In the realm of comic books there are certain unspoken “rules.” Certain conventions that must be obeyed if you play in these superhero sandboxes. For example, the death of a “lead” character is never permanent (Welcome back, Human Torch!). And the hero’s main archenemy can never be destroyed (Gee, his plane blew up but there’s no body…). But — what if you threw out the rules?
Welcome to Marvel Comics’ Ultimate Universe, where anything can happen… and in many cases, it already has! Spider-Man is dead, and so are Professor X, Wolverine, and Magneto. Mutants aren’t the next stage in evolution, they’re a government-created weapon in the craziest arms race imaginable. So if you thought they were feared and hated before, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
The writer behind this very unique version of the X-Men is none other than scribe Nick Spencer (“Secret Avengers,” “Iron Man 2.0,” “Morning Glories”). The “Ultimate Comics X-Men” writer stopped by for our first-ever Ultimate X-POSITION, and he’s filled to the brim with enthusiasm and answers. So grab yourself a large mug and take a seat as we pour you a piping hot cup of Spencer goodness! Ready, set… get Ultimate!
Our first email of the day comes from Darkxmen, who appears to be interested in a long term relationship with you and your team of mutants:
1) I want to start off by saying “Welcome to the Marvel Universe” — we’re lucky to have you! Being a fairly new “Ultimate X” reader (having only read the story by Loeb), what can you tell me about the plans for your book in the long run?
Thanks. As far as my plans go, I have a reputation for being a long-form storyteller, and this book certainly won’t disprove that. We’ve got a long term vision for this one that stretches across centuries and around the globe. It’s a story with a lot of twists and turns; a story where nothing is what it seems to be. It’s the biggest cast I’ve ever worked with — anyone who’s a mutant in the Ultimate Universe will play a role here — and it all dovetails nicely with Jon [Hickman]’s plans in “Ultimates” and Brian’s plans for [“Ultimate Comics] Spider-Man.”
What it all boils down to is this: in the wake of “Ultimatum,” the great mutant leaders — Charles Xavier and Magneto — are dead, and so are their dreams. Mutants will never live in peaceful co-existence with humans, nor will they rule them with an iron fist. Instead, they’ll be hunted, imprisoned and killed. Not only that, but rather than being the next step in evolution or the chosen children of God, mutants have been publicly outed as the result of US government genetics experiments — a horrible mistake made in the race to create super-soldiers. In a world gone wrong, a few young mutants will band together not in the name of a cause, but rather out of love for one another, and the desire just to survive. But the world might have bigger plans for them, it turns out.
2) How would you describe the difference between the Ultimate X-Men and the “regular” X-Men to someone who has never read them?
What immediately attracted me to doing this was the opportunity to tell a new story. Something that took a handful of familiar elements and then proceeded to flip them on their heads and push them in different directions than you might expect. One thing that had always struck me about X-Men stories — they always have to make that breakpoint, that moment where everything falls apart, some distant place in the future. It’s just a necessity brought about [by] the serialized nature of the medium. But here we had an opportunity to go all the way with it. Those terrible futures we glimpsed have arrived — but then on top of that, we can even take those ideas and make them something new and different. In other words, the apocalyptic vision itself isn’t exactly what it appeared to be the first time around.
I resolved, when I took the assignment, not to start fixing things up or diluting all the world-changing events that had come before. If anything, I decided to push things further to the brink, as I think the leak of the US government’s involvement in the creation of mutants has shown.
The arms of MarvelMaster616 seem to be kind of tired from some old baggage he’s carrying around. Is there anything you can tell him to lighten his load?
1) I was once a big Ultimate X-Men fan, but then I (and others) were turned off by “Ultimatum.” It seems many have attached a “stigma” to this event and its relation to the Ultimate X-Men. Does this present a challenge for you? Do you feel the need to address this?
Personally, a great deal of the appeal in doing the book came from the status quo upheavals that took place during “Ultimatum.” To me, if this were just another book with all the familiar X-trappings and the same cast we see in the Marvel Universe, I really wouldn’t understand the point of it. Why would we need an “Ultimate Comics X-Men” book if it didn’t stand out considerably from what was already on the shelves?
To me, “Ultimatum” opened the door for much bigger stories than what came before. I get that might upset some people if they liked what came before and they wanted more of that, or if they felt angry about the deaths of some of their favorite characters. But for me, change is exciting. Upheaval is exciting. It opens doors to new stories. Whether or not you like those new stories is entirely up to you, I guess, but I think there’s something to be said for taking chances here. I think it’s making the most of a line like ‘Ultimate Comics.’
