In 2000, Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley introduced readers to Marvel Comics' Ultimate Universe through the eyes of a teenage Peter Parker in the pages of "Ultimate Spider-Man" #1. Now it's 2009, and in the current "Ultimatum" mini-series, the Ultimate Universe is under siege by a berserk Magneto, and Spider-Man is in the thick of things. If the solicits for "Ultimate Spider-Man" #133 are any indication, "Ultimatum" might mean Peter Parker's downfall because it's marked as the last issue, which has left many fans wondering is Spider-Man going to die?
The answer to that is "No," but whether or not Peter Parker perishes is still in question. And it's a question that won't be answered until July when Marvel kicks off its newly rebranded "Ultimate Comics" line with the launch of "Ultimate Spider-Man" volume 2. CBR News spoke with the creative team of Brian Michael Bendis and David Lafuente ["Hellcat"] about the series.
Volume 2 of the series kicks off with a new #1 issue, and picks up the story a significant amount of time after the conclusion of the first volume. "In that time jump, a lot of things will happen. There will be changes not unlike what we did in my run on 'Daredevil,' where we had a rather large time jump," Bendis told CBR News. "After a disaster like what happened in 'Ultimatum, it's kind of fun to jump ahead and see where everybody is and try to figure out how they got there. It's very new reader friendly; for those looking for a place to hop on 'Ultimate Spider-Man' here's your place."
A significant amount of time may have passed between the two series, but the disasters that New York City endured during 'Ultimatum' still loom large in the mind of the city's population. "We're in a post 9-11 world and we know what it feels like to be past something like that. So it has to be written sincerely or it comes off as bullshit," Bendis said. "But really, what excites me is that I'm able to set up a status quo that hasn't been done before in a Spider-Man book. A lot of status quo stuff from Spider-Man is gone."
"What we did in the first volume of 'Ultimate Spider-Man was reinterpret Spider-Man for the new age; mission accomplished," Bendis continued. "Now it's time to try something else and this is what we're doing. Those who loved certain characters in the first volume will be very interested to see them in a new way. And you're also going to see a cast of characters in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' that you haven't seen before. You're going to see iconic Marvel characters that you've never seen before as part of a Spider-Man book. And whoever is in the Spider-Man costume is someone you have not seen before."
Bendis couldn't elaborate on the identity of the person in the red and blue webbed costume, or what it means for Peter Parker; all he could say was that answers to those questions would be revealed in the first arc of "Ultimate Spider-Man" Volume Two. The writer could discuss the types of stories he has planned for the series though, "What's cool is we've kind of told the Norman Osborn and Wilson Fisk stories. They were very long stories where Peter Parker learned that life sucks when you grow up," Bendis remarked. "In Ultimate Spider-Man Annual" #3 we set up Mysterio to be a very big villain in this volume, on the same level as Norman and the Kingpin were for him in the previous volume. Plus we have the opportunity to create some new villains and adversaries. Also we can dig up a couple of characters from the 60's Spider-Man TV show that I wanted to do and didn't get to do because Jeph Loeb drowned my book [Laughs].
"All of these things are going to happen right away," Bendis said. "I literally have a pile of characters that I've been dying to get to. I just haven't been able to because I had to wrap up certain things in Peter's life before we could get to them. Now everyone is fresh faced and ready to go. And boom! Here we go."
Bendis is also excited by the ability to create a more "shared universe" feeling that the launch of "Ultimate Spider-Man" Volume Two and the other title titles in the Ultimate Comics line afford him. "People who used to buy all four Ultimate titles would wonder why I wasn't referencing certain things in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' that were going on in titles like 'Ultimates,' and it was just about scheduling," the writer stated. "You didn't want to stomp on anything particular with 'Ultimates' because I didn't know when that book was shipping. If I mentioned Loki or something I'd screw it up for them. So I decided to leave things alone till after the book shipped and by the time the book shipped I didn't want to make those references anymore.
"Now with multiple artists on both 'Ultimates' and 'Ultimate Avengers' I think we're going to have a better playground and it will be easier to reference each other; not crossover, but reference each other a little better," Bendis explained. ""Like maybe something blows up, and if Spider-Man could have seen it, then he'll see it. There was all kinds of shit that happened in NYC in the other Ultimate books, and when it didn't happen in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' I always felt bad about it."
The world in "Ultimate Spider-Man" Volume Two has changed considerably, both because of the events in "Ultimatum" and the now more interconnected nature of the Ultimate Comics line. To help reflect those changes Bendis wanted a new artistic collaborator for the series. "The regular artist on the book is David Lafuente, who did 'Ultimate Spider-Man Annual' #3 and is awesome," Bendis stated. "And with him comes big eyes, hope, exciting visuals, and real bright look at the future of the Ultimate line."
