Friday, March 20, 2009

Comic Review: Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol.1: The Fantastic

Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol.1

ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR VOL. 1 - The Fantastic (TPB)The Fantastic

The Fantastic Four are arguably the best known, and most beloved, of the Marvel family canon. Everyone is aware of their origins, so why bother dropping them (or anyone for that matter) into the Ultimate universe, where mainstream Marvel characters are in essence "reborn" from scratch? Primarily for the benefit of newer readers, who may like the characters but feel bogged down by 500-plus issues or so of continuity, and would like to get in on the ground floor. It's a younger universe for a younger generation, but that doesn't mean that old salts can't try to enjoy it too, for its own merits. Think of it as an old black-and-white movie remade and modernized. You may have seen the story before, but never in such a context.

The first six issues of Ultimate Fantastic Four are collected here, telling the team's slightly-skewed origins, as well as their first genuine adventure in which they go toe-to-toe with the subterranean scourge known as the Mole-Man. It's interesting to note that while the Ultimate version is essentially following the same chronological timeline as their mainstream counterparts, the timeline is stretched so far out that it seems it might break. Meaning that what this Ultimate title covers over the span of six issues, the original covered in just one!

The real fun comes from pointing out the differences and the "first" appearances of familiar faces, because although this is all "new", we already know where it's going.

For instance, in the original storyline, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Victor Von Doom all met while attending college. Here, Reed and Ben meet in high school, and Doom (known here as Victor Van Damme) is introduced when Reed joins a secret, government-sponsored think-tank/school for genius youngsters that operates out of the Baxter building. Here we also meet the children of Dr. Storm, the director of the think-tank--Johnny and Susan Storm.

Originally the four gained their powers when bombarded by cosmic rays during a top-secret (and ill-advised) test-flight into outer space. Here, they (along with Victor, who wasn't involved in the space flight) are exposed to an onrush of energy from the N-Zone (or Negative Zone to the mainstreamers), due to an experiment in teleportation gone wrong.

Their first meeting with the Mole-Man on mainstream earth took place on his Monster Island, but in the Ultimate universe, he was employed at the Baxter Building before being fired for his illegal and immoral practices, and their battle takes place beneath the streets of--and eventually on the streets of--Manhattan.

The art is generally pretty good, and pretty well expresses the comedy and tragedy of the four learning how to use their new powers (a slowly materializing Susan Storm is particularly memorable.) And the Mole-Man is depicted as a blemish-plagued troll of a man, complete with gratuitous shots of his ruined complexion and wild nose hairs.

The sometimes stilted dialogue is meant to come across as realistic--and maybe it is--but is also at times distracting and annoying. I don't need my fictional characters stumbling over their words, or switching gears midway through a sentence. I get enough of that in real-life interactions.

Basically, if I were a babe to the scene, I would probably be entranced and enthralled, but as a long-time F.F. fanatic, I can't help but feel that this Fantastic Four is merely a flashy, but ultimately shallow, xerox copy of the original.

But then again, this universe wasn't built for me...

Anyone else agree?

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