It’s the beginning of the end for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. At least, that’s what Brian Michael Bendis and Josh Fialkov want us to think, as their new universe-threatening mini-series Cataclysm approaches and the Earth-616 Galactus-introducing mini-series Hunger continues to wreak giant purple havoc on the Ultimates. It’s fitting that Bendis should be here for the Ultimate Universe’s potential destruction, given that in 2000 he and Mark Bagley helped launch it with Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Now, 13 years after the fact, Peter Parker is dead (like, actually dead), Miles Morales is Spider-Man, and Galactus is coming to dinner. Tonight’s menu? Earth a la mode.
After reading the first two issues of Hunger, I was champing at the bit for more information about Galactus’ arrival and what to expect from Cataclysm. Thankfully, the delightful Bendis and Fialkov obliged, and sat down with me to talk about the potential end of the Ultimate Universe, who we can expect to rise to the occasion and why death actually means something in the Ultimate Universe.
NERDIST: The issues of Hunger I’ve read so far, especially when Galactus emerges in all his fancy-hatted majesty, have me really excited for Cataclysm.
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV: Thank you!
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS: It is a fancy hat!
N: What kind of madness can we expect from this universe-rending event?
JHF: This is a fun question. This is a fun hard question, because I don’t want to give too much away. Hunger was always the first leg of this event, and I took that opportunity to showcase just how different the Cosmic side of the Marvel Universe is. It’s something that we haven’t seen in a few years, but its been one of my favorites. What Warren Ellis did in the Galactus Trilogy, or the Gah Lak Tus Trilogy, I should say, and what was going on in the Fantastic Four were some of my favorite comics in the Ultimate Universe, so to get to play with them was great. What we’re teeing up is a very, very angry Galactus setting his sights on the planet that has caused him endless suffering in another universe.
The key difference is that in the regular Marvel Universe, there’s a degree of the fantastic that is different in the Ultimate Universe, which is much more grounded and science-based versus the Marvel Universe’s broader fantasy element. But a gigantic purple man coming to destroy the Earth is so far beyond their understanding of the world that the only parallel is what it would be like for people if Galactus attacked in the real world. What I get to explore in Ultimate Comics: Cataclysm: The Ultimates – see what I did there? So many colons in the title – is how these disparate elements are affected and forced to unite.
I’ve been really lucky and they’ve been really generous with me in that I get to continue the story I’ve been telling in Hunger and get to explore more of the other side of the Ultimate Universe. So, Brian gets to tell the big, scary event movie, and I get to tell the more delicate character-driven stuff in Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men.
BMB: Well, Galactus will – not to spoil Hunger - head to Earth, and he also will figure out that he’s not in his normal universe. He needs to feed, and really the only thing keeping him from eating the normal Marvel Universe Earth is Reed Richards, who has used a whole bag of tricks to keep him away from Earth all these years. So, realizing that he can take the Earth without worrying about Reed Richards, he does so. What you’re going to see from the very first issue is not only a reunion between me and Mark Bagley – we were the first people to draw and write the Ultimate Universe – but we’re going to see Galactus really go at it while the Ultimates try to figure a way to take him out before he eats the planet without really knowing what he is or where he came from.
That sets up a whole different set of problems, because they figure out he’s Galactus, but they can’t just send him back where he came from; he’s just going to go eat something else, and that’s not very heroic. They literally can’t kill him. They don’t know how, they don’t have the firepower and they can’t figure out how without killing themselves. So, it’s a real conundrum, and it very well may be the beginning of the end of the Ultimate Universe
N: That was going to be my next question. Is this the beginning of a return to a more condensed, singular Marvel Universe? I know it’s probably a spoiler, but I have to ask…
BMB: What I can promise you is a very important, heart-wrenching story for the Ultimate Universe. As has always been our best foot forward in the Ultimate Universe, our best stories have always been the ones where you, the reader, go, “Wow, I’ve never seen that before.” It’s literally filled with things that will elicit that response. I’m only being vague about the ending because I don’t want to spoil what hopefully will be something people haven’t seen before and will be exciting for people. For longtime Ultimate Universe fans, there’s a lot there for you that’s been building for a while, and, if you’ve just stumbled in and out, it’s a big giant Marvel Universe story and it’s pretty important to all these characters going forward.
