by Marvel Marvel's Ultimate line of comics re-tell the origins and adventures of their heroes, rebooting and streamlining the characters and settings for newer readers. The Ultimate comics (there are currently Ultimate versions of the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four) aren't meant to replace the original series' continuity. Instead, they simply put a new (and in many cases, fresh) spin on characters who've become somewhat dusty and dated. Most of the Ultimate versions of Marvel's classic characters are younger than their originals. Ultimate Spider-Man, for example, is still in high school, where he began in the Ditko/Lee comics of 40 years ago, but instead of being a nerd with a chemistry set, he's a computer geek, adept at writing hypertext but somewhat clumsy when it comes to navigating his relationship with the young Mary Jane.
As initially conceived by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Adam Kubert, the Ultimate Fantastic Four follow the pattern of previous Ultimate entries. Reed Richards is the pivotal character. The first story begins with Reed's birth, and his very first act is to grab a strand of his mother's hair, driven even fresh from the womb by insatiable curiosity. As he grows older, Reed's precociousness and relentless experimentation with all manner of household appliances drive his parents (particularly his father, whom Reed vainly strives to please) crazy. The young scientist has discovered a parallel dimension, which he dreams will one day make teleportation a reality - a dream he shares only with Ben Grimm, his best friend. Ben's cool, Reed's not; Ben can talk sports with Reed's Dad, who can't seem to identify with his son on any level. Eventually, Reed's parents agree to send him away to an experimental project being conducted at New York's Baxter Building.
The Baxter Building program involves young geniuses from across the country, all sequestered in one place to serve the national interest. The program is run by Professor Storm, whose daughter Susan strikes up a friendship with Reed. And there's another student, Victor Van Damme, who gets on Reed's bad side by meddling in his private notes. Reed becomes Professor Storm's protege - it turns out that Storm is working on the very same project which has obsessed young Richards for years: teleportation. In this version of the tale, the Fantastic Four are created when Reed and Sue (visited by Ben and her brother Johnny) are accidentally teleported through the mysterious N-Zone. They emerge at distant points across the country with strange new powers, and in Ben's case, with a whole new body.
Ultimate Fantastic Four is a lot of fun. It's covering the same storylines that Lee and Kirby etched out those many years ago, but it's got the license to make interesting changes. It's not entirely clear yet, but some of these changes may be reflected in the new film. One clear reflection is Doom's origin - in Ultimate FF, and in the film, Dr. Doom is created alongside the Fantastic Four. Time will tell if Ultimate FF prove as popular as their most successful Ultimate predecessors - but the stories are good, the art is breathtaking and it feels like we're experiencing the Fantastic Four for the very first time. 'Nuff said.