Ralph Macchio interview

Ralph Macchio is the editor of Marvel's Ultimate titles. WoW Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Macchio about the Ultimate Universe and what readers can look forward to.

Westfield: What would you say to someone who's never read an Ultimate title to get them to try one?

Ralph Macchio: I would say, "If you don't buy this, I will have your legs broken." I think that would probably get them to buy it.

But no, that's probably not what I would say. I would say, if you are a fan of the Marvel magic and you would like to get in on the ground floor, and I say ground floor now kind of relatively speaking, of a whole new Marvel Universe, you have the opportunity to with the Ultimate line of books. It's small, it's sleek, and it's very, very engaging.

Westfield: What part do you play in shaping the Ultimate Universe?

Macchio: I, as the editor, am supposed to be a central clearing house. The way we work in here is that all of us have an equal voice in what goes into the books. I work very closely with Nick Lowe and Nick does an awful lot of work on these books. Also, I work a lot with our writers, as does Nick, and our artists. We're a close knit family, but if it comes to a final responsibility, I would have to assume that. John Barber, who works with us now too, is a part of it. He worked with me very closely on the recent Daredevil/Elektra limited series that Mike Carey did. Everybody contributes an equal amount creatively, depending on the book.

Westfield: You have a huge stable of characters to choose from to bring into the Ultimate Universe. How do you decide what to make an Ultimate title or who to make an Ultimate character?

Macchio: I think what we wanted to do initially when Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada came up with the idea of doing this Ultimate Spider-Man thing, I think they just thought he was the logical choice to start this new universe. At that time, there was no thought of this being a new universe, it was just taking Spider-Man, who was arguably our most popular character, and giving it a fresh start. Not canceling the existing titles, but giving readers - new readers, younger readers, whoever - an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the Spider-Man mythology. Once that took off, and it was an iffy proposition, I remember at the time the book had been given to me, I had no part in the creation of it, I wasn't sure it was going to be successful at all. I was already editing the Spider-Man titles and this was just added into the list. The teams had been assembled when it was handed to me. As the Spider-Man editor I was told to go with it. I was unsure about it. I said, "Y'know, we don't see the guy in costume, even though that doesn't bother me, who knows how the readers will react to that? Brian Bendis is an unproven guy on super-heroes. Mark Bagley's already done Spider-Man. I don't know. I'm not sure." Those are the thoughts that went through my head. I was completely wrong because the book just took off. It's now an incredibly popular Spider-Man title.

From that point on, I believe the next one was Ultimate X-Men. I think it became evident that with the success of Spider-Man, that we could probably take the next most popular group of characters that we had, which would have been X-Men who, in comics, were probably more popular than Spider-Man, but in terms of public recognition, Spider-Man probably still had the X-Men because the Bryan Singer movie was not out yet. So that was two pillars that we had. And Ultimate X-Men also, which I was not editing at the beginning, that was given to the X-Men editor at that time, Mark Powers, so that was something I was not in on the ground floor of. I think it was assumed we'd see how these two would go and they became incredibly popular. After that, we went with Ultimates. Originally, it was going to be Avengers. I think since it was going to be Ultimate Avengers, we thought maybe the idea of just calling it Ultimates would be cool. So, we had Spider-Man, X-Men, and the next logical choice would be the Avengers, so we gave them a shot. Then, several years went by and there was talk about an FF movie, and who's the first family of Marvel, and what's the missing piece in the Ultimate Universe if we have to have the four major components of the Marvel Universe? Obviously, that was the Fantastic Four. That one I was involved from the very beginning on. That also has proven to be astoundingly popular.

There are certain things that seem to be common to all the books which is we generally start with the younger characters. We make the characters younger. The Fantastic Four, we start them off as barely teenagers. The same thing with Spider-Man and he probably will remain a teen for a long time. Same thing with Ultimate X-Men. They're kids too. They're teenagers. I've made sure to imprint that on whoever's been writing the books. These are not 25-year-old people, they're more like 16 or 17-year-olds and prone to making a lot of mistakes. Ultimates are a little bit different, they're a bit older. But overall, that is what we did when the decisions were made as to which books to publish. It would be the most popular things we had or the things that most said Marvel and that would be Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Avengers.

