Ok, so, this is gonna get a little biographical.

I was very excited by the Ultimate line back in the early 2000’s. It got me back into comics, to be honest. Living in Australia had always made getting comics regularly somewhat difficult for a teenager with virtually no income who lived quite a way from a “big” city. Comics just aren’t as ubiquitous to the experience of growing up as they are in America, and our newsagents stocked some, but not many, and never the same ones month to month. I saw the X-Men animated show in the mid 90’s, got random issues here and there, but high school showed me how alone I was in my appreciation of them. Video games took over, largely, until I was old enough to travel outside of my local area. Seemingly on cue, Marvel had only recently begun Ultimate Spider-Man, but I’d never been a fan of the wall-crawler. Ultimate X-Men though? It was like a drug. New stories unencumbered by continuity, written by “edgy” newer writers like Millar and Bendis? Kubert art? Ultimate X-Men, then Ultimates, took hold and for a while they were all I bought, comics wise.

The Fantastic Four were never really a team I’d had much to do with. I only started getting Ultimate Fantastic Four since they were so obviously missing from that new universe. And so, while I didn’t really have too much in the way of expectations, I wasn’t really expecting… well, this.

Let’s “Reed” Ultimate Fantastic Four – The Fantastic: Part 2

Issue two opens up Five Years Ago, making it six years since we left Reed, Johnny and Sue at the Baxter Building. They’re being lectured by a disgusting looking man the students refer to as The Moleman. So subtlety is out the window then.

Sue catches Reed looking at her so obviously they're in love.

That’s it. Sue and Reed’s great romance. They’re meant to be guys, don’t ask questions!

For those who don’t know, The Moleman is one of the original Fantastic Four’s oldest villains, being the ruler of a subterranean realm of people called moloids. Like many of the Fantastic Four’s villains he’s not a criminal in the same sense as The Joker or Lex Luthor, rather a ruler, a king, whose ambitions are for the good of his own people, but which clash with the people of New York, or the Earth in general. Dr. Doom. Namor. Galactus. Moleman. Annihilus. Black Bolt. Black Panther. Many allies and foes of the Fantastic Four tend to be rulers in one way or another and this speaks to the fact that the Fantastic Four aren’t “superheroes” in the same vein as Superman or Captain America. They’re explorers. Scientists. They originally got their powers from a trip into space, after all. They’re not out stopping bank robbers or mafia bosses, they’re travelling to strange new places and worlds and finding adventure along the way. But they’re a family at the same time, and that’s what continues to define them.

So the kids of the Baxter Building all mock the Moleman as he leaves, with only one of them, Victor, standing up for their teacher. They seem surprised when the attractive young man speaks to them cementing the arrogant loner portion of the character’s personality. Later we find Victor has broken into Reed’s room to “fix” his calculations. His math is right, but Reed is angry about his methods, and so the seeds of their friendship are sewn. They agree to work together on Reed’s project involving the Negative Zone. Meanwhile Sue and Reed have become close, as friends, though we are treated to some very obvious moments of the two of them glancing at each other, being flustered etc, basically doing all the cliché things that shows they like each other. It’s very standard stuff and it’s another wasted opportunity for the book. For what could have been a vast and unique new version of these characters they stay pretty close to the familiar. And so far that seems to be the biggest crime these comics have committed.

The origin of Dr Doom!

That’s it. That’s their whole friendship. The defining relationship for the single greatest villain the Fantastic Four ever face.

The Ultimate Universe was touted as bringing these stories into the “New Millenium”, and updating them for the current audiences, but out of all the various books The Ultimates was the only one to really CHANGE, rather than merely update, the basic premise. Circumstantial changes were made to the X-Men, and Spider-Man, but instead of a group of established superheroes teaming up to face a threat none of them could face alone, The Ultimates were a group specifically formed by S.H.I.E.L.D as an answer to the threats posed by the newly emerging mutants and genetically engineered villains*. Most of the characters shared similar origins to their original counterparts, though some specifically became heroes to be a part of The Ultimates. Here the Ultimate Fantastic Four are still a group who have come together to partake in a Reed Richards Experiment and are changed forever because of it. They are still basically the same people, basically the same group, even so much that in a few pages Ben Grimm returns to the book for absolutely no reason aside from the fact that he NEEDS to be there.

