Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Ultimate Fantastic Four #53

A lot of what I loved about the first few arcs of Ultimate Fantastic Four was the fresh, youthful take those stories offered on these old characters. In the 616 Universe, Reed, Ben, Johnny and Sue have been hashed and rehashed so many times over the years that they've become stagnant. Their personalities have been written into a corner, every last inch of their psyche explored twice over. Their Ultimate counterparts, on the other hand, had loads of potential. They were inexperienced and unfamiliar, young but brainy. They retained elements of what I'd loved about their predecessors, but left enough undocumented to ensure plenty of material for hundreds of issues' worth of storytelling.

Somewhere along the line, all that changed. It's been a year or two since I regularly read this series, but I can't even imagine these are the same characters that were there at the outset. They've fallen into the same ruts as their older counterparts, taken the status quo of the main universe as far too rigorous a guideline. Reed isn't the starry-eyed kid that awkwardly entered the Baxter Building in UFF #1, he's the disconnected uber-brainy old spirit that occupies the main universe. His teammates have grown accustomed to their travels quickly, and in so doing they've become that which they were created to counterbalance. Even their adventures follow the same old path as the original series. Whether you demanded it or not, Thanos has arrived in the Ultimate Universe... and although this interpretation has a few subtle differences, (hey, he's got a new outfit! And... it kind of sucks...) he's largely the same guy that's existed in the main Marvel U since the '70s.

Mike Carey has been at the helm for the majority of this book's slide from grace. Taking over from Mark Millar following the series co-creator's second run with the team, Carey has taken the Four further and further away from what made them stand out with each new issue. His writing here just stinks, filled to the brim with clich├ęs (two characters died last month, only to be revived a few pages into this issue) and endless pseudo-scientific explanations, often bordering on the illegible. I'm trying to understand how Reed survived a filthy death at Thanos's hands, but I don't quite have my doctorate in astrophysics yet. The plot is hard to follow, the characters are too caught up in their scientific babble to move things along, and I have no reason to care if a single one of them lives or dies. It's an ugly, convoluted mess.

Tyler Kirkham's accompanying artwork is detailed to a fault, and is only worsened by an over-the-top coloring job. While his imaginative scenery is far and away the best part of the issue, towering over the horizon in a haunting silhouette, most readers will be too distracted by his weak character models to notice. Kirkham goes way, way overboard with his use of crosshatch, spends far too much time obsessing over the little details in his work, and can't tell a story without the aid of a word balloon. Not to mention his Ben Grimm is among the worst I've ever seen. This really isn't good.

Ultimate Fantastic Four has fallen a long way since its inception, and issue 53 only further emphasizes that fact. Both the storytelling and the artwork are lost somewhere in the mid '90s, filling the page with directionless battles, weak dialog and a heavy excess of linework. The characters try nothing new, and a guest shot from the Ultimates only serves to sully that team's reputation. This sucks. Skip it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 1.5

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