I like Mike Carey. He’s probably one of my favourite writers these days, largely due to his excellent work on Lucifer: he writes great characters and mixes them with wonderful and fantastic stories. I have mixed feelings about Pasqual Ferry – his art looks entirely too slick sometimes, but there’s still a lot of energy and creativity on display. On the whole, they seem a pretty good team for Ultimate Fantastic Four, which is a book that could use some energy, creativity, and fun. And they do deliver, doing one of the best Kirby homages I’ve seen in a while. There’s just one problem: They’re using the wrong Kirby characters.
Yes, the title says Fantastic Four, but the bulk of both issues #33 and #34 are given over to another team: The Forever People, one of Jack Kirby’s 1970s creations that fit into the whole New Gods craziness. Which is plenty cool, admittedly, but they’re DC characters. Carey and Ferry are working at entirely the wrong company for a New Gods revival: It’s such a bang-on update on Kirby’s characters that it’s hard to imagine this getting by DC’s legal department: The characters line up pretty well, they ride a giant futuristic motor bike, they have a sentient computer that talks in clicks and beeps, and their teleportation technology makes a “WHOOOOM” sound. I’m left wondering how on Earth Marvel expects this to get past DC’s legal department.
All that said: It’s an entertaining, if slightly original, beginning to Carey’s Ultimate Cosmic Stuff arc. A group of aliens make a crash landing into a shopping mall where Reed and Sue are coincidentally spending a day off. Naturally, in the confusion, the aliens and the FF mistake each other for enemies and fight, which results in Reed and Sue being taken out quite easily. The aliens escape, but leave behind Seed, their sentient computer, as well as their big teleporting motor-space-bike, which are taken back to FF headquarters. When the aliens realize this, they track down Seed and try to take it back, which results in another fairly lopsided fight against the whole Fantastic Four. Ben gets one good punch in, but everyone else goes down pretty easily… until they all finally come to their senses and realize they shouldn’t be enemies, at which point the real bad guy shows up.
It’s all fairly cliché, but it’s well-executed cliché. It’s fun and light, and the aliens are written as both believably alien and relatable. Most of the first issue is given over the aliens, with the FF reduced to backup players in their own book, but it’s a workable strategy. Ferry’s visuals seem well suited to the FF’s futuristic world and Carey’s sci-fi take on the characters. I’m still not entirely sold on his actual storytelling – it’s not bad, but the book just doesn’t feel as dynamic as it could. Still, he’s got a great imagination and has some great character designs for Carey’s forever people, and caps off #34 with a great closer.
There are slight logistical problems: If the alien runaways can take out the FF so easily, what good are the humans going to be against the big bad guys the aliens are running from? It also takes two issues to really get the story going; in the old days, this would have been a double-sized special issue kicking off the new creative team’s run; unfortunately. Carey covers a lot of ground in the two issues so it doesn’t feel like filler, but it’s still an awful lot of setup.
Carey has a lot to live up to in his post-Lucifer projects, and while Ultimate Fantastic Four isn’t perfect, it does seem the best proving ground for his style and imagination. Hopefully these two issues are just his introduction, and the cosmic ass kicking shall begin with #35.