Paniccia Oversees an "Ultimate" Rebirth

In 2000, Marvel Comics launched their "Ultimate" line of comics, a series of titles which re-imagined the long-lived publisher's classic characters in a contemporary and more realistic setting. In short, this meant the Ultimate Universe was a place where the impossible could happen; characters could die and stay dead and morally murky motivations could lead other characters down new and dramatically different paths.

It also meant large event storylines could rock the Ultimate Universe to its very core. In 2008, "Ultimatum" did just that when the villainous Magneto turned the world's weather into a weapon of mass destruction. Millions of people across the globe were killed, including a number of Ultimate heroes and villains. In the aftermath, the Fantastic Four and the surviving members of the X-Men disbanded, Reed Richards became a super villain and a number of heroes broke off from the team known as the Ultimates to form a Black Ops unit called the Avengers.

Currently, the Ultimate Line is in a grip of another event that will dramatically redefine its status quo once more. "Death of Spider-Man" is unfolding in the pages of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley and "Ultimate Avengers Vs. New Ultimates" by writer Mark Millar and artist Lenil Yu. The crossover will lead to a six issue weekly miniseries titled "Ultimate Fallout," which begins in July.

Following the completion of "Fallout," Marvel will kick off their "Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn" initiative which sees the publisher launching three new ongoing titles and one miniseries. CBR News spoke with Editor Mark Paniccia about the initiative and the titles involved.

CBR News: Mark, let's kick things off by talking about "Ultimate Fallout," the weekly miniseries being written by Jonathan Hickman, Brian Bendis and Nick Spencer. What can you tell us about the book? Is it a series that revolves around one protagonist or several?

Mark Paniccia: We're going to see how the four corners of the Ultimate Universe deal with "The Death of Spider-Man." The series will revolve around our most familiar cast members along with some we've not seen in a while and introduce a few new (and very important) characters. Some cool stuff is being set up in this series that will have major impact on the new books spinning directly out of "Death of Spider-Man."

The first new ongoing series, "Ultimate Comics Ultimates," by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Esad Ribic, launches in August. In your mind, what is the role of the new title in the "reborn" Ultimate Universe? What types of stories can people expect to see from this series?

"Ultimate Comics Ultimates" is where the majority of world-building is happening. It's mainly here where you get the grand view of how much trouble the world is in, what kind of threats are out there and how they could all converge and affect the players of all three series. When I read the "Ultimates" #1 script, I called Jonathan and told him I felt like I was watching an episode of "24." These are big stories with huge stakes and the pacing is very intense. He's got something big planned early on that's going to be absolutely heartbreaking and will change a main character forever. It's haunting stuff with punch-to-the-gut impact.

In September, Marvel launches the second new Ultimate series, "Ultimate Comics X-Men" by Nick Spencer and Paco Medina. In the Marvel Universe, the X-Men are fighting to realize a dream, but in the Ultimate U, the X-Men are fighting to wake up from a nightmare. Can you tell us about the long term goals facing the cast of "Ultimate Comics X-Men?" Is it mainly survival or will they eventually end up fighting for something else? And just how big are the obstacles and adversaries that the new Ultimate X-Men will have to overcome?

Trying to wake up from a nightmare is a great way of putting it -- and they're going to wake up right into another one. Nick's got a great first arc that gives you that real world feel the Ultimate Universe is so well known for. And while Nick will be writing to his strengths, getting us close and personal with the cast, he's got some huge surprises planned that will put the characters in conflict with new heavy hitters and even themselves. Plus, we'll get a chance to see what terrible things have been happening to characters we haven't seen since "Ultimatum." You thought most mutants were killed. Some have been facing a fate worse than death.

From what we've seen so far, Jonathan Hickman's "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" miniseries, which launches this summer as well, feels like a spy thriller where the main character is a master archer and wears a super hero costume. Is that the tone Jonathan is aiming for, a sort of "Casino Royale" set in the Ultimate Universe? Or is it a different kind of story?

It's definitely an international thriller written with the best elements of Bond, Bourne and "Mission Impossible." "Ultimate Comics Hawkeye" plays off of the events and intrigue that's brewing in the "Ultimates." It'll put us right in the middle of one of the game-changing world situations that (dare I say?) will be too much for our heroes to bear. What Jonathan is going for here, and accomplishing, is a breakneck action story that also serves as a tour guide to this new world paradigm. And he writes the coolest Hawkeye ever.

Obviously, much about the new volume of "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" by Brian Michael Bendis and Sarah Pichelli, has to remain shrouded in mystery until the "Death of Spider-Man" storyline is over. We do know, however, that a new Spider-Man will debut in a new costume after the current storyline comes to an end. Can you comment at all on what this means for the directions of Spidey's ongoing adventures in the Ultimate Universe? Will the new "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" series have a completely different feel to it? Or will it still have some of the elements fans of the book have come to love?

You're going to fall in love with the new "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man" book. There's a lot of new stuff coming down the pike, but the Bendis charm is in full throttle. This new series is really inspirational. It's the kind of thing that I'm really proud of having as a part of my editorial career.

Finally, do you have any further thoughts you would like to share about the "Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn" initiative?

It's all really amazing stuff. We've got a nice, clean and accessible universe here. It's great seeing the kind of ideas floating back and forth among Brian, Jonathan and Nick and watching how their stories are unfolding and where the casts will interact. It's exciting to see this becoming a cohesive universe where fans will get a more-than-monthly dose of things we could never get away with anywhere but in the Ultimate U; cool new villains, cool new Ultimized versions of Marvel characters and odds so impossible for our characters that some may not make it. Trust me when I say it's going to be one of the wildest rides you've ever been on!

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