JHF: I mean, look, I love the Ultimate Universe and I just got here. My luck is not great – I’ll be honest. If I was estimating based on my own personal success and situations I’ve also found myself in, most likely I’ll be homeless and begging on the street like, “I did Ultimate X-Men! Anybody? Please!” I’ll show them all! I killed everybody! It’s so weird to talk about these books because we’re supposed to tease the end of the universe but we’re also not supposed to say we’re ending the universe. You can tease it, but don’t play it… what the hell does that mean? The gist of it is that everyone’s dead. Things will never be the same.
N: So who can we expect to step forward into the limelight during Cataclysm?
BMB: To everyone’s surprise and delight, Miles Morales, the relatively new Spider-Man in the Ultimate Universe who made headlines as the first mixed race African American Spider-Man, is going to have a baptism of fire by stepping up to the plate and being the best version of Spider-Man he’s even come close to being. He’ll be working a lot with the Ultimates and a lot of the younger heroes that we’ve introduced recently, like a very young version of Cloak and Dagger, Bombshell, Spider-Woman – all these characters will be taking center stage. But, very, very important, the Holy Trinity of Marvel – Thor, Iron Man and Captain America – and Sue Storm, the Human Torch, the Thing will be coming together to fight this as well as the return of the Ultimate X-Men, who have some very specific power sets. Even though they’ve been off kind of imprisoned in their own island of trying to deal with the harsh realities of mutanthood in the Ultimate Universe, they’ll be stepping forward; heavy hitters like Kitty Pryde and Jean Grey, who will actually be able to help stop this madness before it’s too late.
N: Very nice.
BMB: Basically, it’s the four corners of the original Ultimate Universe – the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Ultimates and Spider-Man- but as they’ve altered over the years to something new and fresh and something people aren’t used to seeing in the regular Marvel Universe.
N: So you get a sense of history and you get to have every part of the Ultimate Universe dealing with this intrusion from the main universe.
BMB: Yes. Certainly the parts of the Ultimate Universe we’re the most proud of. That’s for sure.
N: How closely did you two work together? When you’re dealing with a big universe-spanning event, how do you keep your proverbial ducks in a row?
JHF: Very. We talk regularly, I see scripts and outlines as they’re going. We talk about what all the different pieces are and how they fit together. The thing with event books – we talked a lot about what we liked and didn’t like about them – is we have this really unique opportunity in that we’re doing a major event, but there’s only four books, so it’s manageable. We can actually tell a story without having to create artifice or extra drama. Our heroes deal with things on a much more grounded level, so they’re dealing with things and the rest of the world doesn’t just stop and stare. They all have to deal with the fallout in very concrete ways that contribute to the main story. One of the things I try to pride myself on and one of my goals is to help build the feeling of unity, that we’re all telling one big story, and I think it’s something that now pieces are starting to lock into place in Cataclysm.
BMB: Well, I’ve done this before with other writers, and sometimes it’s been up to two dozen other writers, on some level, so it just being me and Josh is quite easy in comparison. But still it’s important that everyone gets to do what they want to do, not only in terms of the characters. I’m a big fan of Josh and I want him to shine. I want this to be a very lovely spotlight for him to be in and show everyone what he’s capable of as a creator. That seems to always be my first insticnt, to stand back and let him do his thing. You really do discover that all people really need is the premise to go nuts and let them do their thing. After that, we stand back and have the bare bones of what’s happening. Anything that inspires him to tell a good story that I can make happen, I just do. He’s really amazing, and I’ve been digging his stuff a long time, so I think this event really shows his best foot forward. Just like the artists I work with, my job is to just set a stage that lets everyone show off to the best of their ability.
N: It seems like there’s been a real renewed interest in the Marvel Cosmic Universe, which is part and parcel due to the hype around Guardians of the Galaxy. What about it for you makes it a compelling narrative, and how do you keep these epic space opera scenarios grounded?
BMB: Well, you keep it grounded very simply – you don’t forget truly what’s at heart. This is a disaster of the highest proportions, and having people react to what’s at stake. If the stakes are this high, you just have to do the true human emotion of what it feels like, if you can even imagine – and some people have actually been in a situation like that. They know the feeling of “Oh my God, if I don’t do this right, it’s all over,” so it’s a matter of staying true to that.
JHF: I think Hunger is a pretty good example of how I deal with that stuff. I look at it as being about people first. That’s one of the very first conversations Brian and I had about this. When you read Infinity Gauntlet, the concept of it is that half of every living being in the universe disappeared, which is such a cool concept, but you’re only seeing it through the eyes of superheroes who are like, “Well, this is what happens. This is life!” What we’re doing is trying to replicate that in a grounded, people-based way that you’re seeing one to one. In the books around Cataclysm, you’re getting the smaller stories. The Ultimates book that I’m doing is essentially the story of Nick Fury and his team trapped in Europe as they have to cope with everything that’s been going on in the Ultimate Universe – Europe is completely destabilized. It’s chaotic civil war. Not only do they have to deal with that, but there’s also this giant purple man in the sky.