2) Many characters that died in “Ultimatum” were killed off-panel with no apparent cause. Some characters like Dazzler, Toad, and Psylocke never had a chance to develop their stories further. I know you’ve stated that you’ll never bring back any characters, but don’t you think that’s kind of limiting?
Not [in] my view. To me, “dead means dead” is such a powerful selling point for this universe. It ups the stakes and makes those deaths mean something. Right now, when a character dies in most superhero books, let’s be honest, the fans set a timer and start counting down to the eventual resurrection. You can’t do that here, and to me, that’s a big part of what makes these books special. I worry a lot about the impermanence of death in comics and how it robs us of the ability to do tragedies — and thankfully, that’s not a problem in this line.
As far as a character dying before their arc is resolved, well, that’s exactly how death works. None of us know when it’s gonna hit, and not everyone gets to go out in a blaze of glory or just after they’ve reached closure on all the important things in our lives. Sometimes it happens quickly, and sometimes it happens when we least expect it.
3) Between the hunting of mutants, all the hatred incurred by Magneto, and the revelation about mutants being man-made, doesn’t that render mutants permanently “screwed” (for lack of a better word)? Where’s the hope for progression?
I’m not sure what you mean here by “progression.” In my experience, stories where everything just keeps getting better for the protagonists tend to be pretty boring. “Amazing Spider-Man” is probably the most successful ongoing superhero comic ever made, and really, if you lay it out by what’s happened, it’s really just one horrible thing after another happening to Peter Parker with very few things actually working out well for him. In the real world, the poor guy would probably be locked up in a mental hospital somewhere by now. But what we love about his story is the way he picks himself up and keeps trying to do the right thing, even in the face of what seem like insurmountable odds.
That’s exactly what I think we’re doing here, too, if we get it right. The question is, what will our heroes do, what can they do, in a world that’s decided they are the enemy? The only way you can feel great triumph as a reader is if the stage was set with great adversity, after all. And while the relationship between man and mutant might be irreparably broken, that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities for personal victories in the midst of that, either.
Taurean loves guests and hopes that the Ultimate X-Men do too. He has several Ultimate mutants he hopes to see soon:
1) Now that the secret about mutants is out worldwide, will we find out what’s happened to the other mutant superheroes, such as Alpha Flight?
Yes. Ultimate Alpha Flight will factor into our story in a couple places down the road, but not for a while.
2) I know Jean Grey, Shadowcat, Bobby, Johnny, and Jimmy are in the book, but what about the other mutants we were introduced to in Ultimate X?
Karen, Derek and Liz all have very important roles to play in our story — you’re certainly going to be seeing a lot of them once we get rolling.
CharlesJB wrote in with salutations and a couple of intriguing queries:
Hey Nick, we met at the Baltimore ComiCon (I’m the former Secret Service guy you talked to). I wanted to say I’m loving “Iron Man 2.0” and looking forward to “Ultimate Comics X-Men” and some more crazy political intrigue! Naturally, I have a couple of questions about the book:
1) With mutants being outed as a government-created, will we see some unlikely former antagonists on the human front suddenly becoming unlikely defenders? Isn’t it possible that they would say, “Hey, these folks are victims, we shouldn’t be rounding them up” — that sort of thing?
Hey Charles, great meeting you, again! Had a fantastic time at Baltimore — such a fantastic group of fans!
To your question, I’d say this: I’m very aware of the fact that nothing in this country stays unanimous for very long. To my eyes, where we are now in the Ultimate Universe is not too dissimilar from where the United States was in the months immediately following 9/11. There was a strong sense of unity then, and there was a lot of fast movement, legislatively speaking, to make sure something like that attack never happened again.
But then, obviously, some time passes, some other things happen, and before you know it, there are all these questions: are we responding too severely? Are we leaving behind some principles we hold dear, in the name of security? Are some people being treated unjustly in retribution for the actions of a few? You’ll start to see the same thing here, over time — everyone isn’t going to stay on the same page for too long, I’ll say that much.
2) And with the Ultimate books finally becoming more cohesive, how much interaction will mutants like Kitty Pryde have with other superheroes, especially given her open association with the original Spider-Man? Will the actions of the mutants impact all the other Ultimate heroes?
We’re all very committed to making the Ultimate books as cohesive as humanly possible, so yes, I think it’s very safe to say Kitty and Co. will definitely be interacting with other superheroes, some sooner rather than later. There’s one meet-up in particular I’m chomping at the bit to get to, and I’ll bet you guys can guess which one it is!
JoshD has some other meet-ups in mind, and he hopes they include flowers and chocolates!
