ďPresident Thor: Part 1Ē
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Greg Land (p), Matt Ryan (i), Justin Ponsor (colors)
My hearty enjoyment of this issue of Mark Millarís excellent run can be boiled down to one thing: Iím a sucker for a good time-travel story. Much-loved tales from such favourites as Back to the Future, Red Dwarf, 12 Monkeys, Harry Potter, and even Star Trek have provided personal gold standards in this particular field, and with this issue Mark Millar tentatively adds Ultimate Fantastic Four to that list. Taking Ben Grimmís pent-up grief at his transformation into the Thing as his catalyst, Millar explores an important but thus far neglected character trait at the same time as he presses forward with the story, showing yet again that heís a very strong choice for a title which is as much about the family dynamic of the Fantastic Four as it is about their antics as superheroes. That spirit of family is captured well here Ė indeed, the issue as a whole seems to carry a lot more emotional weight than usual Ė whether itís the bittersweet hilarity of a practical-joke on the Thing which backfires, Reedís own shame and sense of responsibility at overhearing Benís suicidal resignation to his fate, or Johnnyís steadfast and unselfish conviction that they should step in and alter history to prevent Ben from becoming a monster, despite it being at the expense of his personal celebrity lifestyle. In fact, the only character who doesnít come off so well seems to be Sue, whose conviction that Ben is ďfatedĒ to become a monster paints her in something of a cold light compared to her teammatesí sympathy for his plight.
Strong characterisation aside, Millar also provides an excellent sci-fi backbone to the story here, with a complex time-travel plot forming the basis for a storyline which also looks set to feature the Ultimate Super-Skrull (who - presumably due to more time-travel shenanigans Ė has apparently been dead for more than five hundred years by the time the story begins, although he shows up briefly in rude health later in the issue). Iím always keen to see how well a writer can juggle the logical inconsistencies that spring out of what happens when future actions of a character take place in the past and affect their own present, and Millar pulls off the delicate balancing act very well here. Although the issue begins with a sequence which is fairly confusing on a first read (as a current-continuity Reed Richards travels back in time to the accident which created the FF in order to meet another Reed who hails from 24 hours in the future), the story progresses from there in a more straightforward manner, filling us in on exactly how the Fantastic Four came to their decision to intervene in their own origin and prevent themselves from ever becoming the superheroes that they are today. The final couple of pages of the issue are an interesting and as-yet unexplained side-effect of the groupís meddling in the timestream, and although I was keen to see the kind of world envisaged by Millar under the presidency of Thor, the revelation might have come as a little more surprising if the arcís title and cover image hadnít spilled the beans way in advance.
Landís artwork is again consistently strong, and Iím getting more and more used to his individual takes on the characters as his run on the book progresses. The artist also gets a couple of more traditional superhero sequences to illustrate here, culminating in a great reveal of how the earth has been altered by the FFís actions in the past. The colouring really makes the visuals pop whilst still remaining true to the more realistic approach of the Ultimate Universe, and the inking is delicate enough that Landís detailed linework really shines through. I also enjoyed the way that certain scenes are presented more than once from different points of view due to the time-travel aspect of the story, even going so far as to re-use panels from earlier in the issue as the narrative loops back on itself.
Telling smaller, self-contained stories whilst still making each issue part of a larger whole seems to have come easier to Millar here than it did on his similar 12-issue runs on Spider-Man or Wolverine, as it seems as though his entire yearís worth of UFF issues has been planned far more intricately: for example, the Zombie FF from Millarís first arc show up again this issue, foreshadowing their escape in future issues without dominating the main story that is being told in this mini-arc. Reedís time-travel device was also introduced in a previous story and so doesnít require a hefty chunk of exposition for the reader to accept it at face value. Iím very keen to see how this tale progresses next issue, as Ė even though the "President Thor" concept is less gripping to me than the parts of the story that deal with Ben and the FFís opportunity to reverse his condition Ė thereís so much potential displayed by this first issue that I canít imagine Millar losing the plot on this one. This book continues to shine as one of the strongest examples of Marvel successfully updating a book for a modern audience while still remaining true to its core spirit, and for anyone looking for imaginative sci-fi superheroics with a strong sense of characterisation and a real heart, you could do a lot worse than to check it out.
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