Page 45 Review by Stephen
Which really is the most transient? Time or place?
"1955's always going to be there. The kids can see it another time."
Every bit as wit-riddled as ULTIMATES seasons one and two, it is a crime that this definitive Fantastic Four story hasn't been taken up by as many readers. "Ah, but I don't like The Fantastic Four." Okay, but the first family's never been written by Millar before, nor drawn by Bryan Hitch. And a family it is, diverse in its passions, priorities and venial failings and foibles. But instead of retreading old ground, Millar moves on, bringing the cast along with him. Reed's preoccupation for science doesn't made him a bad dad or neglectful husband: the two aren't mutually exclusive. Yes, he has to catch a wormhole that'll close in three minutes and won't open again until morning, but what does he bring back? An anniversary ring which he fashioned himself:
"A micro-galaxy. Seventy-four inhabited worlds and over forty trillion couples in total... all loving each other like I love you."
"So what did you get me?"
"The new Bob Dylan CD."
Sue, meanwhile, has started a team of her own to raise charity money for victims of meta-human collateral damage (a good job, considering what lies ahead), and Ben Grimm has finally ditched the self-pity because of course he's a catch: he's famous! Johnny Storm, on the other hand, isn't just blonde - he's blonde! He's a narcissistic nymphomaniac for whom even the slightest self-knowledge would be a traumatic experience.
"Say, what's with the removal guys, Johnny Boy? I thought ya wasn't goin' out west to be a stuntman no more!"
"Yeah, weren't you starting some kinda ladies' underwear company, Uncle Johnny?"
"Ah, that was two entire weeks ago, Franklin. I just decided it was time to grow up and get serious, so I'm gonna form the world's biggest rock band instead."
"Oh, God. I've just realised. My little brother's Paris Hilton."
So when he catches a new superhuman foxstress raiding diamonds he's in a bit of a quandary. Oh, no he's not: it's straight into bed! Here she is again, naked except for a pile of hundred dollar bills:
"I've been a naughty girl and robbed another bank. Does that mean you'll have to handcuff me? I hope so..."
"Oh, God. How can something so wrong feel so right?"
But where did she come from, who are her strangely familiar friends, and who is the kindly new nanny DeNeuve who knows so much about their daughter, Valeria, still young enough to be coddled in a cot?
"By my calculations, your intelligence took a quantum leap three months ago. You're not quite as smart as your father yet, but it's only a matter of time. You're hiding this because you think it might upset your family, but I came here to tell you that won't be the case. Both Reed and Sue will be enormously supportive."
"No, they won't. My Mom will feel alienated and the family dynamic will be thrown into flux. Dad might be pleased but it's going to drive a wedge between him and Franklin and their relationship will completely collapse eighty-two months down the line. I've done the projections, Mrs. DeNeuve. It's better for everyone if I keep this a secret."
"You know who I am, don't you? Beneath this silly facade..."
"I think so."
Millar has retained everything that might have made it work and given it an immediate relevance to our actual existence for the villain this time is global self-destruction. Oh yes, Doom and Galactus are waiting in the wings, but in a completely different dynamic: the real problem is us. The Earth will be uninhabitable in less than ten years time, and the point at which we could reverse that process passed eight years ago. So Reed's ex-girlfriend and her new husband are building Nu-Earth, a life-size replica of Earth except for the desserts and the depleted rain forests. Funded by the world's richest men and women, it's an escape hatch and new home for six billion people because, as we all know, the world's richest businessmen got that way by being smashing philanthropists. Likewise the politicians, hence all those old nuclear bunkers built to house... themselves.
Drawn with an enormous sense of scale by the comics' finest neo-classical photo-realist, the first half features treachery, time travel, the cleverest use of a tracking device idea I've ever come across, superhero guest-stars galore, and a great big, fuck-off robot fight.
"Doctor Richards, I meant to ask: what's the idea behind the helmet's Galactus-style design? Is that to harness the energy you're stealing from the national power grids?"
"No, I was working from an entirely different principle this time, Rosie. What's the expression I'm looking for, Frank?"
"It looks cool, sir."
"That's the one."
"Oh God, I'm sorry. This is ridiculous. How can you cry at your own funeral?"
"How can you not?"
"I'm sorry about what happened with Doctor Doom and those horrible teachers of his. So sorry for what happened to The Thing and that lovely fiance he had."
"Nine weeks, my dear Richards. I wonder if that wife of yours can die twice, eh?"
Second half of the definitive run on the FANTASTIC FOUR where it's all about family. Oh, and the ominous subplot sending shivers down your spine, here coming to fruition as Doom's own master, having traversed dimension after dimension obliterating the individuals of each Earth he comes across, finally arrives in Latveria less than pleased with his underling's litany of failures. Five seconds later (although it seems a life-time to Doom, which he spends revealingly in blissful union with a pregnant Susan Storm), Doom and Latveria have both been wiped clean off the map. Although technically speaking he's been shot back in time to the Pliocene Age and bitten in half by a giant shark.
Hitch's Megalodon is as monstrous as his Latverian study is magnificent, light filtering down through the dome into the baroque sanctum, so it's all the more painful that he couldn't go back and redraw the few pages by Neil Edwards. Stuart Immonen's emulation, on the other hand, is so flawless I never saw the join. And, umm, actually I've just seen that Joe Ahearne scripted the last two issues, which certainly explains the penultimate one, but not the final few pages which have got to be Millar, they're so note-perfect. For this half the family focus is on Ben and his new girlfriend Debs, and it's very well played including a moment when Johnny shows the true extent of his loyalty and manages to stop having sex for five seconds. And then there's those final few pages...