“The Fantastic: Part 1”
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar
Artists: Adam Kubert (p) Danny Miki (i)
Marvel adds "the fourth cornerstone" to their Ultimate Universe with the release of this, the first episode of the FF's foray into Ultimate continuity. Boy Genius Reed Richards, hulking best friend Ben Grimm, the attractive Sue Storm and her fiery brother Johnny are all present and correct - but not yet Fantastic...
Well, it's another ongoing Ultimate series for Marvel: who can blame them, following the success of Ultimate incarnations of Spidey, the X-Men and the Avengers. In line with this winning formula, the Fantastic Four's origin is brought up-to-date (I'm not expecting the cosmic rays to make an appearance - not in their original form, anyway) and the characterr are modified and re-introduced, with Reed becoming a put-upon boy genius and Sue, Johnny and the Thing fellow students. Indeed, it is Reed that forms the main focus of this issue, opening as it does with a beautiful sequence showing his birth and progressing into a (slightly derivative) exploration of his troubled home-life. Finally, we get to see Reed's development of what may be the catalyst for the group's transformation into the Fantastic Four.
Some have criticised the sharing of writing duties in this series: whilst it is certainly true that anyone who has followed Bendis and Millar's work in the past with any care will have fun spotting each writer's tics and trademarks, the overall impression is surprisingly cohesive. On the strength of this issue, the idea seems to work, with Bendis' trademark dialogue filling in character admirably whilst Millar provides the scientifically-charged money shots. It will be interesting to see how the concept progresses - and whether it leans towards one writer's strengths - but for a book which requires real heart as well as a highly-developed mind, the combination couldn't be more suitable.
The art is competent although unremarkable for the most part. Crucially, it is well-suited to the tone of the book: bright colours enhance Kubert's pencils, and there is a high level of detail brought out by Danny Miki's inks: as impressive here as they currently are in Ultimate Six. There are also some nice touches of detail: Reed's father's trademark greying at the temples, and Johnny Storm's flaming hair spring to mind. However, there are two stand-out scenes which bookend the issue: The first concerns Reed's birth and his instantly developing sense of wonder and interest in the world around him. As a dialogue-free sequence which relies so heavily on artwork, Kubert pulls off a superb, beautiful job of conveying Reed's inquisitive nature. The second notable sequence is the "money-shot" of Reed's technology in action on the last pages - The relative youth of the protagonists (as well as the canniness of the audience) demands a new device to trigger the powers of the group, and its portrayal is magical as it is intriguing: regardless of whether credit is due to the penciller or colourist, this is a knock-out splash page of the kind a first issue realy needs to sell its idea.
Overall, this issue has the problems we have come to expect from a new Marvel series: especially one which starts a new ongoing Ultimate line: the pacing is slow (we’re still stuck over 10 years in the past by the end of issue #1), we have only met two of the four central characters in any depth, and anyone coming to this completely cold will wonder how the Fantastic Four of the title got left out of this issue. There is a definite sense that faith is required: this issue provides a strong setup which (based on the pedigree of its creators) is likely to flourish in future issues.
And if it doesn't, you can always sell it on ebay in a year.
I'll admit that I was never much of a follower of the FF in regular continuity: what I have gleaned from their numerous guest-appearances along with the 9c issue last year is an image of a superhero family and a sense of fun, something lacking in many of today's "mature" comics. Happily, the down-to-earthness that is typical of a Marvel comic is married to a real sense of the fantastic here - although experience tells us that it'll be a few issues before the series finds its feet and we can really judge it on its own merits.
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