The Moleman is born!

That’s it. That’s his whole character arc. He might as well have said “You’ll live to regret this!”

Earlier in the issue Dr Arthur Molekavic is fired from the Baxter Building program for conducting his own experiments outside the purview of the facility. This firing is handled by Dr Storm – father of Sue and Johnny – and, interestingly enough, by General Ross, a character more associated with the Incredible Hulk, but whose presence only serves to highlight the idea that these kids are, ostensibly, building weapons for the government. It’s entirely unethical, but they fire Dr Molekavic on moral grounds, citing his research into “creating walking mold in the shape of a man” as not only criminal but an abomination. But it rings hollow when these people are themselves so corrupted by their own actions. When Molekavic leaves, he turns, pointing threateningly at Dr Storm and General Ross, his disgusting visuals and stereotypically “villain” behavior cementing his fate after only six pages in the book. It’s an obvious tactic and only further undermined by the consistent assumption the writers make that the audience is familiar with the original stories. It fails to make an interesting story for new readers and doesn’t say anything new to anyone who has read more than three issues of the old FF books.

As the time of the experiment draws near yet more suspense is ruined as Johnny specifically spells out to Reed that his sister would be “receptive” to advances, should Reed feel the same way. An entire romantic subplot, and we’ve pushed through it in a single issue of the book, as just three pages later the two of them kiss, with little or no actual “telling” of their feelings. It’s like, of course they kiss. They’re Sue and Reed. They’re supposed to be together. Without taking the time to SHOW us that they do. And I get sometimes friends will point out things for their other friends, but he basically sets his sister up with Reed, and it’s just a little creepy, especially considering we see zero evidence of Johnny and Reed being friends at all.

Johnny sells Reed his sister.

That’s it. That’s their whole friendship. It’s the first time we’ve even seen them talk.

So Ben arrives, Victor makes some last minute changes to the huge experiment set up in the desert and issue 2 ends as Reed and Sue stare into the experiment itself as something seemingly goes horribly wrong. It’s the end I wanted in issue 1, to be honest. With Millar and Bendis working at what seems to be half-power, any and all narrative experimentation has been thrown aside. I’m no professional writer, but I can see the building blocks of something I’d like to read, but they’re set up in a way that doesn’t make me interested. There’s great relationships within this group. Reed and Ben. Reed and Sue. Reed and Victor. Sue and Johnny. Hell, even Reed and Johnny need to have something, especially to sell the set-up of Sue and Reed. For a book so defined by it’s characters and their relationships to each other Ultimate Fantastic Four leaves them as periphery, focusing either on cliché villains, the specific workings of the so-called Negative Zone, and splash pages showing experiments and projects that aren’t explained, or meaningful in any way. For all its reliance on “The N-Zone” in issue one, it barely rates a mention in issue two despite the last half of the book being a giant reconstruction of an experiment Reed conducted a decade earlier in his garage.

This issue does one thing very well. It leaves me with a lot of questions. If this was issue one, with the next few filling in the blanks, I might be more invested, but much like a joke, in comics sometimes the delivery is more important than the text itself.

Next week we continue with issue 3, The Fantastic: Part 3. I’m glad they’re keeping the names of these simple or I might forget where I’m up to. Hope to see you there!

*genetically engineered seems to be the Ultimate Universe answer to “radiation”. If we need a shrug of the shoulders “I don’t know” answer for how someone got their powers, “genetic engineering” seems to be the go to response. It’s topical, obviously, like radiation was in the 60’s, but maybe too much?

About The Author

Living in Australia, my life is probably quite like yours, except hotter and with more dangerous animals. I've had a love of comics for the last 20 years, which is almost exactly two thirds of my life, and very little else has been with me that long. I fancy myself as a writer, but I fancy myself as many things that I'm not all that good at, so go figure. I have strong opinions but I love to discuss things, so please comment, cos I'd love to hear what you think of what I think.

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