IGN Comics: What brought about the relaunch of the Ultimates line and what are the primary differences between the first "volume" of the franchise and the upcoming one?
Jeph Loeb: It was all brought about because I was in New York, I think about a year ago, and Brian Bendis, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley and I went out to dinner and started talking about what happened to the Ultimate Universe. And it's important that isn't in any way a snipe at the people who worked on the books at the time. I have enormous respect for them, particularly now that I've been writing so much of it – I have even more respect for them.
One of the major shifts was that the normal Marvel Universe was becoming more and more like the Ultimate Universe. You can simply point to what Bendis had been doing with the Avengers was closer to the tone of the Ultimates than it had been ever before. And I really liked what Brian was doing, but it started to blur that line. So how do you proceed from that point forward? The idea was to have a line that was a very different take on Marvel's characters so that you weren't just reading another Avengers title.
For me, in Ultimates 3, that [different take] meant moving away from the politics that Mark Millar had been doing - brilliantly, I might add - and moving towards something more uncomfortable in terms of the way characters reacted to each other. In particular one of the centerpieces became the incest storyline, which wasn't even my creation. I got an awful lot of credit for that but it was all there and very clear in Millar's version. But I also very much embraced the superhero element of it, and again that shifted it away from what Brian was doing in the Avengers. So it's this balancing act of keeping the Ultimate Universe different.
The biggest change is that after eight years you find that the stories start to fold in on each other. The continuity of the Universe starts to become what the stories are about. And what I admired about what Bendis and Millar had done in the early days was that you didn't know what to expect. Spider-Man/Peter Parker was 16 years in and in high school. The X-Men were rock stars on the cover of Time Magazine. It wasn't anything we'd seen in years and I don't recall it ever being that way for the X-Men… and it was about going back to that unexpected concept. And that's where I wanted to start and all of us at that meal were talking about what made that place different. One thing that stood out to me was how young everyone was. The Fantastic Four were in their late teens, perhaps early adulthood. Peter and his cast were 16. The X-Men started out to be under 20 although then Wolverine slept with Jean and that changed everything. Really the only adult group was the Ultimates.
Anyway, that's basically where it began, and hopefully it goes back to a world where things are unexpected.
IGN Comics: With this "second volume" of the Ultimate Universe and the fourth of Ultimates, are you looking to thematically change the way you approach the series? Is this simply a focus on doing unexpected things or will you be altering the approach of the series as well?
Loeb: Well, first of all it's not a volume four. It's called now New Ultimates Vol. 1 #1. It's not just a title, it's a way of breaking from what came before, similar to how Bendis moved from "Disassembled" to New Avengers #1. I think Frank Cho brings a different taste to the Ultimate Universe in a way that Bryan Hitch did when he came to the Universe.
But yes, we're hoping to go towards the unexpected and, like I often say, I just tell the best stories that I can and hope that people like them. Certainly the success of Ultimates 3 , Ultimate Origins and Ultimatum tells us that we're moving in the right direction.
IGN Comics: Can you talk a bit about the next wave of Ultimates. What will be the story in the opening arc? Can you tell us how many issues that will last?
Loeb: I don't want to give too much away. Part of the problem is that the readers haven't finished Ultimatum. It will change things dramatically, certainly in the tenor and tone of the world these characters live in, just starting with the fact that half of New York is decimated and half of Eastern Europe is gone… and we'll discover more things as we go.
There is no reset button. No one is going back in time. What happens is what happens. What Magneto did will affect this world in the same way – and this isn't to try and compare these on any emotional level or level of real world importance – but what Magneto does to this universe is very similar to how Hitler or 9/11 changed our world. You can't deny there are moments in modern history that make people feel differently about who they are and who their heroes are. In the case of the Ultimates, there will be a refocusing as to how that team runs, who they work with and who's left to be on the team. But what I like about that is that it lands them in a hardcore world, and then we can pit that against something that's unreal. And again, if you go back to what Mark and Bryan had been doing, the idea that there were invasions of Skrull-like creatures while Hank and Jan were dealing with domestic abuse… it was a balancing act. I'm hoping to get in closer to that than in Ultimates 3.
