“N-Zone: Part 2”
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artists: Adam Kubert (p), John Dell (i)
With issue #14 of UFF, Warren Ellis digs deeper into the mysterious concept which gave our heroes their powers, and offers up what amounts to a further issue of set-up for the foursome’s big excursion into the N-Zone. However, despite the limitations of such decompressed storytelling, the creative team has managed to put together my favourite issue of the title so far.
An excitable Reed Richards in full-on geek mode manages to convince General Ross that his planned exploits and investigations could have a military usage – a nice touch, and one which sets up their government funding in a believable and interesting way. There’s the slightest suggestion that this political angle could resurface in the title, especially given the dissension within the team for such obvious concessions to the violence-happy general. However, for the moment the action proceeds in a straightforward fashion, with Ellis offering up some exciting techno-babble from Reed and pulling off the trick of writing someone who’s more intelligent than you are with aplomb. Further great character work comes with Sue’s ambivalence over her superheroic role – reticent to act recklessly on one hand, but excited about the public image aspect on the other – and Johnny’s goofy naming of Reed’s shuttle, referencing the earlier gag about the fantasti-car and providing a perfectly-timed comedy moment at the same time. Ben is the same curmudgeonly-yet-loveable hunk of rock that we know from Lee and Kirby’s original issues, but Adam Kubert’s larger-than-life pencils go even further to establish him as both an unstoppable force and immovable object in the Ultimate universe.
The artist’s renderings of the other team members are a joy to behold, with Reed’s elongated strides, Sue’s graceful power and Johnny’s flaming hairstyle all reinforcing the character concepts with neat little touches that might be missed on the first reading. Supporting characters are also given added dimension by the art, with Sue and Johnny’s father’s dismay at his children entering into yet another dangerous adventure being seriously but never melodramatically stated. Dave Stewart’s peerless colours also help the characters to really spring from the page, and go a long way to make the final cliffhanger as beguilingly weird and beautiful as possible.
Sure, there’s little in the way of any real action this issue, save for an excellently-rendered and extremely cinematic montage of the Four’s shuttle being put together – but the story doesn’t drag or feel unentertaining as a result. Rather, Ellis and Kubert are harnessing the full strengths of Marvel’s paced-for-the-trade approach to monthly comics, providing a pitch-perfect snapshot of the group before they shoot off into the unknown. Despite being part two of a story, it’s a great chance to get on board what is unarguably the most-improved Ultimate title of the year, shedding its dull beginnings and finally promising to live up to the fantastic potential of our heroes.
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