There was a transition period during which the books came into my office. When Joe hired Axel Alonso, I had been editing the Spider-Man titles for about five years at that point and they felt I had done what I wanted to do with them and now it was time to pass them off and Axel was a great guy to pass them to. That's when the idea of bringing all the Ultimate titles under one roof came about. That's when we began to think about it more as a universe. Before this, we were just thinking of them as individual titles. There was no reason to assume that Ultimate Spider-Man existed even in the same universe as Ultimate X-Men. Then, because I'm a real Marvel geek and a continuity nut, I loved the idea that all of this stuff was an aborning Marvel Universe. That's where we picked up on the idea that it all is integrated and all works together as one universe.

Westfield: If someone came up to you with say, the idea of doing Ultimate Ghost Rider, how would you go about deciding if that would be a good idea for an Ultimate book?

Macchio: We would, of course, want to make sure it had some kind of commercial potential. It would probably be difficult to say we're going to release a book called Ultimate Shroud. If we released a regular comic called Shroud, it probably wouldn't go over. But with Ultimate Ghost Rider, and there have been proposals about Ultimate Ghost Rider, one of the things that would be considered initially would be is there a film in the offing because that's part of the franchise element of the Ultimate Universe as it's now become. Now it's evolved into a consistent universe that's all under one roof. Now, if we expand, we tend to think about is there a film involved in this? Does it seem like a logical outgrowth? Can we get the caliber of talent on a project like that that would allow us to increase and expand this Ultimate Universe in a way that's consistent with the quality that we have? In that sense, Ultimate Ghost Rider is probably not a bad pick. If you came to me with it and you had a couple of interesting ideas for it, I'd say, "Y'know, there's talk about a Ghost Rider movie. Let me see the proposal. Who are the people we can get on this book? Maybe we should launch it next year if there is going to be a film." We certainly would give it consideration.

Westfield: One of the upcoming Ultimate titles is Ultimate Iron Man. Is there anything you can tell us about that?

Macchio: This is something that I really have to hand to Nick Lowe. Nick was the guy who went out of his way to get Orson Scott Card who is an award-winning science fiction author and also Nick worked very hard to secure Andy Kubert on the book. We had both agreed that Andy Kubert would be the one person more than anyone else that we wanted to do this book. When we read Orson's first script, it was of a kind that required a really mature and fine hand on the artwork. This was not something you could hand to even a decent "B" level artist and have it work. You needed a top, "A" level guy. We had just worked with Andy on Ultimate X-Men and we were hoping that we could jockey things around so that it would work. And it did. We got very lucky. But I have to give credit to Nick because he's the guy who got Orson Scott Card. His first script is just brilliant, and I don't use that word often, but it really is brilliant. It's an incredible way of taking what Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch have done with the character in Ultimates and going all the way back to his birth and making it all work. You find out why this guy is what he is. Beyond that, I don't want to say because that would spoil all the great surprises. It's one of these you'll read and you'll go, "Oooh. Now I understand. Now I see. How did they come up with that?" Orson is such a talented guy that he made it work very, very well.

Westfield: Also coming in March is the first part of Ultimate Secret, which is the second part of a trilogy. Is there anything you can say about that?

Macchio: That is part of a trilogy that begins with Ultimate Nightmare. Three issues of that have been done. The fourth issue is beginning put together now. That's by Warren Ellis and Trevor Hairsine. Warren had conceived this in conjunction with discussions he had with Joe Quesada. In Ultimate Nightmare, we would get a sense of some threat, or menace, or something that was going to happen. We would begin to expand on that in Ultimate Secret. The final part of it will be called Ultimate Arrival. That's where the threat becomes extant. I don't want to say who or what the threat is, but it would be big enough for us to do another limited series to make it part of this trilogy. I don't think it became evident early on that Ultimate Nightmare was the first part of this trilogy, but now were going to go back and do some re-marketing on it to make sure that everyone understands that these three things - Ultimate Nightmare, Ultimate Secret, and Ultimate Arrival - are all very, very importantly and inextricably linked.

Westfield: Anything you can tell us about the Ultimate Captain Mahr Vehl who shows up in this limited series?

