IT IS no surprise that Brian Michael Bendis would be the writer to bring Marvel’s ultimate universe to an end. Fifteen years ago, Bendis was brought on to do a six-issue mini-series called “Ultimate Spider-Man.” It was a six-month assignment that turned into a 15-year gig.
“Ultimate Spider-Man” would become the backbone of Marvel’s ultimate imprint, always there to justify the ultimate universes’ existence. But even the pages of “Ultimate Spider-Man,” now featuring Bendis creation Miles Morales as the ultimate wall-crawler, can’t survive what is coming.
As Bendis began plotting “Ultimate End,” a five-issue event (with the first issue hitting newsstands real and digital today), he knew there was only one artist he wanted to take this universe-destroying journey with: Mark Bagley.
“When this idea of wrapping [the Ultimate Universe] up in this unique way came up, I was like, ‘Well, it’s Bagley [drawing] right?’ ” Bendis told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “Gladly he said yes, because I honestly couldn’t have imagined anyone else. I don’t even know if I would have done it without him.
“We’re getting to do a last little go-around with all of our favorite little bits and pieces” of the ultimate universe.
As easy as it was to persuade Bagley to come on board for Ultimate End, considering that he and Bendis collaborated on more than 100 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Bendis can’t help but recall the beginning days of Marvel’s ultimate universe 15 years ago, when Bagley was at a point where the last thing he wanted to do more of was draw Spider-Man.
“Bagley had just done a very long run on Amazing Spider-Man, so he was a little Spider-Manned out. He literally said, ‘I’ll do four issues,’ ” Bendis recounted about trying to bring Bagley on board for “Ultimate Spider-Man.”
Bagley himself well remembers those days of his recruitment.
“I was really not in a good place mentally about comics at the time, and seriously burnt out on Spider-Man…having to do with the crossovers and company politics. So when [Ultimate Spider-Man] was proposed to me I turned it down…three times,” Bagley told Comic Riffs. “Finally, they sort of implied I had to do it or else. It was to be a six-issue mini-series, and I was determined to leave at the end.
“Somewhere along the way — three to four issues into my work [issue No. 1 hadn’t been published yet], I was informed that it was to be made an ongoing. I declined continuing on it. I really at that point wasn’t getting what Brian was going for, and just thought no one would like the thing.
“Well, the first issue came out, looking great…inks, colors..great paper stock, and the fans really loved it.”
The rest was ultimate history, and Bendis and Bagley would go on to produce one of the great contributions of Spider-Man’s comic history. But now the two are coming together to bring about Galactus-like destruction to the ultimate universe.
But why bring the ultimate universe to an end? Bendis says despite any obvious attachments given his long run on the line, the finish line had come.
“It’s time,” Bendis said of the ultimate universes’ upcoming demise. “You can look at most imprints, if they go two years it’s a miracle. Other than Vertigo, I can’t think of another imprint that has lasted this long. Would we, without stunts, be able to pull together anything better than Miles out of the Ultimate Universe at this point? I don’t know.”
Marvel’s forthcoming Secret Wars event provides the platform for the Ultimate U’s pending doom. In terms of Secret Wars, Bendis says: “I think people already get a sense that a few things from the ultimate universe are going to find its way into the mainstream Marvel universe. It’s as good a time as any.”
“In [Ultimate End’s] pocket of Secret Wars, what has happened is that the regular Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Marvel universe have merged on top of each other,” he said. “The two universes are forced to figure out how to live together, and it’s not going well. It’s absolute madness. We’re getting the universes to examine each other from a unique point of view. I think it’ll be surprising to people who think [Ultimate End] is just the ultimate universe running around going, ‘Oh my God, it’s over!’ — but that’s not what it is.”
As for the current crown jewel of Marvel’s ultimate imprint, Miles Morales, Bendis notes that Morales’s fate has already been hinted at with the announcement that the current Ultimate Spider-Man will become a member of the Avengers in Marvel’s mainstream universe.
“They’ve already released the Free Comic Book Day [comic book], where Miles Morales is clearly on the Avengers. I don’t know how cagey I need to be about this,” Bendis said of Morales’ promotion to the Marvel big leagues. “The question is, how is this going to happen? And how it will happen, you will find out in Ultimate End.
“People are worried that it’s a new Miles, or it is a Miles without his memories, or a Miles without all the supporting characters and such that make Miles ‘Miles,’ all that will be revealed in Ultimate End, I’m happy to say.”
Bendis, in fact, considers Morales to be “one of the great joys of my career.”
“Of all the things that have happened, deep down spiritually, [Miles] just feels like the best thing. Not a day goes by where I’m not faced by someone’s feelings about [Miles] for their child, for themselves, for having a character like this that represents them so well. It’s truly beautiful.”
As he prepares to bring a universe to an end, Bendis can’t help but think about when he came onboard at Marvel in 1999, when it looked as if an ultimate end could be coming for all of Marvel Comics. It was a dark time for the company, when cabinets were being sold and Bendis was convinced that he could possibly be writing the last Spider-Man comic book ever.
The future, of course, would have other plans for Marvel.
“[The Iron Man movie] landed. Now there’s a Marvel Studios and then one day, you wake up and you’re a Disney employee and you’re a crown jewel in the Disney empire. It’s hard to even describe to people how crazy it is.”
As for the fifth issue of Ultimate End, Bendis says: Be prepared.
“It’s pretty powerful,” Bendis said of the end of all things ultimate. “A lot is going to happen, and on a very emotional note. It’s coming Issue 5 — it’s pretty powerful. I might have got teary-eyed when I wrote it.”