The Fantastic Four, Ultimate or otherwise, is probably my favourite super-team of all time. This is in part because of the really likeable main characters and their chemistry, but it also has to do with the grand science fiction elements that can range from travel across time and space to just about anything else that can be imagined. They aren’t waiting for the bad guys to show up so they can catch them (though much trouble tends to come to their doorstep). They’re exploring, pioneering and experiencing the universe and all that lies in it. If that doesn’t sound like an exciting read I don’t know what does.
As for Ultimate books, I’m a sucker for them, even if some are hit and miss, and I think Ultimate Fantastic Four has the potential for most interesting re-imaginings. When I found out the writer would be Mike Carey, I was excited but cautious. His previous two issue fill-in on the title was quite good but I wasn’t sure how he would handle a longer run. And while I love his work on Lucifer, his Ultimate Elektra mini-series was sub par. But then again, the art is by Pasqual Ferry, who blew me away with Adam Strange. I really didn’t know what to think.
Now that I’ve read God War, the generically-titled first story arc of Carey and Ferry’s run, I’m still not quite sure. The book has a lot going for it, but there’s just something a little off, at least with this particular arc. Now, don’t get me wrong, this book has many positives. Pasqual Ferry’s art in this book shows readers why he’s the next big thing. He has a style perfect for dynamic action sequences and also creates some very cool looking monsters, aliens, spaceships, and spaceships which are also aliens. Check out the chapter opener when the team is about to fly into a giant dragon spaceship’s mouth or the battle with Gallowglass (a forgettable villain but a cool-looking fight). And as I have always felt with Ferry’s art, it wouldn’t look even half as good as it does in black and white, so real kudos have to be given to the colouring team of Justin Ponsor, Dave McCaig and John Rauch. The art is perfect for this title: colourful, imaginative, and sometimes scary.
The main problem with this book lies in the writing. The best thing I can say is that Carey certainly knows how to write the title characters. The Fantastic Four themselves have been very well captured, especially the Thing who retains his classic curmudgeonly attitude but remains young and inexperienced. No, the problem lies with the new characters. The awkwardly named Seed Unit Nineteen strikes me as a mix of the Inhumans and the New Gods (in terms of powers and holier-than-thou attitudes) and don’t really succeed in being remarkable as anything more than shallow clones of either group. They might have interesting names and powers, but as characters they come off as dull warrior alien stereotypes, bitching about how much better their world is than our world. This is a shame considering that the Four take a backseat to these jokers for the first couple chapters. I also get the feeling that Carey was going for a Grant Morrison-esque flavour, which is far from a bad thing, but something about the execution just doesn’t sit right. Maybe in trying to seem more like Morrison, Carey’s writing seems less like his own style. Of course, having read only a few of Carey’s books, I’m still not entirely sure quite what his style is.
There are some cool powers (a creature of pure idea, a warrior who fights in every plane at the same time), but I’m not too terribly interested in the characters that use them. I also couldn’t help but notice that despite the hype of new characters this really feels like a “Fantastic Four meets the New Gods” story: the conquered world that the heroes land in seems exactly like Apokolyps, minus the fire pits, and Thanos takes on a role very similar to Darkseid. Sure, the two characters were quite similar to begin with, but it feels like Mike Carey narrows the gap between them a little more.
Still, despite my complaints, I definitely have hope for the future of this title. Though this is a somewhat clichéd story, it definitely has some interesting ideas and I have a feeling that Ferry’s art will only improve as this series goes on. I certainly trust Carey with these characters, but now I want him to create miraculous and strange worlds of his own, not just doing a New Gods pastiche. This is a decent book, but I was really hoping for something a little more original.