Ultimate Fantastic Four:
#1: The Fantastic

by Brian Michael Bendis,
Mark Millar, Adam Kubert
(Marvel, 2005)

The origins of the Fantastic Four in 1961 is, by modern standards, a little hokey. The original story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was updated in 1999 by Brandon Choi and Jim Lee; the upgrade called Heroes Reborn was satisfyingly true to its roots while making the story and characters more palatable by today's readers.

Now everything old is new again, as the Fantastic Four gets a brand new origin under Marvel Comics' Ultimate line. Brian Michael Bendis, the writing phenomenon behind the Ultimate Spider-Man series, tackles this project with a more radical change in the team's first appearance.

Rather than sending a scientist, his girlfriend, her brother and a test pilot into space to be bombarded by cosmic rays, the young team is part of a scientific think-tank's earthbound experiment gone wrong.

Boy genius Reed Richards is recruited for the government-run school/laboratory for his groundbreaking work in matter teleportation. Siblings Sue and Johnny Storm are already in the program; they might not be quite as smart as Reed and some of the others, but their dad is the head of the operation. Ben Grimm, Reed's childhood friend and ad hoc bodyguard, comes by for a visit at exactly the wrong time -- Reed's experiment in teleportation is tampered with and, instead of an apple, the burst of energy sends the young foursome, along with fellow student Victor Van Damme, into the far corners of the world.

Van Damme is nowhere to be found. But the others are gradually discovered -- and they've been altered by the experience. They've developed powers coinciding to the four elements -- earth, air, fire and water -- and they're not exactly sure how to use them. But they don't have much choice after the Moleman -- once Professor Molekevic, a brilliant if misguided and somewhat deformed scientist -- raises his army of, um, mold creatures to conquer New York.

I haven't read the mainstream Fantastic Four series for years, and yet I still never would have thought the team needed revamping. But the Ultimate reboot is modern, fun and distinctly different from its forebears, and I actually want to read the next book in the series.

by Tom Knapp
1 April 2006

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