President Cap: Alonso and Humphries on Ultimate Marvel’s Latest Twist [Interview]
As exclusively revealed by the Washington Post this morning, the Ultimate Universe is about to inaugurate a new leader of the free world. In a special election that follows months of chaos that have torn the U.S. apart, Captain America is elected president of the United States in Ultimate Comics Ultimates #15-16, on a flood of write-in votes. But don’t expect Cap to swap his red, white and blue longjohns for a Georges de Paris suit, or to trade in his trademark shield for a podium, nor are we going to see him pick a side on the Democrat/Republican divide.
With Ultimate Comics Ultimates #15 arriving in stores this Wednesday, ComicsAlliance talked to Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso and Ultimate Comics Ultimates writer Sam Humphries about this latest development, which takes the Ultimate universe from the chaos of the “Divided We Fall” storyline into the period of rebuilding dubbed “United We Stand.”ComicsAlliance: Captain America is about to become the President of the United States, but this isn’t the United States as we know it — it’s not even very united. For the benefit of readers who haven’t kept up with the series, can you explain how we got here?
Sam Humphries: Yeah. I took over the Ultimates after Jonathan Hickman. On the way out, he vaporized Washington, DC. That was a pretty big challenge — “I’m gonna toss this ball as high as possible, can you dunk it on the way down?” So I decided I might as well go big. Fortunately, Hickman left me a clue in his voluminous notes on the book. It was one line about putting Cap in the White House. It was an intimidating idea to push for right out of the gate, but I really believed it was the biggest and best Ultimates story we could do. I figured, if they hated it, oh well…but if I got the nod, it could be great. And here we are.
The whole first year of the Ultimate Comics relaunch put America under pressure from the outside and destabilized it from the inside. When you cede states to mutant hating kill-bots, you can’t go back to normal. With devastation in DC and chaos across the country, states began to form their own independent countries, or both. You can’t rely on the president to keep your citizens safe, so you’ve got to take things into your own hands. Amidst all this crisis, the American people realize they need a new kind of leader. And that’s how we get to President Cap.
Axel Alonso: Cap went off the grid after the death of Peter Parker because he felt quite a bit responsible and needed some alone time to figure things out, so people have been wondering where he is. We figured what better time for a guy dressed in red white and blue to ride in off the range than right now at this particular juncture in the Ultimate Universe, when everything’s fallen apart and it appears, as you put it, that it’s anything but a united states right now? And who better to ride alongside him than his compatriots the Ultimates? It’s as simple as that.
CA: Fans often speculate on the politics of patriot heroes, and it sounds like you’re wisely side-stepping that question. What can you tell us about Cap’s presidential priorities? What’s his vision of a better America?
SH: Cap is a soldier, not a politician. It’s not a political election. He did not run an election or ask for the job. He is answering the call of the American people in crisis. And they elected him to do a job: put America back together again.
AA: He’s like George Washington, a warrior who is drafted into the presidency. He does not have a platform, he does not have a position, he is not a Democrat he is not a Republican, and this story is not about politics. What Cap embodies and what his goals are in this story are ideals that would be embraced by Obama and Romney. After he’s been sworn in, he gets right into his jet to go off and save the day.
CA: It sounds like Cap’s plan to get the country back on track doesn’t involve much of a legislative agenda. We’re not going to see him stuck behind an Oval Office desk?
SH: Yeah, you nailed one of the biggest pitfalls of doing a story like this, which is, no one wants to read a comic book about Cap sitting behind a desk. It works great for, say, the West Wing. But what is engaging in an hour long drama is not necessarily engaging in a superhero comic book. Once I got over that — y’know, “don’t try to replicate anything else” — it freed me up to tell a much different kind of story, a story through the lens of super heroic fantasy. Cap is a president unlike any we’ve seen before — either in fiction or in real life.
AA: America is his White House. This will not be a story about him sitting in the Oval Office stamping bills and listening to senators argue. He will be out there leading by example.
Make no mistake this is a big action thriller where [the Ultimates] go out and punch the bad guys, but there’s only so far punching and kicking can take the heroes in this story. … Ultimately America needs to repossess itself. The pact doesn’t just go one way. The responsibility of president and people is a two way street. What I like about this story is that we have something to say about the presidency, what it means, and the pact between the people and their leader.
