Friday, September 30, 2005

Stretching the concept

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Doom (#7 - #12)

I was never interested in the Ultimate Universe, mainly because I had experienced Marvel's two previous inglorious attempts, New Universe and 2099. The former wasn't all bad: as far as I can remember, the concept was going to be that there were superheroes in our real universe, something which started blatantly false and which became more so once the entire city of Pittsburgh had been annihilated, but there were one or two good titles like Starbrand and an awful heap of dross. New Universe died, and died quickly, so I figured, without paying it any attention at all, that Ultimate would go the same way.

What I hadn't noticed was that Marvel was willing to put considerable resources into the Ultimate Universe, to the point where it seemed to be to the detriment of its regular titles. Some claimed the Ultimate Universe would eventually take over, and our dear old 616 Universe would be put out to grass, like a dearly beloved old cart horse no longer able to pull a load.

Maybe that was the plan, maybe it still is. Go ask Joe Quesada because I haven't got a clue.

Anyway, Ultimate Fantastic Four is writer Warren Ellis' take on Stan Lee's classic quartet, and he does a fine job, suggesting that underneath his rough, tough, alternative persona there is actually a quality spandex writer struggling to get out. Ellis attempts to rectify the FF's major problem - the overwhelming intellectual superiority of Reed Richards, so often used as a "get out of jail free" card for writers looking for a resolution. Richards is slightly younger, with a passing resemblance to former Buggles front man Trevor Horn. Mercifully, Sue Storm receives a major intellect boost, becoming a biogeneticist capable of telling Reed he doesn't know what he's talking about. Ben is lighter, more approachable and less cliched, and Johnny is simply less irritating.

Ellis has fun showing the interactions between the four, particularly when Ben and Johnny are mocking Reed (and, I suppose, Stan Lee) for calling his vehicle the "Fantasti-car" ("Is that the Fantasti-door?"). The first three issues of this arc are probably as good as the Fantastic Four gets.

My interest started to wane once the main action gets going. Partly, it's Ellis' style. Far too many of his pages have nothing of interest on them. But partly, it's the villain - Doctor Doom. I know Dr Doom is the FF's main villain, their Magneto or Green Goblin, but I'm afraid he's never interested me. Roll out Galactus and I'll be putting on my cycle clips, but Doom? I think Blastaar troubles me more.

Come to think of it, Magneto and the Green Goblin aren't exactly fascinating, either. Maybe there's something about the air of major villains: their predictability.

Maybe it's the name "Dr Doom". It is, was, always will be just silly. In Ultimate Fantastic Four, Doom is Belgian, and his surname is Van Damme, so he's presumably related to the somewhat leaden actor Jean-Claude. Doom unexpectedly turns out to be descended from Vlad the Impaler. But the name "Van Damme" grates somehow. I don't know how I'm supposed to react. Is this a joke by Ellis? Maybe I'm missing a play on words, but otherwise, it looks like Ellis doesn't think naming is important. I'm always bugged by authors who do that. If they're not treating it seriously, why should the reader?

Doom turns out to be a tattoo artist in a Copenhagen squat, amassing an army through his novel use of skin decoration. He and the FF have a rumble, he loses, not before Ellis has a sideswipe at a US General's belief that his writ runs as far as a major European capital. Clumsily done in parts, but well-written and funny, I thought.


Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

I really think that the Damme was chosen just because is aproximated to Doom, and is sad to say that, as lame as it is, is as good reason for someone choosing to call himself such pompous name as any.

That is one of the things that troubles me with Ultimate X-Men: Why on a more realistic aproach like the Ultimate Universe someone would still prefer to call himself Beast instead of the much more respectable Dr. McCoy (especially if you will make the cover of Time Magazine)? The excuse they made, that a "mutant" name helps define the person better than a human name, doesn't wash, because if they want to be so apart of the homo sapiens, why create an institution that the entire goal is promoting understanding between the races?

It's something to think about... Anyway, I'm not that sure they really intend to supplant the 616 universe with the Ultimate one... for one thing sales are slipping since the launch of this universe, with many people thinking that it gets more conservative by the day.

Anyway, great review. I agree on several point, including the how boring are the masters villains in any comic, specially Doom and Magneto.

5:16 am  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

Julio - You're probably correct about Damme just being an approximation to Doom, but it seems to me that if you're going to choose a name which has an external resonance, like "Van Damme". then you should explain why, or at least provide a hint. Otherwise the reader feels like they're missing something.

The Mandarin - there's another dull one. Loki. Kang.

It's not just over-exposure. I'm sure I never found Doom scary.

Galactus still does the business for me, though.

7:00 am  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Doom has been written wildly inconsistently over the years. Too many writers focus on the "mad scientist out for revenge" aspect, which is really a shame, because it's by far the most boring thing about him. The most interesting Doom stories portray him as a revolutionary tyrant driven by a twisted idealism: he wants to run the world because he thinks he'd be better at it than anyone else, and he believes he has a duty to save humanity by enslaving it.

Ellis, ironically enough, nailed this angle on his run in "Doom 2099"; here, he just made Doom a crazy man with metal skin.

10:26 am  
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