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Marvel Ultimate Comics Universe Reborn Panel [NYCC 2011]

Friday at New York Comic Con, Marvel Comics welcomed readers of its Ultimate Comics line of titles to discuss those series with some of the creative talents behind them. Panelists included Arune Singh, Director of Communications; Sana Amanat, Ultimate Comics editor; Sara Pichelli, artist of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man; Esad Ribic, artist of Ultimate Comics Ultimates; and C.B. Cebulski, Senior Vice President of Creative & Creator Development. As Marvel’s new line of Ultimate Comics titles is still very new, the NYCC panel was short on major news or announcements. Instead, the panelists engaged fans in a Q&A and some behind-the-scenes discussion about the processes of artists Pichelli and Ribic as well as the philosophy behind the Ultimate Comics line itself.

Naturally, much of the discussion focused on Miles Morales, the new Spider-Man of the Ultimate Comics Universe. Singh said the character is another in a long line of Marvel heroes who addresses social issues. “You think of the way they handled racism and the X-Men or crisis of faith in Daredevil.”

It was confirmed that Miles will put on his first Spider-Man costume in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #4, and that the series will see the return of old characters as well as the introductions of new ones. Additionally, the Prowler will play ” an important role.”

Of Pichelli’s work, Amanat said the Italian artist brings “a beautiful sensibility” to comics, and is especially adept at imbuing Miles Morales with both innocence and strength.

For her part, Pichelli said the first thing she looks for in designing a character is “a real personality. A real person I know. I look at the way they move, they way they dress. I look for interesting faces and bodies.” Pichelli said she enjoys spotting such people on the streets of Rome, where she’ll quickly sketch faces and bodies in a sketchbook.

Singh displayed some alternate designs for Miles Morales, some of which had more interesting hairstyles. Pichelli said her favorite was a cornrow style, but that kind of hair would cause problems for drawing Spider-Man’s mask so the simpler look was chosen. Amanat, Alonso and Joe Quesada all agreed the black and red costume was the best design direction for the new Spider-Man’s costume, as it was a clear homage to that worn by Peter Parker but also very distinct.

“I think Peter Parker was more comfortable [as a superhero],” Pichelli said of the differences between the two young men. “Miles Morales is just a kid. If I were in his position, I’d be less relaxed [than Peter]. Often I look at myself in the mirror for expressions. If I was a child, how would I look while I jumped [from the top of a building]? That’s why Miles has pads on his elbows and knees.”

Addressing media accusations of political correctness, Alonso declared to much applause, “Miles Morales transcends race.”

The discussion then moved to the Ultimate Comics Ultimates artwork of Esad Ribic. Alonso said you can see Ribic himself in all the characters he draws, and noted that the artist doesn’t use photo reference. “There’s so much energy,” Alonso said. It’s on every page, it’s undeniable.”

Describing his work on the Jonathan Hickman-written book, Ribic said Ultimate Comics Ultimates offers him a “good opportunity to flex my corny ’80s muscles. Basically, the name of the book tells you what the approach should be. It’s the f***ing Ultimates.”

Citing influence from artists like Moebius and Shiro, Ribic said that while other superhero artists usually put the focus on characters or figure drawing, he is very interested in the overall look or mise en scene. To that end, Ribic personally requested Dean White as his colorist. “Dean is one of the few guys who’s really good at rendering texture,” Ribic said “Flat colors drain the life [of the art]. Dean’s a bit messy [as opposed to design-y], and so am I. People look at the book and think I colored it myself.”

Interestingly, everyone on the panel stated in no uncertain terms that Ultimate Comics Hawkeye is a “lynchpin” of the new Ultimate Comics line, and that events in that Hickman-written title will affect all the other series, particularly Ultimate Comics X-Men.

Speaking about the new Nick Spencer/Paco Medina X-book, Amanat said “It’s the return of the Team Book. This is the younger X-Men deciding who they are and what they should do.”

Coming up, Ultimate Comics X-Men will see the “return of an old character who is kind of a dick.” Amanat says the story is about faith and why people are motivated to do the things they do and what happens when everything people believe in turns out to be an illusion.

A fan pointed out that a consistent theme in the first ten years of Marvel’s Ultimate line was genetic experiments, particularly with respect to a kind of genetics arms race. Amanat said that while the concept of genetic engineering will continue to play a role in books like Ultimate Comics X-Men, the most obvious theme of the new line is identity, whether the search for it or the loss of it.

Asked whether the popular internet campaign to cast Community actor Donald Glover as Spider-Man had any influence on the creation of Miles Morales, Alonso said that the idea of an African-American Spider-Man had been discussed for a long time at Marvel. Alonso conjectured that Glover’s campaign’s popularity may have helped Ultimate Comics Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis to get over “the jitters” Alonso said Bendis felt about killing off Peter Parker, a character he’d written for more than ten years.

Amusingly, a fan stumped the panel by pointing out an unreconcilable continuity flaw in the Ultimate Universe that stemmed from 2002′s Ultimate Spider-Man Super Special. As the fan explained, that book put forth an origin of the Ultimate Universe’s Iron Man that was followed up on in the Ultimate Iron Man title written by Orson Scott Card. The events of Card’s story were retroactively undone when it was revealed that they were merely adventures in an anime based on Tony Stark’s life. As such, the fan submitted that the Ultimate version of Iron Man has no origin.

“Oops!” said Axel Alonso, before explaining with the help of C.B. Cebulski that the early days of Marvel’s Ultimate line were not as copiously planned out as the new line, and that the order of the day was to allow those original creators to tell whatever sort of stories they wanted to with little regard for a cohesive universe. That is no longer the case, as current Ultimate writers Hickman, Spencer and Bendis are in constant communication and building a world that fans can count on making sense across the entire line.

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