“The Fantastic: Part 3”
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar
Artists: Adam Kubert (p), Danny Miki (i)
In the aftermath of last issue's explosive finale, four friends find themselves coming to terms with elemental powers that are nothing short of fantastic...
This is the origin issue that many have been impatiently waiting for, and visually it doesn't disappoint. The gradual style of each character's reveal provides a nice framing device that is used throughout the issue to introduce the four, each time giving us a sense of their own awe at their transformation and adding a certain amount of gravity to each of their individual situations. Kubert is given a real chance to show off here, rendering Reed as a freakish bundle of arms, body and neck that is sinister enough to make the hostile reaction of the army believable; Ben is not dissimilar from the Thing that we know and love and gets a fun slow-mo sequence that shows us the raw power that the bundle of rock possesses; and Sue's late appearance in the book invites us to be more interested in her unfortunate situation than her invisibility. Special praise must however be reserved for the section involving the Human Torch - Johnny Storm is starting to look more like his old self than the young boy of previous issues, and his discovery of his flaming ability is portrayed in a shocking splash page which makes a flaming human being look as realistic as possible before providing us with a cool payoff that manages to capture Johnny's personality as well as his physical powers.
As a writer, Bendis is unsurpassed when on top of his game - here, however, there is a sense of things being done by-numbers, lacking the flair which makes his other comic such a joy. Nevertheless, if his writing strives to entertain in a more sophisticated manner than the original comics that this series is built upon, Millar's plotting is just as predictable. Sue Storm's damsel-in-distress routine at the issue's close is almost laughably dated, but the artwork does enough to convince us that her predicament poses a real threat. Characterisation is - perhaps understandably for a team book covering four character origins at once - relatively thin on the ground, but hopefully in future issues the people will come to be defined by more than simply their powers.The introduction of an elemental angle to the FF's powers comes off as a little too clumsy to be truly inspired, but still hints intriguingly that the origins of the group may not be credited to purely scientific influences. However, the most interesting plot strand - Victor's interference in the experiment as his subsequent disappearance - is relegated to the sidelines, to be explored later in favour of the cliffhanging ending which, while workable, fails to convince that this opening arc will be as outstanding as other work currently being done in the Ultimate field.
On a final note, it's nice to see Marvel re-introducing a letters page in this title: regardless of how widespread internet use is nowadays, its nice to see a printed forum which is accessible to all readers where views on the comic can be expressed and answered by the creators. Even if Bendis comes off as a little flip, it's a fun addition to the comic.
Ultimate Fantastic Four is continuing to be a frustrating mixture of great artwork, a fun concept but surprisingly ordinary writing. If it is to be as succesful as other books in the Ultimate line, it may need to think about concentrating on the more gripping and fantastic elements of the characters. Whilst not a bad comic by any stretch of the imagination, the momentum is already starting to fall away a little from this young series: maybe standards have been set too high in the Ultimate line, but this comic is coming off as eager to please but simplistically formulaic, lacking the sophistication that is promised by its creators' pedigree.
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