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CA: Presumably Cap’s got more to worry about than partisan gridlock. What are the big threats to his presidency?
SH: Opportunists. Many people across the country will try to take advantage of the chaos — either from afar, or right under Cap’s nose. We’ll see how Cap’s vision of the presidency clashes with Washington cronyism. We’ll see how other forces strive to manipulate the population towards their own goals.
AA: The number one threat is that there’s a nefarious uber-villain who’s extremely effective at spreading the seeds of discontent and opportunism. We live in an era where a lot of people garner a lot of power quickly by dividing other people, and he’s one of those. He’s there in all the right places with all the right moves.
CA: Will we see any other heroes in Cap’s cabinet? Has he picked out a VP?
AA: Cap won’t have a cabinet. If he’s got a cabinet it’s a war cabinet. These guys are out there in the field bashing bad guys and saving the world. They’re out there making sure that these opportunists with their armies and their ray guns and their robots and their nanotechnology, who are attempting to take advantage of what was a powerful leadership vacuum, are not able to do what they’re doing. So we sculpted roles that played to the strengths of both Iron Man and Thor as well as Black Widow and Hawkeye. This is about heroes beating the crap out of the bad guys but obviously understanding that not all the problems can be punched into submission, and so it requires something more than just beating up bad guys.
SH: Cap’s got one person he can trust in the government, Carol Danvers. As Cap’s chief of staff, Carol will be entrusted with a lot of power to act on Cap’s behalf. Because Cap is not concerned about these kind of things at all. America elected him to protect the union, and he’s going to go out in the field and do just that. He’s not going to sit in cabinet meetings or have Rose Garden ceremonies.
CA: Are we going to see the impact of Cap’s presidency play out in the other Ultimate titles?
AA: Yeah, the event, “Divided We Fall”/”United We Stand,” has a ripple effect across all the Ultimate titles. You will see the ripple effect in Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, and what these groups do to contend with these problems.
SH: We’ve only got three titles, so we’re able to make them work very closely together. Cap has a lot of influence over the rest of the Ultimate Universe, particularly with Kitty Pryde and Miles Morales. Myself, [Ultimate X-Men writer] Brian Wood, [Ultimate Spider-Man writer] Brian Bendis, and the editorial team stay in close contact and keep an eye out for any cool opportunities between the books. Nick Fury in Ultimate X-Men is hardly the last character crossover you’ll see in the near future.
CA: We’ve seen Tony Stark as secretary of defense in the main Marvel line, also known as the 616 universe. Could Cap ever win the White House in the main Marvel Universe?
AA: We have no plans for that, but never say never. There might be a moment when we do it, but really at the end of the day it’s about whether or not it makes sense. If you elect Cap in 616 it has a ripple effect across the entire universe and you need to be really committed to that and what it means.
SH: When I joined the Ultimates, I didn’t want to tell watered down versions of 616 stories, or stories you could see in the movies or video games, or anywhere else. I wanted to take these iconic characters, shake them up in new ways, and hope we can begin to see them in a new light. President Cap is an example of the kind of story I felt could only be done in the Ultimate Universe. I think it fits that mandate.
That said, with twisted bastards Rick Remender and Hickman writing Cap in the 616 [in Uncanny Avengers and Avengers, respectively], anything goes, doesn’t it? If anything, they’re gonna try to top this story, not repeat it. And I say, COME AT ME, BROS.
CA: Who would win in a presidential debate between Captain America and Lex Luthor?
AA: It would absolutely be Cap because the clarity and simplicity of his views would shine through the darkness and the cynicism of Lex Luthor. Lex Luthor could attempt to manipulate, but at the end of the day I think that the strength of Cap’s message is that it transcends politics, it transcends left or right.
SH: Trick question. Cap would stir the hearts of America, but Lex would have the whole game rigged, so the answer depends on how cynical you are about the political system. So what do YOU think?
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Ultimate Comics Ultimates #15 will be in-stores September 19th, and available digitally via Comixology.