Eric: After a week off for Christmas we’re back with another Comic POW!
Dan: It’s too bad we didn’t have an F4 book this week. We could have had a Christmas vs. Chanukah-off!
Eric: Indeed! Well, for my entry this week we revisit FF, which I selected for the very first POW!
Dan: Wow, blast from the past! I didn’t even remember that book!
Eric: I won with that entry last time, let’s see if history can repeat itself.
Dan: Not on my watch!
Eric: So, for the requisite catch-up – last time we had Sue and Reed making up and Doom ending up with one of the evil Reeds. We also had two of the Reeds turned into the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Nathaniel ended up in Latveria because the Inhuman door took him there to Doom and the other Reed. Since then we had the kids blast off the top of the Baxter Building to Latveria, the return of Johnny Storm, and the escalation of war between the Kree and the Inhumans. Issue #12 of FF had the kids agreeing to help evil Reed in exchange for Dr Doom’s release. And what he wanted help with was turning back on the portal that Reed used to visit the Reed Council and start this whole debacle in the first palce. This issue starts off with the device about to be powered on.
I have to say that the big difference between this issue of FF and the one I submitted back during our first POW! is that Epting has moved to Fantastic Four while Juan Bobillo has taken over FF. I DO NOT like his style. It is stylized to the point where it keeps taking me out of the narrative. Take a look at the first page where evil Reed’s eyes make him look possessed. The only thing I DO like about Bobillo’s style is that Valeria actually looks like a little kid. Also, she’s not as tall as everyone – I don’t know why Marvel doesn’t have a height reference for its characters. See on this first page how she has to stand on a chair to do what she does. Because she’s THREE YEARS OLD! It bugs me when artists draw her almost the same size as Franklin. Do you feel as strongly about any of these art issues as I do?
Dan: I do and I don’t. On the one hand, yes, Bobillo’s art is not necessarily in line with the human form. On the other hand, we are talking about a book ostensibly led by children. It looks very much like something drawn by or from the perspective of a child and it’s growing on me. It also helps that the Celestials are rendered quite well in this book. No, I think I’m coming around on Bobillo.
Eric: See, that’s why these conversations are great. I never thought about it as an intentional style meant to imitate children’s drawings and, perhaps, their perceptions – hence Reed’s crazy eyes.
Dan: He is an evil Reed…
Eric: I do think it’s hilarious that Val calls him Evil Dad. So, moving onto the following page once they activate the portal someone falls out … or rather the skeleton of someone falls out.
Dan: I’d have to look at old FFs for reference, but I’m 80% sure that’s the skeleton of a dead Reed.
Eric: In addition to the main characters going through, they send in some robotic guns. And as soon as they find themselves face-to-face with the Celestials, we get a flashback! This flashback contains Hickman’s thesis on chaos theory and the inevitability of certain events to occur. You’ve read a lot of Hickman sci-fi – is this a trend in his work, do you think?
Dan: Absolutely. The man loves to mess with time and fate, etc. Think back to last week’s SHIELD or to his mini-series (I don’t think you read it) The Red Wing. Dude loves talking about chaos theory, time travel, time, systems, etc. It’s fun stuff.
Eric: The main takeaway I saw from that was that a) they need need to buy time in order to have a chance at saving humanity and b) a bit of an explanation of why Nathanial the time-traveler couldn’t just fix it himself.
Dan: These things are necessary for a time travel book. Otherwise everything would be all neat and tidy.
Eric: Back to the fight that the protagonists are losing when Dr Doom shields them from attack and demands to be set free for he has fulfilled his side of the bargain. And it looks like it’s going to be one of those situations where you don’t know if the villain is going to go back on his word in the end until Valeria upends the whole thing by demonstrating she’s brought the Ultimate Nullifier with her.
Dan: I really wish whomever originally designed that thing hadn’t chosen such a stupid form for it. It looks ridiculous whenever it’s pulled out.
Eric: I’ve seen it have a form that looks more like a gun of some sort, but it definitely looks weird here. Once that situation is resolved, we have everyone notice that Franklin is just walking out towards the Celestials. And this is the second book Marvel book this week in which someone tries to just talk the Celestials into leaving. (The other was Uncanny X-Men) I think it’s funny how the Celestials speak with phrases like “interesting/fascinating/curious. Observing/Analyzing/Deconstructing…”
Dan: Celestials are fun. Dangerous. Unpredictable. Did I mention dangerous? Franklin has nothing to fear, of course, and I love the way Leech looks in these panels. His pep talk is pretty epic.
Eric: It’s funny, when the Celestials attack Franklin I wasn’t sure whether he was being sarcastic or not. Like were his powers manifesting without him noticing or did he totally mean to grow flowers out of the Celestial’s head.
Dan: I’m pretty sure it was intentional. It’s like he’s mocking or teasing them.
Eric: So they realize he’s a reality shaper. Now, this isn’t the first time he’s been analyzed by Celestials. But last time they just left him alone. This time he is interfering in their mission to occupy Reed-land. So they try to mess with his head.