IGN Comics: The relaunch is adding the Ultimate Avengers title to the roster. How will the Ultimates series compare and contrast to the Ultimate Avengers title?
Loeb: I'm not sure how much Mark will reveal about Ultimate Avengers. [Editor's Note: Be sure to check out our interview with Mark Millar for all the details on that series.] The books are very different. First of all, I'm thrilled that Mark is coming back to the universe he created. I've heard the pitches that he has for the different Ultimate Avengers stories. One of the major differences is that Mark's Ultimate Avengers are kept private for reasons close to the story he's doing. There's much more of a political bend to the series that Mark does so well. So the book will offer a different flavor for the reader. The Ultimates will be the public team of heroes that the world can look up to and either celebrate or try to tear down.
IGN Comics: So we're looking at the possibility of shared characters between the two books as some operate both within and outside of the public eye?
Loeb: Yes, and in the private world of Ultimate Avengers… it will be done with stealth and maybe without the knowledge of the Ultimates. Mark and I will be playing a lot with secrets and that goes back to the notion of expecting the unexpected.
IGN Comics: I'm not sure if you can do this yet but can you give us an idea of what villains are around the corner?
Loeb: Hmmm, sure! Something very significant happens in Ultimatum, some of which we've seen, and that will very much change the status quo of what's happening in Asgard. That will open the door for Loki's revenge. That speaks again to that idea of reality vs. fantasy.
IGN Comics: You mentioned Frank's work on the series already. Is it still the plan to rotate artists between arcs or volumes?
Loeb: I became comfortable, and I think the readership did as well, with what we did on Superman/Batman, which was a McGuinness/Turner/Pacheco wheel. It made it possible to keep the book on time and also made it possible to do stories that were different in tone but with the same underlying themes. In the case of Superman/Batman there was a thread that took you all the way to issue #25. There will be things in Ultimates that feel the same way.
I also think it's important to note that what happens in Ultimates 1, 2 and 3 is not in any way ignored after Ultimatum. That's the same for all the books. The characters that survive will live on and deal with what happened in Ultimatum. They will be affected by who they were prior to Ultimatum as well.
IGN Comics: I know there's not too much you can say, but I'd love it if you could tease what's coming in Ultimatum for the readers. Is that possible?
Loeb: I can promise that Yellowjacket's reaction to Blob's incredibly disgusting murder of the Wasp… the murder will be topped by his revenge.
Issue #3 focuses on Magneto and his plans, which have yet to be fully revealed. They're even darker than we might have imagined. There's more in terms of Thor, Valkyrie and Captain America in Valhalla. There's also the unlikely alliance between Reed Richards and Doom which will affect things tremendously. Issue #4 is more of a ground-level storyline with the Hulk and Spider-Man, which is very much tied to what Bendis is doing in Ultimate Spider-Man. One of the challenges is doing these books that tie in with other books, despite how small this line is, is that… well, I'm very lucky to be working alongside Aron Coleite and Joe Pokaski, who are close friends and we used to work together every day so we could tie these stories together closely. Some of the stories that start in Ultimatum wrap up in the other titles, but hopefully not in a way that doesn't give you a satisfactory ending in Ultimatum.
The fate of the characters, Johnny Storm in particular, is answered in both books [Ultimatum and Ultimate Fantastic Four]. And any relationship with Dr. Doom can't end well when you're talking about the Fantastic Four. Over in the X-Men, this is a big X-Men story. We're talking about Magneto taking the world apart. At the end of issue #2, he also kills Charles Xavier. Anything goes at this point and those who survive will have to – and mutants in general – deal with these changes and the changes of perception. Magneto has sworn to kill everyone on the planet.
By the end of the fourth issue, there's a gathering of heroes and the fifth chapter is the battle with Magneto. If you think losing Wasp was shocking, that's but an appetizer for what's to come. One last thing, David Finch and I have been talking regularly about that fifth issue and there must be at least ten times where we're just saying "Holy s—t! Are we going to get away with this?!" And so far, everyone at Marvel has been incredible supportive. Ultimatum will absolutely affect everything that's to come.
IGN Comics: Cool! Thanks so much for your time, Jeph. I appreciate it.
Loeb: Not a problem!
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