Macchio: Warren was very anxious to do something with that character - the original version of him going back to his first appearance. This seemed as if this was really an ideal opportunity, as we begin to learn more about the threat that faces the Earth that is hinted at in Ultimate Nightmare, we follow up on that in this series. You will see him in the pages of Ultimate Secret. But with the Ultimate twist on it. But don't expect him to be the character that you remember. It's an Ultimate version of him.

Westfield: Is there anything you can tell us about what's on the way from the other books in the Ultimate Universe?

Macchio: In Ultimate Fantastic Four, we have Warren Ellis up through at least issue #18. Right now we're involved in the Negative Zone storyline where they attempt to go back into the N-Zone and find out if there's a way they can reverse the situation with their powers. Past that, we're not sure. There might be another Doom arc, but we haven't planned much past this next storyline.

With Ultimate Spider-Man we have a Hobgoblin story. There's a possibility after that we might do Blade in there for a story arc. There's also a good chance of Venom returning after that. Those are all very tentative.

With Ultimate X-Men, we hopefully have on for the long haul Brian Vaughn and Stuart Immonen. It took us a while to solidify the team, but once we got those guys, we've been discussing a number of storylines. We're in the middle of a storyline right now that has Ultimate Longshot in it and Ultimate Mojo, beyond that there will probably be a couple single issues, and beyond that we haven't really thought about where the next storyline will go. The Ultimate Longshot and Mojo thing will take us another 5 or 6 issues. Also, that's a very interesting storyline because Brian Vaughn is one of the writers I've had a great many discussions with about making sure that we distinguish Ultimate versions of the characters from the mainstream version. To me, if there isn't some real strong twist on it, there's no reason to do them. Whoever and whatever you think Longshot is, he will really turn out to be something very different. Just as we tried to do with Ultimate Sinister and Ultimate Apocalypse, who may or may not have appeared. We want to take these characters and say these are our versions. They're not just pale imitations or second-rate versions of the mainstream characters. You already have those, there's no reason for us to do those unless there's something markedly and memorably different about them.

Westfield: Are there plans for new Ultimate titles?

Macchio: We are not thinking at the moment of another monthly title. What we are considering would be further limited series. These could include a follow-up the second Daredevil/Elektra limited series. It's gone over quite nicely. There is always the possibility of spin-offs. For example, Ultimate Iron Man. We could at any point in time think about who might spin off into another series, but that would probably be a limited series. These things change, but I don't envision us expanding the line with more monthlies for a while. For this brand to maintain its mystique and its cache, you have to have top talent working on it. And as we know, top talent is a limited commodity in this business, as it is in any business. You don't want to spread the top of the line people too thin. They are limited in what they can do. You don't have that many writers and artists who can really work on these books. Whenever we conceive of an Ultimate title, one of the key components is is there a movie related to this? The next thing we'll consider is can we get talent of the caliber that would maintain the mystique of the brand. That's of key importance. We just don't want to put anybody who's an average guy, or even a bit above average, on the book. We want to have first rate people on it so when people pick up an Ultimate book, they know they're getting the best they can get. Too many brands and imprints before expanded too quickly and could not maintain the quality and, as a result, they have fallen. We're heading into the 70s on Ultimate Spider-Man and it's still a top selling book. A large part of that is the consistency of the team and the fact that they've done very, very interesting things. The same thing with Ultimate X-Men. We're coming up to the 50s with that book. That's because we've had top people working on it and we've had really good storylines. I want to maintain that on all the Ultimate titles. There's no reason they can't be around for years and years as long as you keep the characters interesting and you work with the top people. I don't envision for a while any additional regular monthly titles being added.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Macchio: It is worth your while to pick up the Ultimate books if you like Marvel comics. If you like the mainstream Marvel books, if you love Cap and Thor and FF and love the heart and soul of Marvel, we have tried to bring that heart and soul to these books. I think it's worth anybody's time to pick them up. I had my own initial misgivings about the line, and anybody who's talked to me knows that. I wasn't sure it was worth taking Spider-Man, who we already had four monthly books on, and doing yet another one. And this one going all the way back to when he was in high school and starting over again. I had my doubts about it. Now that I am firmly ensconced here in this line of books, and I've been one of the people helping to guide their destiny for the past 3 or 4 years, I can say that I'm overall very pleased with the quality of the material that we've put out. Even if I was not the editor of these books, I would recommend them to readers who want more Marvel magic. I think we deliver that and we're going to continue to do that.