NewMU: The Ultimates

Dec-20-11

“With the Avengers on one side and Apocalypse on the other, the Ultimates battle for their lives in the streets of Beijing!  Just another typical day for Pietro and his team.  However, the Ultimates have the backing of the Chinese government and that may make all the difference.  But what happens when the brewing passion between Forge and Darkstar spills out onto the battlefield?

We haven’t discussed mutants in the new MU yet, and we’re not going to go too in-depth now, but it’s important to note that our MU has only one X-Book.  However, that is not to say that we only have one title featuring mutants.  This is our second big mutant title, The Ultimates.  It features a team of characters who consider themselves (with some good reason) as the ultimate decider on all things mutant.  They are some of the most powerful mutants in the world, some of the most skilled mutants in the world, and some of the best known mutants in the world.  They are not the heroes, and they are not the bad guys.  They stride the middle ground between two extremes.  They have one goal only and that is to advance mutant causes throughout the world, and do what is best for this growing segment of the population.

This is not a world that automatically fears and hates mutants.  Sure, those people exist, as those people exist for any segment of the population, but they’re not the majority.  In fact, there may not be a majority opinion across the globe on the mutant question.  Some people worship and applaud them, holding them up as the next phase of human evolution.  Some of them can’t differentiate them from the other superheroes in the world.  Many people couldn’t care less about mutants.  However, the Ultimates consider protecting mutants across the globe to be their calling, and they will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

The Ultimates also have one other feature that separates them from many other teams.  They are a true global team, with members hailing from across the globe.  This provides them with a global perspective.  More importantly, it makes it easier for them to work with governments across the globe, because they are not seen as a team hailing from any particular country.  They owe no one country their allegiance, which helps not only with working with governments, but also means that governments are less likely to target other countries for reprisals when the Ultimates do something a government finds reprehensible.

So, who are our Ultimates?  They number eight in total and are as follows:

Quicksilver:  Born and raised in Switzerland, Pietro leads this group, and he does it with aplomb.  The fastest being on the planet, Pietro isn’t just fleet of foot.  His mind moves quicker than most, and his mastery of strategy makes him an ideal field commander for the group.  Estranged from his sister for most of his life, he is just now getting to know her and is trying to figure out how she fits into his life.

Scarlet Witch:  Born in Switzerland and raised in France, Wanda grew up never guessing she had a twin brother, and was thrilled to find he existed.  Her mutant power gives her a very limited control over probabilities, but most of her skill comes from her magical knowledge.  She’s an accomplished witch and she uses those skills on the battlefield to aid her newfound brother and his allies.

El Aguila:  A native of Mexico, Alejandro has the ability to create and conduct electricity, which would make him a formidable opponent.  However, he has found that he can further channel and refine this ability through metal, and as an expert swordsman, he has become one of the most dangerous men in the world.  He is passionate and has turned that passion towards the Scarlet Witch, although she has yet to return his feelings.

Darkstar:  A native of Russia, Laynia controls darkforce, manipulating it to a variety of effects.  She is beginning to grow close to Forge, but the sudden appearance of the Scarlet Witch and her relationship to Quicksilver have made her long for her own twin brother, who has been missing for the past few years.

Forge:  A Native American, Forge is a brilliant inventor.  He always goes into combat with a dizzying array of weaponry, although he serves the team best by providing them with state of the art headquarters and vehicles.  He is finding himself uncomfortable with the magic that the Scarlet Witch has introduced to the team dynamic, as he believes in science first and foremost.  He has fallen hard for Darkstar and is concerned that she has been more reticent and withdrawn as of late.

Psylocke:  Betsy was born into a wealthy British family, but she was never completely comfortable with the indolent life of many of the nobility.  She began honing her telepathic powers at a young age and was helped to found the Ultimates after she and Pietro adventured together during their early 20s.  The rumors are that they were lovers, and some say they still are, but during the missions they exhibit only the utmost professionalism.  Psylocke is the team’s deputy leader.

Jade Dragon:  Dei Guan grew up in a Chinese orphanage, and is intensely loyal to his home country.  He was the only member of the team to seek out and petition for membership, rather than be recruited by Pietro and Betsy, and although his ability to turn into a powerful green dragon has proven useful, some members worry that he is a plant by the Chinese government, only on the team to gather intelligence about them.  However, he has fought and bled with the Ultimates and has shown no sign that he has any ulterior motive for his membership.

Sabra:  Ruth Bat-Seraph grew up in Israel, and knew combat at a young age.  She serves as the team’s muscle and is very hard to hurt, both physically and emotionally.  She saw many she cared for killed while growing up, and she is determined it will not happen again.  Of the entire team, she is often the most willing to take measures others might consider too extreme.

That’s a lot to start with.  What say you?

