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Mark Millar’s Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

Mark Millar isn’t quite the tough guy he makes himself out to be. Asked a few years ago about whether the birth of his child might tame some of his more sensationalist tendencies, Millar replied that – if anything – he would be even more motivated to push the envelope in order to demonstrate he hadn’t mellowed. And, in fairness, the years since have seen ideas like Kick-Ass or Wanted or Nemesis, all excessively and ridiculously cynical, graphic and violent. However, I maintain that Millar is a stronger writer when he channels his inner softer romantic – for example, demonstrating the respect he showed Superman in Red Son. Taking over Ultimate Fantastic Four for a year (perhaps on a trial run before writing for regular Fantastic Four), you get a sense that Millar has a genuine affection for these characters and their world – too much to try to make them “darker and edgier”, for example. While his run on Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t the best thing he’s written, it is sharp and entertaining – and delivered with enough energy that it can’t help but warm the reader’s heart.

Never a drag...

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Mark Waid’s Run on the Fantastic Four – Vol. 1-3 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

The Fantastic Four helped launch Marvel to publishing greatness over the 100+ issues drafted by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but they’ve seldom occupied a prominent place in their publishing line-up since that dramatic introduction. Sure, the title earned a place as one of the three Ultimate on-going titles (at least before Ultimatum) and sure, there were occasionally hugely successful and iconic runs like that of John Byrne, but these were the exception rather than the rule. The title never really reached a stage like the X-Men, Spider-Man or even Avengers books (in modern Marvel), where they were clearly the title to watch. While I’m not entirely convinced he succeeded, Mark Waid is consciously trying to find a definitive approach to the title. And I respect that.

The adoring public…

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Warren Ellis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1-2 (Hardcover) (Review/Retrospective)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, I’m taking a look at some of the stories featuring the characters over the past half-century.

I have to admit that I’m quite surprised to see Warren Ellis writing for a year on Ultimate Fantastic Four. You could make the case for Ellis – an avowed technophile – as perhaps the perfect author for a high-concept series like the Fantastic Four. It was Mark Waid who dubbed the family “Imaginauts” – explorers of the imagination, rather than superheroes or guys in costumes. In a way, given how skilfully Ellis handled Tony Stark’s technological transformation in Extremis, you might not have been unreasonable in expecting he’d prove a deft hand with Marvel’s first family. However, reading the twelve issues he wrote for the title, it’s hard to get a sense that Ellis was ever really giving it his all – although he does play around a bit, it never feels like he’s genuinely pushing things to the limit and playing with all the associated toys. In fact, quite a lot of his run feels like it’s playing it safe.

See, the Thing is...

Note: Ellis’ run on the title picks up after the initial six issues written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, and so is split over the second half of the first hardcover and the first half of the second. The second hardcover is rounded off by a two-part Think Tank story from Mike Carey (who would take over as regular writer after Mark Millar) and an annual written by Millar. So this review/retrospective just covers the issues written by Ellis.

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Mark Millar & Brian Michael Bendis’ Run on Ultimate Fantastic Four – Vol. 1 (Hardcover)

The Fantastic Four, as originally imagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were an instant overnight success for Marvel. Although perhaps Spider-Man would go on to surpass them as the most recognisable creation from the comic book publisher, the four were intrinsically linked with the spirit of newness and pop science that defined comic books in the sixties – the run was so iconic that I’m even considering placing an order for the two volumes of Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four Omnibus, even though I find Silver Age comic books tough to read. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the characters were among the last to be coopted into Marvel’s Ultimate line, an experiment designed to essentially start their characters from scratch again to attract a new audience. However, depite the late arrival of Ultimate Fantastic Four – four years after Ultimate Spider-Man and three years after Ultimate X-Men – the talent involed in the launch of the series suggests that Marvel was trying to get this version of the family off to the same flying start as their mainstream counterpart.

That's gonna put a dent in local real estate prices...

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