We’re four issues in and, to be honest, I thought I’d get further before I was horrified at something Mark Millar had his name on. For starters, it’s got Brian Michael Bendis as co-writer. Then, it’s at Marvel, meaning it’s a ways off being “peak Millar” like so much of his creator-owned stuff. Plus it’s the Fantastic Four. This is a family of space faring super powered adventurers held as a classic, a masterpiece even, by a large portion of the comic book reading population. It is quite possibly the pinnacle of the Stan Lee Jack Kirby partnership that gave us so many great books and characters. Surely Mark Millar wouldn’t “Millarise” it too badly? Right?

I’m man enough to admit I was wrong.

Let’s “Reed” Ultimate Fantastic Four – The Fantastic: Part 4

So we left last issue with Susan waking up seemingly a prisoner of Dr Molekevic* in his subterranean lair, amidst his sentient, walking mold creatures. The Mold King, as it were. We pick it back up, however, on a far more important character than Susan, her little brother Johnny. How can I tell he’s more important? Because in this scene, as he trains in the use of his newfound powers, he gets to talk, act like an actual person, and grows as a character. So far, Susan’s had none of that.

Johnny Storm learns his catch phrase.

Johnny’s clothes don’t burn. Why? Who knows.

Johnny works out he can turn his power on and off subconsciously, using a trigger phrase. “Flame on” and “Flame off”. His reaction to the flames, however, baffles me. He lights his arm on fire and screams, waving it around, as if it’s burning him, but it’s not. There’s no scorch marks. No damage. He screamed the first time we saw him on fire too. I guess it’s telling us he’s panicky? Or just dumb? The other interesting thing is that his clothes don’t burn. In the previous issue Reed stretched and contorted and his clothes did too. They weren’t the clothes he was wearing at the accident, so they weren’t altered in the same way. They’re just… special? For a book so invested in explaining EVERYTHING, leaving this a mystery seems like maybe they didn’t HAVE an explaination?

Meanwhile, Reed talks to Ben about his new body. Ben is obviously upset, but when he sees Reed has been affected, it calms him down. He’s still angry, but he immediately stops, showing an empathetic side to Ben Grimm that was evident also back in our first issue, when he saved Reed from the bullies. Now, our most monstrous looking character is our most compassionate, and it drops him right into the place that Stan “The Man” Lee (that guy in all the Marvel movies) and Jack “The King” Kirby (who is sadly no longer with us) put him into originally. A giant orange monster with a heart of gold. I’m less fond of Adam Kubert’s art this issue, though, as Ben seems to warp and change from page-to-page, panel-to-panel. He’s ugly, sure, and made of rock, but he’s not consistent, which is a base level requirement in comic book storytelling.

The ugliest Ben Grimm I ever did see.

How can an impact suit stop impact when it doesn’t cover the actual points of impact?

Finally we return to Sue and I’m happy to see her honing her new power in the space of four panels, to a point where she becomes fully visible and is able to hold herself as such seemingly indefinitely. Of course, she has no dialogue as it occurs. Dr Molekevic is the only one who speaks, giving her his instructions, still her teacher even after all this time. And he mentions to her how proud he is of her for listening to him. For doing what he said to do. She just asks the right questions, though, like “How” and “Where” and “Why” and he goes on to exposit all the info we learned in the previous issue. Sue is even assaulted by one of Dr Molekevic’s mold creatures, but does her power to control how light reflects from the electromagnetic fields around her body enable her to save herself? No. Dr Molekevic’s walking stick is some kind of laser blaster though, so that works. Whatever. Who cares about the power you spent the first half of the scene telling us was special, and unique, and amazing. Random energy blasting cane works just fine.

Yeah, I know. It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to dismiss, and ridicule. I get that. I can be pretty cynical a lot of the time, but I’m getting more and more worried that there’s nothing to like about this comic. Even the art by the usually stand-out Adam Kubert seems off. Was it rushed? Was something changed late in the process of making this issue? And how come Bendis and Millar have made such a half-assed attempt at this? There’s more questions than answers, but not in a way that makes me want to read on. Luckily I do want to read on, but it’s not because of the comic itself.

So Hans Moleman shows Susan an artifact he found deep below the surface of the earth, in a place he discovered after being kicked out of the Baster Building program. He name checks Edward Bulwer-Lytton, so that we know Millar and Bendis have some science fiction writing background. It feels out of place, and like it’s a kind of short hand, so they don’t need to explain the idea in its entirety. I get that the Marvel Universe, and by extension the Ultimate Marvel Universe, are supposed to take place “just outside your window”, in a world not unlike our own. So if a scientist interested in the very basic building blocks of life and sentience were to find a subterranean kingdom he would liken it to a real-world writer who wrote about the same thing. It’s an established part of our literary history (known collectively as the Hollow Earth Theory) that goes back centuries. But Dr Molekevic seems to just drop the name and move on.

He laments that he hasn’t been able to find Victor yet, and hints at a dark past for the young man who will become Doom. He also casually mentions how he loves Susan, and that he rescued her from the desert, where she’d been teleported to, “worried that bikers might find you and have their way”. So there you go. Casual rape reference from Mr Rape himself, Mark Millar. And it’s telling that the way Dr Molekevic says it, he’s not actually worried because rape is such a horrible and brutal crime, but it feels more that he’s worried it would sully the woman he loves so much. I get that he’s supposed to be the bad guy, but there’s no reaction from Sue, no way of telling how that’s supposed to be read. In what is supposed to be a book not just for “mature readers”, it comes across as gross.

Dr Molekevic explains his plans while Sue listens politely.

The Moleman goeth on and on and on.

The artifact Dr Molekevic holds has traces of blood on it, enough to let the scientist recreate the life forms that existed “thousands of years ago” and who possessed technology “light years ahead” of the most advanced technology on earth today. He describes his creation as a mix of “their past and our future”, which to me sounds a little like Jurassic Park, where the dinosaurs were a mix of their dinosaur DNA and that of frogs. Apart from surface similarities the two things are so unrelated as to be wildly incompatible in reality, much as any ancient “hollow earth” creatures would be when compared to our own genetics. And why are a race of beings whose technology is so advanced still waging war with what looks like carved wooden clubs?

No matter. The Moleman is our villain. He has created life, and he plans to turn it on those who have wronged him. We move back to our Fantastic Three as Johnny meets Ben for the first time and the boys actually mention Sue, wondering where she is and what kind of changes have happened to her. It’s a brief moment before Dr Molekevic’s massive creature erupts up through the ground in the middle of New York. It’s a reference to the first story from the original Fantastic Four comic, which features a cover of an enormous creature bursting through the ground as the Fantastic Four battle them, but it’s been made “edgier” by this being a pointy, snarling creature, and not the dopey looking guy from the 60’s. But even this is a huge missed opportunity, since the mold creatures look quite similar to the original monster, so having a giant one would have worked, thematically. But the monster needs to look cool, so we get what we got.

A rather uninspired design, I have to say.

How did his huge shoulders get through if his waist is the size of the hole?

Next week we get the giant monster fight, I’m guessing. I’m all for this comic turning around, and I remembered it much more fondly than I’m finding it to be right now, so maybe it gets better, but right now I’m pretty underwhelmed by what should have been a much better effort from two of the brightest stars at Marvel in the early 2000’s. It’s The Fantastic: Part 5. Hope to see you there!

 

*It’s so hard trying to make sure I get his name right every time, but if I get it wrong, I’m not alone, since Bendis and Millar call him “Dr Molevic” on occasion too.

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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