Dan: Too bad you can’t cause an existential crisis in a five-year-old.
Eric: Yeah, I think one of my favorite parts in this issue is when he says “I don’t know what that means” I love that their logic bomb totally fails because he’s just not old enough to understand what they’re saying. After that the Celestials make the portal stuck open. Is this so they can pursue Reed if he leaves or do they want to destroy Earth? From what I’ve seen of them in other comics, they don’t seem to hate Earth.
Dan: I think it’s meant to cut off his escape path, but it’s not clear to me yet that they wouldn’t want to chase down 616-Reed too. He was there when they attacked before.
Eric: Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that before. I’m used to thinking of him as a good Reed and the other guys are evil Reeds. Didn’t think the Celestials would be after him. After that we find out that they’ve gained 16 minutes – which is great – I love the idea of the end of mankind depending on a matter of minutes.
Dan: It’s a very comic book/movie/video game contrivance, but I dug the added tension.
Eric: I don’t know – while life doesn’t necessarily follow a narrative, sometimes a matter of minutes can mean the difference between being there or not when a drunk runs a red light.
Anyway, we then get the reveal that Reed has figured out that Nathanial is trying to stall for time. He also convinces Val to give him the Ultimate Nullifier which may turn out to be a mistake – we’ll see what Hickman has in store for us.
Dan: Reeds are ultimately driven by a desire to fix what’s wrong and Reed does at least recognize that he caused this mess. His responsibility makes sense. Whether or not we will see treachery? I predict that they will find peril and Doom will either fulfill what grey Reed thinks and let him die or he’ll defy his programming and save him. It’ll probably be the latter
Eric: Yeah, I wasn’t sure whether or not to take his regrets seriously, but I’d forgotten that all the Reeds want to fix everything. I love the next two moments of Doom-ness which close out the issue. First off, he tells Valeria he has to stay because grey Reed is not as smart as 616-Reed which means he’s no match for Doom or for the task ahead. Then his final words: “I am Doom. Destroyer of Worlds…what gods dare stand against me?” What better way to end an issue that focuses on Doom then that?
Dan: I worry about Doom. Celestials + Hubris = Death most of the time…
Eric: Yeah, I find that tends to be the case with any god-like beings, but I think Doom will totally Doom his way out of any trouble. Shall we check out your entry?
Dan: Let’s do it.
Eric: So, this is not your first entry from the Ultimate Universe. You chose Ultimate Spider-Man in week 3. And this issue makes a tiny reference to what’s going on in Queens, NY. But this comic is actually a MUCH, MUCH larger story. Why don’t you set it up?
Dan: In the last arc of The Ultimates and the Ultimate Hawkeye mini-series The world was thrown into conflict by two factions. The Children of Tomorrow, led by the Reed Richards of the Ultimate Universe, appeared out of thin air, took over a vast chunk of Eastern Europe, destroyed Asgard, depowered Thor, and completely kicked the Ultimates ass. On the other side of the conflict are The People. The Southeast Asian Republic’s manufactured metahumans who have overthrown their government, founded two factions, Eternals and Celestials, and have opened their doors as a safe haven to the oppressed of the world. Between the two (and feeling mighty small) lies SHIELD and The Ultimates. Their funding is cut and Captain America quit after Spider-Man was killed. Things are looking dire.
Eric: That’s a good summary – but I just realized we have a Hickman v Hickman POW! And Reed Richards is involved in both these books. So, The People and their manufactured metahumans, is that related to what the USG did with the X-Men?
Dan: Kind of. The Ultimate Universe’s central conflict has always been the race to the super soldier. It’s what created Cap, Spidey, the x-gene, everything. The SEAR created what is now known as The Source to make their own metahumans. They also distributed a retrovirus that eliminated the x-gene’s ability to propogate. The Source is now the only way to get mutant powers in the Ultimate Universe. Then The People rebelled against the SEAR, etc.
Eric: Oh, that makes a lot of sense. It’s essentially the Weapon PLUS program of the 616 universe, but instead of going off the map (to Canada) after Captain America and attempts to reverse that formula – which results in a bad guy whose name I can’t remember now as well as the Queen of Spider-Island – it’s become the arms-race of the Ultimate Universe.
So this issue starts off with Nick Fury going to the White House. And, since I know this universe’s Nick Fury is based off of Samuel L Jackson, I can’t help but hearing Fury’s dialog in Jackson’s voice. I’ll say that one key difference between the Ultimate Universe and 616 is that not only is Ultimate an alternate universe to 616, but it’s an alternate universe to ours. And, not that we have mutants in our world, but 616 tends to leave wars and stuff to fake countries so their world can more or less stay in sync with ours. So, for better or for worse, The Ultimates feels more fictional to me. If that even makes sense to anyone other than myself!
Dan: The Ultimate Universe is supposed to be “more realistic” in that people who die stay dead and it’s more in line with what’s going on in the world today. It’s always been more pop culture-y than I think 616 is, but it feels less fantastical to me.