I like it. It has a strong Stormwatch/Authority vibe to it. I’m also impressed by the sheer amount of backstory you’ve managed to cram into a few short paragraphs. Definitely a book I would consider buying in the real world, if just to witness the eventual (and inevitable) fallout from all the crossover relationships. I also imagine there’d be plenty of snarky conversations as Pietro goes toe-to-toe with hero and villain alike.

The fact that you’ve eschewed a great chunk of your everyday X-folks in favor of exploring some newer, or at least less exposed, characters is a good sign too. And I like the international flavor. Gives spark to the fact that the mutant phenomenon isn’t solely saddled on America.

I guess the only thing I’m confused about is what the group is actually doing. I know a lot of what we’re developing here with our new titles is vague. It hurts my head to even consider detailing a lot of it without 50 years of pre-written continuity to back it up. At the same time though, this one is strange.

“Protecting mutants” is a bit of a catch-all. And it seems a bit nebulous considering the world itself isn’t even sure of who the mutants are, let alone where they are. Has Forge created a version on Cerebro to detect these mutants? And how would anyone know they needed help?

You also say the Ultimates have no country…so where is their home base? Are they operating out of a spaceship? Do they llive in some pocket universe in the spacetime continuum? Some sort of detail might be helpful to cement their status.

Have you considered any secondary cast members or is the 8-person team self-inclusive? And is that even a word?

Yes, I’m excited about the possibilities of these characters.  Some of them are characters that I’ve liked and have never had much of a chance to shine, like El Aguila and Darkstar.  (Please don’t ask me to explain why I like El Aguila.  I blame it on Mark Gruenwald’s Marvel Handbook, as I think it made the character sound better than he ever actually was.)  Others, like Pietro and Psylocke are good characters that need a complete continuity wipe, as they’ve been messed with (especially Psylocke) to the point where they are almost unrecognizable.  I also always thought Forge’s magical abilities were overplayed (just because he’s a Native American he also has to be a mystic?) and the Scarlet Witch’s were underplayed (her mutant power is too nebulous and murky….besides, I think there’s a nice source of conflict when she brings magic onto a team that is one of the cornerstones of our science line).  I would love to watch these personalities bounce off each other in a monthly series.

I don’t really see secondary cast members at this time, because the team is a bunch of elitists….I mean, in a world where a group of people go around calling themselves fantastic, these people have upped the game even higher by declaring themselves the Ultimates.  I don’t believe that they get that close to other people.  You bring up the Authority/Stormwatch comparison, and I see a bit of the Authority in this team.  They believe they’re the best suited to do what needs done, and bringing in other people is just going to get in the way.

But what is it that they do?  I think that Forge can easily have whipped them up a mutant location device, but I don’t think they really are worried about the individual mutants.  Sure, if they learned one was in danger, they’d certainly help them, but that’s not what The Ultimates are about.  This is a team that thinks globally.  I mentioned Apocalypse earlier, and I think he may be their main foe…a madman who wishes to test mutantkind to determine if they are worthy to survive.  The Ultimates will have none of that, as they don’t believe mutants need tested.  They believe every mutant should have the option of choosing how best to utilize their powers and shouldn’t be toyed with by some psycho with delusions of grandeur.  They’d also be willing to step in if any other villains around the world might be making plans that could threaten mutants, or would try to harness mutants for their own ends.  And, of course, if the world is endangered then mutants are too, so they’d be on the lookout for alien invasions and the like.  This all sounds pretty standard superheroic, correct?  So what makes them stand out?

Well, the biggest difference in their operations over a team like the Avengers, is that they’re also looking for the good guys to make a move on mutants.  Superhuman registration act?  Yeah, that would be a problem for them.  A government is trying to make its own mutants or is exploiting already existing mutants?  They’re going to hear from the Ultimates.  Perhaps a mutant is convicted of a crime and they believe it was only because they were a mutant?  They would free that individual.  If mutant hate crimes are reported, they’d bring the perpetrators to justice…their own brand of justice. 

Hopefully that makes more sense.  As for their base, it would be tempting to put them on an island that other mutants could go to, but I don’t want to do that.  These people aren’t interested in making a community for mutants, and they don’t want mutants to live apart from the rest of humanity.  They prefer to see integration, but they recognize that it’s often easier to talk about integration than it is to achieve it, and that’s why they’re willing to put some muscle behind that goal.  But creating a utopia for mutants is just pointless, if it removes mutants from the general population.  Therefore, I think they’re going to be based somewhere that isn’t easy to get to and is difficult to locate…also a plus when they’re trying to avoid reprisals from angry governments, heroes or villains.  I think that Forge has whipped them up an extra-dimensional bolthole they can use. 

Did that answer your questions?

Why, yes. Yes it did.

I’d just like to point out two things. First of all, Jade Dragon was co-created by Bill Mantlo, which just makes him at least a hundred times cooler.

And, secondly, did anyone else notice that in the last post I made Dazzler the NewMU’s first bisexual character? Such a groundbreaker.


Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.