1) Bobby, Rogue, and Kitty all share a romantic history; Johnny’s quite the lady’s man; and Jimmy doesn’t seem too shabby when it comes to dating, either. With that said, can we expect some new romances to blossom in coming issues, or perhaps even see old ones rekindled?
Absolutely. That’s was one of the first things that struck me about the dynamics of the main cast. There’s some history there, and we’ll definitely have fun playing with that, but then there are some new faces that have the potential to make it even more interesting/complicated/hilarious this time around. Ah, young love…
2) What powers does Rogue currently have? In Issue #1, she appeared to be super-strong. Does she still have the Juggernaut’s strength, or have her leech powers returned?
Rogue has both. She still has Juggernaut’s powers, and she can still absorb the powers of other mutants she comes into contact with. But that might not be all…
Really? Is it too much to hope she can shoot rainbows from her fingertips? While I cross my fingers, Renaldo had some questions about the teen mindset and the motivations of a villain:
1) You get to display teen angst/the younger generation in the “Ultimate Comics X-Men” via Jimmy’s crew and Kitty, and you also get to play in that genre on “Morning Glories” (and you do it well). I’m curious — is it difficult switching from an all-out hero comic book such as “THUNDER Agents” and “Secret Avengers” to a book like the teeny-bopping “Morning Glories?”
I wouldn’t say I find it difficult at all. I really enjoy writing younger characters. To me, it’s the perfect time in life for great stories because so much is still uncertain and everything is still such a journey of discovery. That said, it’s not the only kind of cast I like dealing with, and thankfully, I get the opportunity to stretch those other writing muscles in the books you mentioned!
2) Quicksilver’s machinations since “Ultimatum” has made his Ultimate-version a bit more conniving and cutthroat than his 616 counterpart, and his evil schemes may be a bit leaning toward his father. Given his actions in your first issue, do you guys plan to make him the new Magneto? And will we learn more of his devious schemes from “Ultimatum?”
I think Quicksilver is a very different person from Magneto is some pretty fundamental ways, and that will become more and more apparent as we move forward. We’re going to find just what he’s been up to since “Ultimatum” in “Ultimate Comics X-Men” #7, but before that, something happens that will shake him to his absolute core — something so big and so horrific, it will haunt him for the rest of his life. Pietro is possibly my favorite member of the cast to write. He’s such a rich, multi-faceted character to work with; I really think you’re gonna dig where his story goes from here.
At the beginning of today’s column, I mentioned some big names that are dead in the Ultimate Universe. Well, Madroxdupe024 has a question about a “big name” that’s Ultimately alive, but dead in the 616…
1) I [know] that you’re planning some stuff for Jean Grey. Can you hint at what’s to come?
I think of Jean/Karen as the flip-side of Pietro’s coin. They’re actually remarkably similar characters in terms of where they are now. They’re both people trying to live up to the legends of ghosts, and people struggling with an almost unfathomable level of loss. Yet at the same time, they’re both trying to find their own way in this very different new world they’re finding themselves in.
Jean has probably been through more than anyone in the Ultimate Universe — with the possible exception of Kitty — and she’s going to be dealing with the scars of that for a very long time. She’s someone who once wielded the ability to change reality completely… and almost as soon as she lost it, her entire world went up in flames and nearly everyone she loved was gone. To know that just — what, weeks? — before that, she could’ve snapped her fingers and undone all that, is something that she now carries with her every day. And she wasn’t in the best shape — mentally speaking — before that. So there’s a lot to look out for there. We’re playing a very long game with her story, but one very important part happens over in Jon’s “Ultimate Comics Hawkeye” mini, so make sure you check that out.
2) In light of all that’s going on in with the regular Marvel U’s X-Men, I have to ask: Wolverine or Cyclops? Which side do you choose?
Always Cyclops, man. I don’t care if he’s wrong or not — always Cyclops.
It’s his pretty eyes, isn’t it? Now it’s time for our “Behind the X” get-to-know-you question. Let’s get a little sentimental: if you could have a meal with any fictional (non-superhero) character, who would it be and why?
I have better answers than this, but you know what? That scene in “Love, Actually” where the [SPOILERS] kid runs through airport security to say goodbye to his little crush… yeah, that fucking gets me. Every. Single. Time.
I look forward to your unceasing mockery, Internet.
That concludes today’s X-fun, but we’ll be back in seven days to frolic with the writer of “Deadpool” — Daniel Way! So if you want to know what’s on Deadpool’s mind(s), just whip up some quality queries and shoot me an email ASAP. Throw an “X-Position” in the subject line and I’ll see if I can make an app to perform that function for you (then I can stop with the reminders). So stop dawdling and send me those questions! I’m waiting…
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