Eric: So Fury and a government dude have a chat that basically goes over what you summarized there, including the impotence of SHIELD to handle the situation. Then the book does one of its many, many jumps over to Tony Stark on a plane to France.
Dan: He’s there with “Jarvis” (not his name, but Tony pays him to be Jarvis, goddammit) discussing that a private organization he’s a part of has been…naughty. They were responsible for the nuke that went off in S. America in The Ultimates #1 and they’re profiting from it. This seems to be classic Hickman playing the long game to me. The immediate threat comes from Reed, but these guys will factor in somehow.
Eric: Right. As you said when you gave me this issue, it’s definitely a setup book for a new arc. There isn’t much of anything going on in most of the scenes but exposition that wraps up or sets up plots and arcs. From there we jump to Spider-Woman and the fact that Fury knows about the new Spidey. What’s with her response? Is he proposing she recruit him just as Peter used to work for them?
Dan: I have some knowledge you don’t in this case. In Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Miles has run into Jessica Drew…and she’s not happy. Miles is running around in a Spidey suit and that makes people very upset since they all loved Peter. This bleeds into the latest USM and helps to create the cohesive, connected nature of the Ultimate Universe (my favorite thing about the UU).
Eric: Right, I remember her asking him who he thought he was when you selected that issue. So do you think Fury’s happy or sad about Miles Morales?
Dan: I think Fury is just giving Peter Parker’s clone first right at handling the situation. Last week’s USM had her capture him, by the way, and he was interrogated by The Ultimates. I’m a big fan of Ultimate Spider-Woman, so I hope she becomes a part of USM or gets more screentime in The Ultimates. (While I’m at it, where are Ultimate Sue and Ben?! They seem like they might be helpful and Ben is a part of the military…)
Eric: OK. After that we go to Hawkeye and the Pentagon. Again, he summarizes a lot of what you said up top, including The People following Xorn and his twin (ed note: Zorn) in the two factions. The one bit of new info to myself and our readers (if they haven’t been reading The Ultimates or Ultimate X-Men) is that some of the X-Men have decided to join The People.
Dan: That little tidbit happened at the end of Ultimate Hawkeye. For those of you at home, the dark-haired girl is Karen Grant (AKA: Jean Gray), the blonde is Liz Allen (AKA: Firestar), and the other dude is Darek something and he’s an Angel expy.
Eric: Then we jump to Thor at Stark Tower where he eats dinner with his girlfriend and a bunch of Asgardian ghosts.
Dan: In one of the previous books we learned that Thor wasn’t truly alone. Asgard lives on within him, etc. I’m not too familiar with Ultimate Jane Foster, but it sure makes me miss Thor: The Mighty Avenger, which you really do need to read…
Eric: And then we go to our penultimate jump as we find out that SHIELD has come up with cloaking tech to get into The City.
Dan: It’s a neat bit of science hand-wavery. I’m also not too familiar with Ultimate Falcon, so I don’t know much about his personality.
Eric: On the last page of that section when he says “Oh God, what the hell am I doing here?” Do you think the cloaking tech has caused him to partially lose his mind?
Dan: I think he’s just scared. It’s pretty scary.
Eric: From there we go to our final spot – Nick Fury asks Captain America to come back. Anything to say about that section or do we go on to battle?
Dan: Don’t eat rattlesnakes, kids. Only Captain America can.
Eric: So we find ourselves in a battle of Hickman books. One is nearing climax of its arc while the other is just beginning a new one.
Dan: It’s really a shame that I don’t have last week’s books at my disposal. I would have totally rocked this with Wonder Woman or Daredevil. I gotta admit, I’m not feeling too strongly about The Ultimates. It’s got good art and the interactions between the characters are neat, but it doesn’t have a lot of depth.
Eric: I’ll have to agree with you there. While you swung me around on FF art style, The Ultimates is conventionally more pleasing to look at. However, it’s all over the place because that’s how Hickman rolls. I remember FF was like that in the beginning. He likes to get a bunch of plates spinning before he starts with the fun.
Dan: This isn’t even the first wave of plates!
Eric: Also, your entry has a serious lack of Doom. FF did really hit a lot of the key FF buttons with its talk of timelines and it did have some fun adventure scenes with the kids.
Dan: It’s not my fault Ultimate Doom is dead.
Eric: Excuses….excuses! What do you think are the strengths of The Ultimates this week?
Dan: The Ultimates is trading on some really neat concepts and interesting conflicts, but I’m not gonna go out on a limb for it. It’s just an adequate book. I think FF is easily the better book of the week.
Eric: Ooh! Easiest POW! I ever won. Also, with an FF book again! Just luck of the draw though – I think you had some pretty great contenders last week. Then again, so did I, but the holidays got in the way.
Dan: Diana would have stabbed your book in the hand with a champagne glass last week…Congrats!
Eric: I guess we’ll have to see what next week holds!