“Tomb of Namor: Part 1”
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Greg Land (p), Matt Ryan (i), Justin Ponsor (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I’m one of those readers that completely fell for Greg Land and Mark Millar’s first Ultimate Fantastic Four arc, as it was a refreshingly short and self-contained story which used continuity to its advantage and showed a complete understanding of the team by both writer and artist. The same team launch their second arc here, and on the evidence of this first issue, we’re going to get more of the same Fantastic Four greatness with the “Tomb of Namor” storyline, which introduces the classic FF character to the Ultimate Marvel Universe.
Millar’s structure follows that of “Crossover” quite closely, this being a first issue which sets up character relationships and gives a good overview as to the main plot before launching into an exciting final few pages, closing the issue on an intriguing and visually thrilling cliffhanger. Sue and Johnny’s mother has returned, long thought dead by both son and daughter, and she explains in this issue the cause of her 15-year absence: Mary Storm’s search for the lost continent of Atlantis has consumed her life, being more important to her than her husband, daughter and son combined. I like that this isn’t an easy reunion, and that Sue doesn’t blame her father for the deception which he has maintained in order to spare their feelings – and it looks as though Sue’s mistrust is well-founded; Mary Storm is portrayed as a fairly ruthless and driven woman who has only returned to her family in order to further her chances of reaching Atlantis. For once, Reed isn’t really the focus of this issue, although he does get an intriguing showdown with the zombie-FF from “Crossover,” who I’m incredibly pleased to see return and who I hope make good on the promise of their final portentous line this issue.
Millar’s characterisation of Sue Storm’s anger at her and Johnny’s abandonment as infants rings incredibly true, and it’s to Millar’s credit that he keeps Sue strong and realistic throughout her bedroom exchange with her mother. She doesn’t delude herself into thinking that there’s any real relationship there, and the untrustworthy coldness with which artist Greg Land imbues the mother figure goes a long way to selling the relationship between the two. In fact, Land’s work here plays as key a part in characterising the FF as Millar’s writing, as his resentful Sue, guilt-racked Franklin, distracted Johnny and relatively detached Ben and Reed all go beyond the text to convey a sense of character which is essential to the quality of the book. Land shows a real gift for atmosphere here too, as I loved his opening panel of the Storm children at play (the kids looking like authentic young counterparts of the adult characters), which is then sharply contrasted by an incredibly cinematic and evocative funeral scene on the next page. Without Land’s illustrations selling the emotion of a scene, Millar’s story wouldn’t mean half as much, and I’m convinced that the pair are a perfect match for one another on this title. Land also comes into his own when rendering the issue’s closing pages, which show the team descending into the ghostly undersea ruins of Atlantis, with a knockout double-page splash which captures the moment perfectly. The “wow” shot from Sue and Ben Grimm which follows feels completely justified, and the excitement of the rest of the team – especially Mary - is palpable, because the images of the book just sell the story so well.
This is the great Mark Millar we know from Ultimates, and not the uneven writer that we saw during his runs on MK Spider-Man and Wolverine. Whilst some may nitpick the pseudo-science Millar employs in places (it’s not emphasised or explained in any depth exactly how the FF’s powers are helping them to reach the places that other divers can’t reach – I guess we have to take it on faith that Sue’s forcefields are doing the work), it’s impossible to deny that he’s a master of pacing, and the cliffhanger which closes the issue is built up to in a masterful style. There’s some subtle work in the closing pages which implies an as-yet-unseen effect of Namor’s tomb on Reed, and the issue’s letters page suggests that Ultimate Namor’s origin may not be as similar to that of his regular MU cousin, so I’m hoping that Millar again strives for an unexpected and original approach in his “Ultimization” of another classic character. If “Crossover” saw Millar taking inspiration from zombie flicks, then this is definitely his version of The Abyss – a more sci-fi-based story but one which still carries an undertone of quiet unease, and one which I can’t wait to see continue next issue.
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