Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ultimate Fantastic Four #48

Tensions are at an all-time high within the Baxter Building of Ultimate Fantastic Four. After Reed’s unsettling obsession with an otherworldly Cosmic Cube drew the Silver Surfer to Earth, he’s taken a surprisingly isolationist approach toward continuing his work. He’s lashed out at anyone who dares set foot in his lab, driving Sue to the brink of exhaustion. Finally completing his work on the Cube, he rejected an invitation to attend a scientific symposium in frozen Siberia… an offer Sue accepted. When her plane went missing en route, her teammates sprung into immediate action.

Mark Brooks’s artistic contributions, while generally very strong, miss the essence of these characters. Part of what made the Ultimate version of this team more approachable than their regular universe counterparts was their age. These weren’t stuffy old scientists who’d been to the negative zone and back enough times to consider it a routine event, they were brainy kids with a penchant for exploration and adventure. There was a charm to them, a danger to their toying with things they didn’t fully comprehend, and it was reflected in their physical appearances as much as it was their actions.

Brooks doesn’t visualize them as a cluster of teens outside their element, he sees them as that tired old group of experienced veterans. Reed and Johnny are needlessly muscular. Ben is war-weary and unmoved by the opposition. Sue’s a full-grown woman. The difference between illustrating a group of teens and a group of adults can be very subtle, but it should consist of more than the lead character’s hairstyle and choice in spectacles.

This is a shame too, because like I’d mentioned, the majority of the artwork is pretty good. His method of enhancing the impact of Johnny’s flame, his design of the menacing Crimson Dynamo… they’re great. He doesn’t skimp on the backgrounds, and his take on the menacing enemies the team faces is just what the story needed. It’s just tough to take the rest of that in stride when he misses so badly with the lead characters.

This is a problem that carries through, in a way, to Mike Carey’s writing. The bane of any Fantastic Four story is a tendency to get overly technical and overlook the importance of understandable storytelling in favor of scientific credentials, and Carey commits that sin several times within this issue. Did we really need two full pages of debate about the risks and rewards of sending a dead body into the N-Zone? Did we need half a dozen pages of combat strategy and backstabbing explanations immediately after that? The basics of a good story are here: a damsel in distress, a rescue mission in enemy territory, frequent and inventive use of the team’s powers… but there’s so much excessive dialog that it’s difficult to really acknowledge all of that.

This series remains a tale of untapped potential, of a solid foundation spoiled by needless excess and a few artistic mistakes. The laborious explanations behind what’s happening to these characters makes actually reading this issue a slow, drawn-out experience. The artwork shines in spots, but fails in the most crucial areas. This isn’t bad stuff, but it’s not something you’re going to want to instantly add to you collection, either. Flip through this in the store, it’s not worth a very long look.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 5

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