Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 3: N-Zone by Warren Ellis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
OK, so Volume 3 again is helmed by Warren Ellis, who for me, has done nearly the best sustained job of writing Reed Richards that I can recall. He gets just how smart this guy is, but also in the Ultimate version, makes him have a slightly more in-tune with other humans vibe. (If I can put it this way, most people write Reed like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory in the first season, whereas Ellis writes him more like Leonard, who’s still super smart, but gets the social contract a bit more…) After our adventures with Victor Van Damme last volume, here we focus on the N-Zone (negative zone).
The science in this book is fascinating, but done on a level where anyone who reads it slow-ly can un-der-stand. I love that Reed takes the time to try and metaphorically explain things to Ben, who fully admits that he’s clueless, but I love that this Reed cares enough to try.
Adam (& Andy) Kubert is back on art duties in this volume, and one thing that jumped out at me, is that he totally captures just how sad Ben Grimm’s eyes are. There might be 5 panels in the book where he doesn’t have that sad distant look in them, and it’s brilliant…Ben is completely cut off from his humanity, unlike the others who still maintain human forms. However, a small conversation with the usually shallow Johnny kinda hits home for him: Ben wanted to play football, and Johnny says OK so you wanted to be broke and washed up at 30 with bum knees to score a few goals? Dude, you punched out a Sea Monster the other day. You get to be a Superhero! Are you really going to be that sad about not playing ball?
It’s things like that, this Fantastic Foursome are not just cardboard cutouts or generic FF settings, these are actual young people, who’ve undergone a huge change in their lives, and are mostly excited about what that change presents them with…Sue is strong, fiercely intelligent biologist in her own right, not just ‘Reed’s Girlfriend and Johnny’s Sister’ or the kids’ mom. Johnny is the young one of the group, not tremendously different from the regular version, but he’s still excited and eager, and not as jaded or douche-y as he can be. Ben as I’ve mentioned before, is an actual person, not just a dumbass with catchphrases (though we do see the etymology of his famous rallying cry, which is neat), he’s self-aware, mournful for his lost humanity, but also a strong and loyal protector to these people.
We also see humour that’s not just canned stale jokes, these guys rip into Reed for his naming of things Fantasti-anything, and as a result, Johnny gets to name the Shuttle, which of course, he decides on ‘Awesome’ which he and Ben love, and the other 2 are mortified about.
The science of the N-Zone is handled in a intelligent way, so that we get what is being talked about; I feel like in the regular FF we sometimes are forced to take things for granted and just accept them, whereas here, there’s an effort to understand, like how it’s impossible for Sue to be invisible, yet she is…and how Johnny suffers some adverse side-effects from using his powers, but we see a sort of evolution/change in them as things go on.
We see just how FANTASTIC they really are, and can be, when put into the hands of a smart writer who’s engaged with them. If I knew this title was so good, I’d have told everyone who didn’t like FF to read this. It really makes them fresh and interesting and people I care about.
Of course, what would a trip be into the N-Zone without contact with another life form in a new universe…this one is called Nihil, or as Ben calls him E-Vill. (Annihilus of our universe) the first contact is done very well, I wish I had faith our own first contact would ever be so intelligent…
math forming the basis of communication, the extreme excitement from Reed that nearly blinds him to the dangers that Sue and Ben seem to sense a bit more…it’s just so easy to read this without ever thinking the’re stupid, or the writing is off, or you’re being forced to accept too much weird stuff.
The of course, there’s the final action sequence, straight out of Con-Air, and I loved it for that. General Ross as mad as hell, until Reed tosses him a piece of space tech from N-Zone, and then his proclamation of love for young Richards.
We also see Ben missing his family, the public reveal of the team, a bit more of Reed’s non-contact with his family, and the bonds of this group getting stronger…
I really was so impressed and enjoyed this, it all came together for me, even if it’s not a 5 star book, I enjoyed the hell out of it like one. So what more do you really want in a book but to enjoy it and not have any problems?
(OK, one prob…that was the last of Ellis on this book…SAD FACE!)
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