Book Club / Play the Whole Thing Faster and Harder and Louder

Ultimate Fantastic FourUltimate Fantastic Four Vol 1: The Fantastic
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar
Art by Adam Kubert


I do believe that I’ve spoken of my love for the Ultimate Marvel line in this book club before. 

Basically at the start of the 21st Century Marvel had the idea to completely relaunch their most famous series in a brand new universe. Or to put it in layman’s terms – they restarted all of their stories right from the start. 

I mean yeah sure big whoop right? Don’t comics basically do that all of the time? Make a big song and dance about launching a superhero right from issue 1? And it’s basically turning the Daily Planet into a website or putting Batman into a new costume or whatever – but then otherwise it’s just… business as usual. 

But the thing that made the Ultimate series different was the strength of the creators involved. Particularly the writers. 

And yeah – Ultimate Fantastic Four is probably the best example of this I’ve seen.

(Especially because well – without wanting to be rude: are the Fantastic Four particularly good characters? Yeah I get that they’re Marvel’s First Family and kickstarted the idea of what a modern superhero could be (all the way back in the 60s lol) – but speaking personally I don’t really have any big attachments to the characters: because really they’re more just vehicles to run the story through…)  

And well here you have Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Warren Ellis and Mike Carey all working on the same comic book. Which to my mind is actually crazy. It’s a bit like having Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington and Al Pacino all starring in the same movie (I’d buy that for a dollar!) and so yeah – when I saw that someone was offering all 11 volumes on ebay for £30 I had no choice but to click that button. 

Although when my box full of comics first arrived I thought that maybe I’d made a mistake. I mean yeah ok – top notch creators. But then they’re basically just making stuff for kids right? The first introductory volume especially feels like a YA book or something. There’s a wide-eyed enthusiasm and a graceful simplicity that lets you know that you’re in the hands of experts who know exactly what they’re doing but it’s not – you know – that interesting. It’s got baby teeth. And yeah they’re strong and pure but it didn’t quite match up to my memory of the comic when I first read them about  – oh I don’t know – 10 years or so ago…

Because – there’s a lot you can do when you restart a superhero comic right? It’s a little bit like doing a cover version. And yeah ok sure you can play it safe – sing it in the same way and just slightly update the instruments and make the mix a little bit cleaner etc etc  but there are other options… If you’ve got the bass line that everyone already knows then you can take out some elements, add some new ones, stretch things out, make things weird and play the whole thing faster and harder and louder.

Enter Mark Millar. 

Like – according to the credits Millar wrote Volume 1 along with Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis – but really it’s Volume 5: Crossover and Volume 6: Frightful where they take him off the leash and let him write the most gloriously over the top superhero comics I think I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. I mean I really don’t want to spoil it for you if you’ve never read it before but I swear to God there’s dinosaurs and zombies and aliens and parallel universes and time travel and everything else all mixed into this sweet delicious cocktail that almost feels illicit. 

Not so much baby teeth – more like canines. 

Obviously there’s a lot of people who are down on Mark Millar. Some of it deserved I’ll admit – because at times yeah he does like to play the edgelord and do outrageous stuff just for the reaction it provokes – like a comics world version of Eminem (yes my references are dated – but come on: I’m old LOL). But reading Ultimate Fantastic Four I was struck by the thought that it’s actually quite difficult to separate Millar pressing people’s buttons by saying reactionary things or whatever and the fact that well – his superhero stuff works precisely because he’s trying to press as many buttons as possible. I mean his whole 2 volume is a thrilling roller coaster from beginning to end  and that’s mostly because well: he keeps throwing things at you and trying to provoke as many reactions as possible. Which ok maybe isn’t that safe (especially in the long run) – but it does make for great comic books. 

And yes obviously since between now and the start of the Marvel Ultimate Universe there’s a little thing that happened called the Marvel Cinematic Universe which does throw a few interesting shapes on to your reading experience. Mostly – oh wow – just think about how much further these films could go. Although mostly it makes me appreciate that really it’s not so much the properties themselves which make them fly but the people creating them. 

But then we’ve always known that right? 

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