This issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four has two things on the cover that don’t appear in the book. One of them is Mark Millar, who appears as one of the creators, but who isn’t credited on the page with all the rest of the people who made the book.

The other thing is Susan Storm.

Let’s “Reed” Ultimate Fantastic Four – The Fantastic: Part 5

The story opens up exactly where we left it, with a giant monster attacking New York city as Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm – all newly endowed with crazy superpowers – look on from the Baxter Building. They banter a little bit before Johnny melts through the glass window and falls out, handily discovering he can fly just in time to avoid hitting the ground. Ben jumps out after him, hoping his rocky form will keep him safe, while Reed follows, stretching to enormous lengths in order to keep up.

To be honest, this was all great. Bendis writes chatty, fast paced dialogue with a back and forth to his character voices that is often imitated, but has been his biggest trademark for most of his Marvel career. Here Ben, Johnny and Reed feel like real people, with a pre-existing relationship and with relatively defined character traits, even if those are just “younger” versions of the traits these characters have in the main Marvel Universe. The best thing, though, is that this version of these three characters feels fresh, and real, and alive, which has been sorely lacking up until this point.

Johnny Storm discovers he can fly.

We could honestly do worse than having this moment used in the new Fantastic Four movie.

Basically, this is what the book should have been the whole time. Character interaction amidst a crazy scenario defines the Fantastic Four in all its iterations. They’re a really tight-knit group of people experiencing the strangest, weirdest, most outlandish things the writers can come up with! Sure the science fiction aspect might have brought you in originally, but the main reason to stay is if you like this particular group of space explorers. And like the best sci-fi, it’s not the ridiculous plot you really care about, but the impact it has on the people involved, and what it tells us about our own humanity. Sure, that’s a bit dense, I know. Not all science fiction has to be Blade Runner or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what I mean is I read a Fantastic Four comic to watch Johnny play pranks on Ben while Sue and Reed maintain their relationship. It could be a house just down the road, or it could be in the Negative Zone. But the Fantastic Four are always the Fantastic Four.

Or, as is this case in this issue, the Fantastic Three.

Susan Storm on the cover of a book she's not in.

It’s not even a very nice picture of Sue. Why was THIS the cover?

It’s my own fault, I suppose, for not remembering what I said a couple of weeks ago about the covers to comics set in the Ultimate Universe. They’re not necessarily indicative of the book’s content. They’re mostly just iconic images of our heroes in bold, striking poses, and this being the fifth issue of the book, (the first being a group shot) Reed, Johnny and Ben have had their turns. Someone had to go last. It happens to be Sue. That’s not exactly cause for concern. But not only is the cover not Susan being a Superhero, but more of a Super Celebrity, and not only is it not all that good (again, not really part of the problem) but it just so happens to occur on an issue crafted specifically not to have her in it.

Ben, Reed and Johnny beat up the giant monster and head on down the hole it had made on it’s way to the surface, bantering and trading witticisms the whole way. Reed is understandably amazed and fascinated by the unknown origins of the creature. Ben is convinced he’s dreaming so goes along with playing the hero cos, why not, he’s dreaming! And Johnny’s high energy attitude comes full force as he embraces his new powers which allow him not only to engulf himself in flames but also to fly.

They barely escape being shot by the police and are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, having saved the city of New York from a gigantic lizard-like monster. In the digital age they are famous almost instantly. They are, though, still worried about Sue, so they go down the hole in order to find her. Showing us her plight would, of course, destroy any tension built up regarding Susan’s fate, and keeping the focus on the rescue party is natural. It’s good storytelling. Or at least it would be if her safety hadn’t been virtually promised, insured, by the very man who sent the monster up to the surface in the first place. Unless this was your first issue of the book, you already know Sue is safe, so her absence feels like a glaring omission. And considering how little she’s been given to say, or do, in previous issues, to have one entirely without her seem monumentally misguided. The fact she’s on the cover only makes it more ugly.

Bendis does seem to “get”, however, the fact that this “Ultimate” take on the characters should grow a little more organically than the original was given the chance to. In the 60’s a superhero comic may have had continued storylines, but almost every issue was what we now call a “done-in-one” where the major threat is put down, defeated, within the confines of the single issue. It used to be remarkable when a book went for more than one issue but now we need our special term to describe a book that’s over in a mere 20 or so pages. The original X-Men graduated high school in about six issues, defeating Magneto twice in that time. Nowadays they’re lucky to have even discovered the “real threat” in that time.

Johnny tries to create fireballs. Fails.

A creative decision allowing for character depth and growth? Unheard of!

Bendis knows this, though, and so when Johnny is flying around, punching the giant lizard-like monster, Reed asks him if he can “throw fireballs”. For anyone familiar with the character the answer is obviously in the positive, but Ultimate Johnny struggles and can’t find it within him to do it. He hasn’t mastered his abilities yet – he’s only had them a few days – and it shows, and it’s a concession to the current generation of storytelling that I’m actually ok with.

So the issue cliffhangers as the boys find themselves facing an army of what we know to be The Moleman’s genetic constructions, his Moloids, which would have been fine if, again, we hadn’t seen them already taking commands from Dr Molekevic himself, as well as being thoroughly unthreatening in any way.

Next week we have the conclusion, The Fantastic: Part 6. Will Reed, Johnny and Ben find the missing quarter of their quirky quartet? Will Susan actually get some character development? Will the people on the cover actually appear inside the book? We’ll find out together. Hope to see you there!

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.

Comments are closed.