getting together to fight this thing."
The second "Ultimate Avengers" storyline delves into material from the first volume of "The Ultimates," in which Hawkeye and Black Widow were seen working for a black ops team called Ultimates Black. "We've got Nick Fury assembling a dirty tricks team really and we see there is a dark side to Ultimate universe," Millar explained. "You've got a team comprised of The Punisher, War Machine and an African-American Hulk character that I have created. And it's also tied into the origin of Hawkeye. We have seen the origin of Thor and Captain America and so on in 'The Ultimates' but we never really saw where Hawkeye came from. It's quite a shocking setup I've been building up to through the first two books of 'The Utimates.'"
"Ultimate Avengers" will be the tentpole book under which all titles in the Ultimate line exist, with Millar taking on the role of Nick Fury himself, enlisting the services of the top artists in the industry for each separate arc making the title a must-buy for every superhero reader. "Guys like a Steve McNiven or a Leinil Francis Yu -- big, big names will be drawing each and every one of these arcs. It's almost obscene how commercial the book is," scoffed Millar. "All the best characters, all put together for a huge event every six issues. We are even fusing together the two brands that Marvel has done best at over the last decade, which is the Ultimate brand and the Avengers brand. And then getting the biggest artists Marvel's got. I'll just drag them over into these books."
"Ultimate Avengers" will be Mark Millar's only Marvel work for at least the next two years. "I'm not even doing a backup story anywhere else," the writer confirmed. "I have finished all of my current commitments and 'Ultimate Avengers' is all I am doing for 2009."
Is that to free up time for the Superman movie trilogy Hollywood rumormongers have been talking about for the last few weeks? "I don't know. I am keeping my options open," Millar said. "I've got the bug for creator-owned books, to be honest. I've really loved working at Marvel. It's been great. But by god, you know, how great is it to just be doodling something and then seeing Nicolas Cage acting it out in London on a film set? That's cool too. It's a lovely position to be in, because what I am working on at the moment, I am really enjoying. I get a real kick out of 'Kick-Ass' but it's lovely jumping into 'Ultimate Avengers' too."
Millar confirmed his creator-owned ICON title, "Kick-Ass," which is currently being filmed in London as a movie adaptation starring the aforementioned Nicolas Cage, will run for at least three books of eight issues. "[Director] Matthew [Vaughn] and I already have the second movie planned and worked out," Millar revealed. "That's how insanely confident we are, but it's likewise going to follow the book where we see super-villains being influenced by Dave on top of the heroes he's inspiring."
"Dave" is Dave Lizewski, the high school-aged hero of "Kick-Ass," who finds jobs via his MySpace page like any good do-gooder.
Millar has already written the first three issues of "Ultimate Avengers," but confirmed there is no actual Avengers team per se in the title. The roster actually includes the entire Ultimate line. "There's no team as such. It's like Project Avengers," he said. "It's the thing Nick Fury is talking about at the end of the Iron Man movie. Occasionally, shit happens and a team has to be assembled. So it's not like 'Mission: Impossible.' It's more like 'Civil War' or 'Secret Invasion.' And it allows me the opportunity to explore the entire Ultimate Universe.
"And the thing that I think that I am best at -- everybody's got their specific skills, some guys have big ideas, some guys, like Garth Ennis, write terrific dialogue -- I think the thing I am pretty good at is probably reinventing characters for a new age. That's what worked out really well with 'The Ultimates.' And I love the idea of just having the license to go out and do that with the rest of the Marvel Universe."
Millar revealed the first act of "Ultimate Avengers" features all of the Ultimates, all of the Fantastic Four and some of the Ultimate X-Men. "And there's a small appearance by Ultimate Spider-Man," Millar revealed. "The first [arc] is a huge one. It's got everybody. And Kang is the villain. And Red Skull is in there, as well. It's great getting to apply the same hand as I did in putting the Ultimates together. What would these guys be like? An Ultimate Red Skull?"
The writer also shared the second arc would include Ultimate Ghost Rider, Ultimate Punisher and the third act is a showcase for Ultimate Blade.
As stated, "Ultimate Avengers" will spin directly out of Jeph Loeb and David Finch's "Ultimatum," which has its first issue scheduled for November. "We pick up immediately from where Jeph left off. It is literally the next scene," said Millar. "Brian [Bendis] and Jeph and Joe [Quesada] and I all got together about six weeks ago in New York, and we sat and sort of plotted it all out then to make sure everything was in order."
Millar believes the Ultimate Universe is at its best when there are a very small number of creators producing a very small number of books. "There's been a kind of watering down of the Ultimate Universe the last few years," he said. "It was very much the Cool Universe the first half of the decade, and then I think the Marvel Universe kind of caught up with it, mainly by integrating all the Ultimate ideas into it the Marvel Universe -- the militarization of the superheroes, Spider-Man being a single guy again, all that kind of stuff. So the idea is to put some clear, blue water between the Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Universe again. And again, make it the one that is five years ahead of the Marvel U."
To that end, the Ultimate architects decided there will be no more of what Millar calls "little miniseries" or other "diluted products." "Just keep it to as many A-list creators as we can and the five best artists in the industry," the writer remarked. "Just make sure when you pick up an Ultimate book, you are guaranteed to get your money's worth."
Millar couldn't say who will be illustrated the first "event-arc" of "Ultimate Avengers," but promises it's going to be huge. "I think there is actually some issue that they haven't been able to announce it yet, but they will soon. I just think they actually can't at the moment," said Millar. "I have never worked with this person before, so I am very, very excited to do so. But we had to promise not to say a word about it. I think Marvel is planning a huge announcement about it."