“The Fantastic: Part 2”
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar
Artists: Adam Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i)
As Reed Richards continues his research into teleportation and the negative zone, the malevolent Moleman is introduced and the arrogant Victor Van Damme becomes involved in the experiment destined to create the Fantastic Four...
The second issue of this fledgling series continues the tale of a young Reed Richards, now on the verge of a scientific breakthrough that will likely result in the inadvertent creation of the Fantastic Four. Some years after the events of last issue, we are re-introduced to a Reed who is still plagued by ungrateful, abusive parents, still eager to realise his scientific dreams, and still harbouring a crush on his co-student Sue Storm. We also meet an aloof, arrogant student in Victor - an interesting and not wholly unsympathetic character whose genius seems to equal that of Reed, yet who is likely destined to become his sworn enemy. The supporting cast is also fleshed out: we get a glimpse of the Ultimate General Ross and a suitably slimy look is utilised for future antagonist Moleman. It seems that this series, perhaps more than any other of the Ultimate line, is going to be as concerned with the relationships between its characters than it is with their costumes (and that's a tall order when you consider the navel-gazing characterisation we've come to expect from Ultimate Spidey and the Ultimates).
Art chores are handled more than adequately by Kubert, providing real detail and dynamism in the scenes introducing Moleman and providing some great sequences where only facial expressions seem to change, yet say so much. There's also some nice foreshadowing to be found in the drawings, from Victor's swishing cape-like jacket and Johnny Storm's flaming quiff to the designs of the flight-suits the team wears shortly before their big experiment, destined to translate into the uniform costumes of the FF. Incidentally, this issue gives us nary a glimpse of those costumes bar the cover: a trend which will hopefully alter next issue (or the issue afterwards?) as some superpowers are finally introduced into the lives of these otherwise normal youngsters. This pacing is typical Bendis, and - even if he can take a while to get started - the ends consistently prove to justify the means. One may question whether such a show of faith should really be necessary after a full two issues of a new title, but with no Fantastic Four yet present we have no choice but to trust that this groundwork is being laid for a reason, and one that will make further instalments all the more meaningful and dimensional.
Whilst some deviations from the original incarnations of the FF seem unnecessary - a change in Dr. Doom's surname (surely the Ultimate Fantastic Four aren't doomed to battle the evil Dr. Damme?), and the presence of Ben Grimm at the experiment feeling rather contrived - there are certainly some improvements to be found. The scientific jargon and ideas are much more 21st-century than a manned rocket mission and there is an encouraging suggestion that the Ultimate incarnation of Dr. Doom will find his origins even more closely entwined with those of the Four Fantastic heroes. However, if there's one thing that rings true to the original spirit of the FF it is the heart of the characters. Whilst Reed may be slightly younger and more put-upon, he is still a tender, loving man who is eager to please - albeit a genius. Grimm remains the big-hearted loyal best friend and Sue shows signs of being a loving, supportive companion. Perhaps the most similar to his original model is Johnny Storm, the future Human Torch, retaining his boyish sensibilities and laissez-faire attitude to life as well as a certain charm and kindness. It will undoubtedly be fun to see this group coalesce into a family. Let's just hope it doesn't take too long.
Even if this issue seems to slow the pace of the story even further, it provides a solid build-up to the creation of the Fantastic Four. The art and writing are both more than up to scratch and the title has thus far been impressive and intriguing - if just short of entertaining. This series won't survive on faith and expectations for much longer, and the readership is bound to demand bigger and more significant things soon.
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