The Fantastic Four and I go back a long way. If you go back to the first comic book I ever owned… well, it would be Tales of the Texas Rangers, but somewhere in there, in and among a literal (and ironic) ton of Herbie would be issue #1 of Fantastic Four, likely because it had a monnnnnnnnster on the cover.
So I grew up with the FF, almost literally. They’ve been friends for a long, long time. I even bought the recent box set of the 90’s animated series, even though I hated it (and find I still do, grrrr), mainly in hopes that its success would lead to the release of the Iron Man and Silver Surfer series, for which I must sdmit there is the proverbial Fat Chance. And if you think you see where this is heading, no, I didn’t bother with the movie this last summer. The reason can be summed up in two words: Doctor. Doom.
Victor von Doom is my favorite comic character of all time, bar none. grandiloquent and egotistical, he was also a bad guy who was capable of remarkable nobility. Extremely misguided nobility, to be sure, but… I can’t quite see Lex Luthor executing his right hand man, saving the life of his worst enemy and declaring the day a draw simply to save the great art treasures of Europe.
This was the magic of Doom: He would never, ever be turned to the light side of the force, but he could do astounding things. He was the guy for which the phrase “If only he could use his talents for good, instead of evil” was invented.
So for me, Doom has been an integral part of the Fantastic Four, the fifth member, as it were. No Doom, no FF for me. I was seduced into buying periodical comics for a brief time around Fantastic Four #500 to check the revamped Doom, and I hated it. So it was the changes to my beloved dictator that killed the movie for me.
Now, I can take the name change from von Doom to van Damme. That’s okay, if a little grating. Placing him so he would be in the accident that gave the FF their powers was compressing things a little too far, and then changing him so he was an electricity-wielding bad guy just got to be too much. I wanted my scarred, bitter supergenius in gray armor and green tunic, dammit.
Which is why I am astounded that I love the Ultimate Fantastic Four so much.
I’ve largely steered clear of Marvel’s Ultimate line, still smarting from that revisionist-but-not-really “Heroes Reborn” nonsense. The line’s version of Avengers, The Ultimates was highly recommended to me, however, and I found that very satisfying. As a long time Iron Man fan, I especially loved this new version of the character, with a hundred man support staff needed to maintain the armor and a Tony Stark suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. The Ultimate line seems to be benefiting from a lack of 40 years worth of recursive historical baggage, while at the same time paying homage to that history.
Ultimate FF‘s changes seem logical: the Baxter Building now houses a think tank of young geniuses under the charge of Dr. Storm, the father of Sue and Johnny. Reed Richards is now of high school age, which I think pitches the age demographic a bit too young, but what do I know. The fact that they’ve given Reed that haircut with the close-cropped sides to echo his earlier white sidewalls is amusing to me, at least.
Richards was trying to perfect a mode of teleportation using an entropic, collapsing parallel universe called “The N-Zone” (instantly recognizable as the Negative Zone), and one of his experiments goes horribly wrong, causing the cosmic accident that changes the four into their more familiar personas. The accident is caused by one of Richards’ peers, an egotistical young genius named Victor van Damme, who recodes the computers running the experiment, because to his mind, there is no way that dolt Richards could have gotten the coding right. Van Damme is also changed by the accident, and hurtled back to Europe, to boot.
Now, this is everything about the movie I hated: van Damme changed by more than his hatred, and given super powers, too. The difference here is the execution, and I place that firmly at the feet of a writer who I come to worship more and more: Warren Ellis.
Yes, I admit, it was that name that convinced me to buy the trades of Ultimate FF, and what a sound investment that proved. Not only has he done Doom right, his revisionist take on the character even provides a logical substitute for Latveria and an army of robots. The fact that the followup story arc sends the four into the N-Zone in a retrofitted space shuttle to face off with a new and frightening Annihilus is another layer of a very rich cake.
The revamping of the villains is exceptional, and it’s refreshing that Ellis hasn’t changed much about the family dynamics of the FF, except to make Richards an uber-nerd; Ellis’ dialogue is, as ever, crisp and entertaining. He’s a crackerjack science-fiction writer, and the fact that he’s actually attempting to make sense of the FF’s powers in realistic terms is proving at least as fascinating as the incorporation of Marvel standards into this new universe.
Ellis is also handling Ultimate Galactus, which I’m watching with interest; the first trade provides a new, horrifying origin for the Vision, but I felt a little shortchanged, as by and large this part of the story arc repeats the setup for my favorite story in Ellis’ much-missed Global Frequency series. But if we start kvetching about writers stealing from themselves, we’re gonna be here all day, and I have laundry to do.
So. Ultimate Fantastic Four. Enthusiastic thumbs up. Fantastic Four movie? Waiting for the DVD. And then, I’ll probably rent it.
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