“The Fantastic: Part 5”
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar
Artists: Adam Kubert (p) John Dell & Danny Miki (i)
A giant subterranean monster pokes its head up outside the Baxter building and it's up to the Ultimate Universe's newest superhero team to sort it out. But how will these untested heroes fare against such a colossal threat?
5 issues in, and UFF seems to be losing its way in a marketplace which as become increasingly bogged-down in Ultimate titles which are diluting the line's reputation. Continuing the origin story, the creative team plays to its already established strengths of detailed, colourful artwork and some fun deconstruction of the superhero genre (Johnny's inability to "Throw fire?" being a neat throwaway example). On the other hand, some elements somehow don't click, such as the little motivation given for a group of recently-transformed "freaks" suddenly deciding to come over all superheroic or their relative indifference to increasingly absurd phenomena which are, perhaps aptly, a little more fantastical than what has been seen in some of the other Ultimate titles.
The potential mileage of the Fantastic Four should be evident from its regular Marvel Universe counterpart, which has clocked up well over 500 issues. However, this title has managed to be less gripping than expected, and may struggle to find a niche, even within the Ultimate Universe: If you want humour and soap-opera histrionics, Spider-Man can provide them; if you want storytelling on a more epic scale, we have the Ultimates; and if you want a superhero team, even a sense of family, Ultimate X-Men is there for the taking. If the title wants to survive, it is going to have to offer something different - the sooner it finds its voice the better.
Leaving behind the series' more general problems, the issue lets itself down through some basic storytelling flaws. There is a lack of a decent adversary - Moleman is absent for the duration of this issue, and no matter how large the inexpressive beast that rampages through New York is drawn, he's still just a rampaging inexpressive beast. There is a lack of purpose, with the motivation for why any of this is happening being too hazy to make us really care. And the issue also suffers for its complete lack of Sue: if this is going to be a family book, it would have been nice to see the FF's powers get their first workout as a family. Despite its problems, there are some standout moments: Ben's "Probably could have thought that through a little more" is a line which is funny and characterful at the same time; Reed's bouncy ball antics are hilariously absurd, visually inventive and say a lot about his powers as well as his personality; and the visuals capture Johnny Storm's carefree exuberance effortlessly. Unfortunately though, the whole proves to be considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Not an out-and-out terrible issue, but a dull effort which does nothing to encourage new readers to hang on to the series after this arc is over - a shame, for a title which should hold so much promise. Maybe Victor Von Doom will prove more entertaining than an army of subterranean slime monsters: but by the time his arc arrives, Bendis and Millar will be long gone - possibly taking many of their followers with them.
(Plus, disappointingly, it's looking like the entertaining letters page of issue #3 may have been a one-off. Oh well.)
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