David Lafuente is excited to be working with Bendis again, and to be given the chance to bring the writer's scripts to life on a regular basis. "I'm seduced by the pace and rhythm of his scripts. Storytelling is my first concern when working on a book, and he plays all kind of tunes I like to hear," Lafuente explained. "And about story, I love the characters, all geeky here. I like the way he's been evolving the relationships between the characters, the drama attracts me a lot. Don't get me wrong, I like the Bendis brand dialogue and, of course, the way he portrays Spidey and the cast.
For his depictions of the protagonist in "Ultimate Spider-Man", Lafuente is most interested in capturing the character's everyman qualities. "I think that Spidey is us. He (or she!) is learning as he goes. Spidey is young, inexperienced, and shortsighted some times -- and also noble and brave. He (or she) wants to do good. He (or she) has to be on time at home, to keep up with the homework, find time to date, enjoy-live," Lafuente remarked. "Spidey is very down to Earth (despite the Spider powers, HA!) and I like that."
Lafuente also wants to make sure he does justice to the members of Spider-Man's rogues gallery. "Spidey has the best foes in super-hero comics," the artist stated. "That's something important. From my point of view, a good antagonist plays not only the menace, but makes the hero show what he/she's made of. And they can cross lines that Spidey can't."
It's not just character qualities that are important to Lafuente. The artist also wants to make sure he accurately depicts the emotional elements of a story. "As a reader I tend to enjoy more the urban super-heroes like Spider-Man, Daredevil or Punisher," the artist explained. "And as creator, I'm very interested in the human side of the supers and their supporting cast, the collateral damage."
The types of stories Lafuente is interested in telling in "Ultimate Spider-Man" are ones with a certain element of surprise and shock. "I'd like to do something that Brian hasn't done before in his run. Put new stuff on the table, or if not new -- because there is nothing totally new -- a different narrative approach," the artist remarked. "Specifying sub-genres-- crime and mob stories could be really appealing. I would like to explore a bit more the horror vein that was touched in the Morbius issues or the Clone Saga. There was some sick stuff there that shook Spidey's cast big time, and that's super interesting."
Lafuente also finds the soap opera elements of "Ultimate Spider-Man" to be especially compelling. "The core idea of the book is power and responsibility. Spider-Man's life is permanently in a giant cocktail, shaken by super-problems and personal problems. And on top of that -- relationships are not easy, you have to work on it at the same time to you have to put Kingpin out of the game," Lafuente stated. "The Super side affects the Personal side and vice-versa. And Bendis knows how to balance this two veeery good, in my opinion."
Readers who saw Lafuente's work on "Ultimate Spider-Man Annual" #3 already have a good idea of what his work "Ultimate Spider-Man" Volume Two will look like. "I'll try to be consistent with what I've done in the Annual and in 'Hellcat,'" Lafuente said. "My ultimate (HA!) goal is to grow and get better, though I'll be pushing everything further. The action, dynamic; the drama, making people cry rivers."
Lafuente is thrilled to have the chance to make his mark on Spider-Man but the writer is a little intimidated at the prospect of following in the footsteps of previous "Ultimate Spider-Man" artists Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen. "It's not only being the third artist in this series (good moment to mention good third parts: 'The Bourne Ultimatum', 'Alien 3', 'Last Crusade', 'Die Hard 3' and 'Azkaban!) but it's also my first ongoing and my first anniversary at Marvel. I've jinxed it. I'm falling downstairs or something. And the writer is the 'Jinx' dude. Oh, God," Lafuente remarked. "A-hem. More seriously. Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen (and let's not forget Mark Brooks) are incredibly talented and unique guys, and jumping in after them is frightening, of course, though I know I have to do my thing as they did when they got the gig. For me, the task is always to contribute with my very best work, and therefore (inevitably!) my personal imprint. As simple and complicated as that."
Readers who enjoyed Bendis's collaboration with previous "Ultimate Spider-Man" artists need not worry. Immonen may be off "Ultimate Spider-Man," but he'll still being working with Bendis and he'll even be drawing Spider-Man -- just his older 626 incarnation. "For people who want to know where Stuart is going, he's coming with me to 'New Avengers' starting with issue #55. And that's good news for that book, because people who have been reading 'Ultimate Spider-Man' know he hasn't missed a beat And if you take a look at when the Ultimates guest starred in 'Ultimate Spider-Man' a couple of issues back, it showed you that he needs to be on an Avengers book immediately," Bendis said. "Because not only does he do everything I want in a comic extremely well. He does it on time, every day."
Bendis knows that the prospect of a new "Ultimate Spider-Man" title with a new #1 issue might make some of the book's already established fan base a little uneasy, but he wants them to know that they have nothing to worry about. "I know there will be sorry worry about that but I promise you it's going to be awesome. It's still 'Ultimate Spider-Man. We did 133 issues of the previous series, and this is a legitimate volume break in the highest sense of literature," Bends said. "It's like, here comes an ending and there's a new beginning. It's not a cheap one, and we don't do it all the time. So do not panic. If you need to write 134 on the first issue, you may do so. I'll sign it and it will all be fine."