In Ultimate X-Men, it deals with both Utopia and the net result of what’s happening in “World War X” that Brian Wood is writing. Cataclysm is happening on top of everything else. If you’re following The Ultimates right now, you’re seeing them trying to prevent what’s coming and doing everything in their power to put a stop to it. And I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but Galactus still shows up.
JHF: This entire volume of Ultimate comics has all been building up to this event. You can see it in Jonathan Hickman’s run and Sam Humphries’ run. It’s all coming to a head. And my stuff, both in Hunger and Ultimates is going to springboard into Cataclysm
N: One thing that’s a really salient point in the Ultimate Universe is that death matters. As comic book readers, when a character dies, we’re conditioned to ask, “Well, when is he coming back?” No such luck here.
JHF: What’s great about the Ultimate Universe is that it matters. Peter Parker’s dead! When Peter Parker died, people were saying, “When’s he coming back?,” because they’re programmed to do so. But he’s never coming back. When people die in these books, the losses count in a way that even the best death means something. We have the luxury of having a track record of characters staying dead, so when we kill people, we kill people.
BMB: No, they don’t come back, absolutely. Death means something. You look at Galactus coming to Earth as a tornado hitting an amusement park. It’s something horrible that’s happening and everyone has to deal with it accordingly.
N: Who has been your most unexpectedly enjoyable character to write during Cataclysm?
JHF: In Ultimates, I added the Howling Commandos, and I love them so much and we’ve had a really great reaction to them. We have some newer heroes in the main Cataclysm book as well as some old, Ultimate-adjacent characters. I love the expanded universe aspect of the Ultimates Universe. It’s fun because everyone comes in and picks their favorite part of it, but I look at it as, “Okay, now we have a toy box and all these toys are in it. How can we rejigger to make something new and different that we haven’t seen before?” Writing The Ultimates version of the Howling Commandos is so much fun. For X-Men, it’s very different, because a lot of the classic X-Men characters have been horribly massacred over the last twelve years of Ultimate X-Men, but we managed to get a pretty cool A-list team. And I get to write Jimmy Hudson, which there’s a very short list of people who get to write Kid Wolverine, as I’m sure Jeph Loeb loves him to be called. [laughs]
N: That’s awesome. It’s funny to imagine the Howling Commandos going up against a monolithic threat like Galactus.
JHF: That’s the thing! That’s the force. That’s the fighting force! It’s such a different scale than what we’ve seen before. Even our Thor is de-powered; he’s no longer a god. His powers are now science-based, so it’s not like he can just call Odin to save the day. He’s a one-man band. Also Hercules. I love Hercules. It’s tough because that Incredible Herc book was so good that every minute I’m like, “I want to write that!”
N: Brian, what about you? Who was your most unexpectedly enjoyable character to write?
BMB: Well, Galactus is a lot of fun to write. Josh and I were just talking the other day how we’re handling him a little differently. I don’t think he has much to say to us, so I don’t have him saying a lot. I also think that when he’s hungry, he’s irritable, so that’s part of it. It just adds to the element of horror that you can’t even communicate with him and there’s nothing you can say or do that’s going to stop him at this point.
This is hardly a shock to me or anyone, but I’ve enjoyed putting Miles in this situation. He’s the youngest hero we’ve had in a while and this is kind of his bar mitzvah. Him stepping up – he’s been through a bunch of horrible stuff lately… his mother died, a true tragedy that he’s risen above even though it’s been hard. Yet here he is, being the Spider-Man that everyone wants him to be, even when it looks impossible to deal with. It’s like that Bambi vs. Godzilla movie from a few years ago. We’re trying to avoid that and have him get through it.
It’s funny. Years and years ago, there was a magazine about Frank Miller’s Daredevil, where he did one issue that was the Hulk vs. Daredevil on the cover. He went to his editor and said, “I’m going to do Hulk vs. Daredevil,” and the editor said, “All right, what happens in panel 2?” That’s kind of what I’m dealing with here.
N: [laughs] That’s awesome. Comics-wise, what have you been reading and enjoying lately?
