Overview

Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1

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Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1

Credits

  • Words: Mark Millar
  • Art: Jae Lee
  • Inks: Jae Lee
  • Colors: June Chung
  • Story Title: Enter: The Inhumans
  • Publisher: Marvel Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Sep 21, 2005

The Ultimate Fantastic Four discover a genetic offshoot of humanity that’s been living in secret for 10,000 years. Enter: The Inhumans.

Like moths to a flame, the ladies love Johnny Storm. Johnny can’t get enough of them either, but he doesn’t meet that one special girl until she runs past him down a dark alley, in flight from two pursuers who belong beneath New York City rather than on its streets. They make quick work of Storm, though, breaking both of his legs and cracking his ribs. He’s only saved when the world’s largest bulldog scares them away. The dog is Lockjaw, and the young woman is Crystal, elemental princess of The Inhumans. Her brother-in-law Black Bolt has betrothed her to his mad genius brother, Maximus, a prospect so disgusting that Crystal has fled her home city Attilan and compromised the secrecy and seclusion with which The Inhumans have lived for ten millennia. But Crystal’s stay with The Fantastic Four isn’t long—she’s abducted by fellow Inhumans who’ve come looking for her. The Fantastic Four follow, and their presence in Attilan sets off a chain of events which will change Inhuman, and perhaps human history forever.

The Inhumans have always fascinated me. Mutants once had their cool, mysterious cache, until they became as ubiquitous as cop shows and carved out the biggest piece of real estate in the Marvel Universe. While The Inhumans will never become a cultural phenomenon and have never been able to keep a series running past twelve issues, it’s their lack of exposure that’s maintained that mystique. Mark Millar gets it, and introduces them into the Ultimate Universe with the all the cool and mystery that Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1 can stand. There’s no long, complex backstory involving The Celestials, The Eternals, and The Kree, but Millar adds a few new twists to The Inhumans mythology—Gorgon is the most powerful woman who ever walked the earth, and Karnak looks more like an old Shaolin monk than like Batroc with encephalitis. Both are fresh, invigorating touches.

Millar has three titles out this week. What makes Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1 my favorite read this week is how easily the script flows. With the extra pages of an annual, the story has room to breathe but is also excellently paced. Nothing drags, nothing is out of place, and nothing is wasted. One of my beefs with contemporary superhero comics writing is that characterization and action are too often approached as if they’re two different species. In the more glaring examples, the character work has little or none of the energy of the action, and the action has little or none of the subtlety of the character work. Millar may have other faults, but this isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s probably the best, and this issue is a perfect example. There’s a tense vibe in the exposition and character interaction sequences, and both fight scenes are kinetic but smart slugfests, each ending in an unexpected way. There are no seams between the character work and the action, and the gears shift so smoothly the reader barely notices. If writing this script took work, it doesn’t show it at all.

He blew me away with the "Mad Thinker" arc on the regular UFF title, but with Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1, Jae Lee is one of my new favorite artists. Compared to earlier work, he’s now loosened his style, lightened his touch, and, unencumbered by an inker, the result is elegantly unsettling. The linework is spare and clean, and the effect the images have comes more from what’s left out than what’s on the page, with shadow and shade often taking up the slack. Lee’s ghostly images are accentuated by the eerie, painterly qualities of June Chung’s colors, and his distinctive style makes for intense storytelling. He anchors panels with a remarkable sense of how the body moves through space, then renders every shot and frame for maximum narrative effect. After work that’s been derivative of other artists, Jae Lee has found his voice, and everyone needs to hear him.

Graceful scripting and inspired art makes this Inhumans story the best of the Ultimate annuals thus far.

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