JHF: Let’s see – it’s funny – I’ve said the same five books over and over. Moth City is an independent book, Thrillbent is putting it out now and it’s on comiXology, and it’s ridiculously great. I love Saga. It’s a pretty boring list, actually, because everyone loves Saga. It’s so good. Locke & Key is so good. You just can’t do better than those books; they’re amazing. I love Greg Rucka’s Lazarus, which just started at Image. And Mark Waid’s Hulk has been just as good and just as fun as his Daredevil, which doesn’t seem possible. It’s so much fun. Then, I’m a huge huge Dan Slott/Spider-Man fan.
BMB: It’s a very good day to ask me that, because I’m reading a bunch of stuff that I really, really like. Optic Nerve #13 just came out, and the first page alone is like the best thing I’ve read all year. It’s really really great, and I can’t imagine anyone who reads comics that wouldn’t love this. Also I’ve discovered the work of Michael DeForge, which I’m really digging. My buddy Matt Fraction’s doing Hawkeye, which is awesome. I’m really digging Satellite Sam, too, and I just read the first issue of Sex Criminals, which isn’t out yet, but, boy, it’s great.
N: Yeah, I read Sex Criminals #1 as well and it’s going to be a real barn-burner when it hits stands.
BMB: Yeah, I do, too. It’s a pretty exciting time for a lot of books.
N: It’s a good time to be a comics fan. Last question: what would be inside your ideal burrito?
BMB: Hmmm… a lot of breakfast cereal. Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries. And extra cheese. Can you tell that I’m hungry? [laughs]
JHF: There’s this burrito at this place – I live in Los Angeles, which is a cornucopia of burritos – and it’s a five pound burrito filled with rice and chicken and beans and cheese. A lot of really good cheese, then they do the onion and the peppers. It’s like a giant, size-of-your-head fajita burrito.
N: That’s a Galactus-sized burrito.
JHF: Well, now I’m hungry. Thank you. I just want to go get one and get fat again.
N: I’m just trying to help you get in touch with your inner Galactus.
JHF: Well, thank you for that.
And now because we love you, check out the official solicit info and cover art for Cataclysm‘s 5 issues.
And a variant…
CATACLYSM: THE ULTIMATES’ LAST STAND 1
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS | Penciled by MARK BAGLEY | Cover by MARK BAGLEY
THE BIGGEST ULTIMATE EVENT YET! MARVEL’S GALACTUS VS. THE ULTIMATES
• AGE OF ULTRON ripped a hole into the Ultimate Universe
• GALACTUS came through…hungry
• Is this the last stand of the Ultimate heroes?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
CATACLYSM: THE ULTIMATES’ LAST STAND 2
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS | Penciled by MARK BAGLEY | Cover by MARK BAGLEY | Variant Cover by GABRIEL HARDMAN
• The ULTIMATES discover where GALACTUS has come from
• If they send the WORLD DESTROYER back to where he came from all that will do is create more destruction and havoc
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
CATACLYSM: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN 1
Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS | Cover & Art by DAVID MARQUEZ | Variant Cover by GABRIEL HARDMAN
• MILES MORALES learned the meaning of having great responsibility and put his costume back on after mourning the tragic death of his mother
• Now he stands to lose his entire world as a cosmic threat descends on earth
• Can SPIDER-MAN and his friends, CLOAK & DAGGER and SPIDER-WOMAN make a difference in the face of apocalypse?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
CATACLYSM: ULTIMATE X-MEN 1 (WITH DIGITAL CODE)
Written by JOSH HALE FIALKOV | Penciled by ALVARO MARTINEZ | Cover by MARIUS SIERGIEJEW | Variant Cover by GABRIEL HARDMAN
• The mutants just survived a war between themselves that almost destroyed both sides
• As GALACTUS threatens to eat the world, a secret weapon is put in place to stop him
• But will it be the thing that finally wipes all of mutant kind out of existence?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
CATACLYSM: ULTIMATES 1 (WITH DIGITAL CODE)
Written by JOSH HALE FIALKOV | Penciled by CARMINE DI GIANDOMENICO |Cover by MUKESH SINGH | Variant Cover by GABRIEL HARDMAN
• NICK FURY has defied the odds all his life and is no stranger to extinction level events
• It’s time to save the world again…at any cost!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99
So, there you have it – Cataclysm in a nutshell. Unfortunately, you have to wait until November to read the mini-series, but you can wet your appetite with Josh Fialkov’s excellent Hunger in the meantime. What do you think is going to happen? Is this the end of the Ultimate Universe? Let us know in the comments below!