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Volume 3 of Ultimate Fantastic Four, I have to admit, was rather a disappointment for me. I am a Marvel fan, having enjoyed the whole superhero thing since I was a kid. However, whereas most comics such as X-Men and Avengers and Spider-Man tend to combine action with explanation, I found this volume made the two rather different.
It comprises of issues 13 to 18, and my main disappointment comes in the first 3 of these. As an adult with a fairly decent grasp of basic science, I found it a real struggle to see where they were going with the N-Zone featured in the title, with speech bubbles occupying large parts of the screen, the only respite being the funny one-liners from the Human Torch, Johnny Storm.
Following a failed teleportation experiment, Reed Richards, his wife, Sue and her brother Johnny, and Reed's best friend Benn, were all affected one way or another to give them superpowers. Reed finds himself stretching like elastic, and Sue can turn invisible and make force fields. Benn has turned into a rock like substance where his skin should be, and Johnny has set himself on fire and fly.
What this series of episodes seeks to do is to offer the Fantastic Four an opportunity to reverse the effects of the failed experiment. They have come across something called the N-Zone, a seemingly alternative universe that runs just 'under' ours. Entering the N-Zone seems impossible until Reed discovers a way of amending their ship (which Johnny names the 'Awesome'!), only to find that the N-Zone doesn't conform to our general laws of physics - and nor do its inhabitants!
Once thigns get going after they enter the N-Zone, it starts hotting up a bit, but before that it's one of the dullest comics I have read. It serves to vaguely progress the way they are all feeling about their various powers, and no doubt science experts will find the mumbo jumbo data speak that Reed spouts quite interesting. However, I found this element of the collection dull and pointlessly drawn out. What they accomplished over 3 episodes could have been summarised in 1 and kept me interested and entertained.
This isn't to say it's all bad. The imagination of the writers and artists to create the N-Zone and develop the plot is commendable, it is merely the method by which they have shared it with us that drags. Similarly, once it kicks off for real, the tension mounts, and each of the heroes ends up needing his or her skill in one way or another. This is the appeal of a group of superheroes: the fact that they all have different powers that we get to see in action. Other heroes, those who work alone, rely more on plot and their villains to provide the necessary effect.
The tale also deals with emotional issues and group politics. We see the various character traits and personalities from each of the four, and the interaction between cheeky, fast talking Johnny and Benn, who has become the butt of Johnny's jokes. In terms of interaction between the rest of them, it is more like a little family coming together. They're essentially all in the same boat following their acquisition of the powers. In fact, this is an ideal opportunity for the examination of the pros and cons of their powers, to potentially make the decision whether or not to return to their original state.
Overall, I was disappointed with this issue. The story was okay once it got moving, and solid fans of the Fantastic Four will be interested by the individual character and plot developments that are no doubt part of a larger thing. However, as someone who knows about the Four but is not an avid expert/fan, then it's not really ideal. The first 3 episodes really do drag, and so by the time things started getting somewhere, I had already lowered my expectations and the effect of the more interesting part was somewhat lessened.
This would have worked a lot better if the first few chapters had been condensed. I suppose it's still an okay collection, with a decent tale and some interesting concepts, but the fact that it's really nothing special, and that it alienated me from the start, means that it's not something I can recommend. I wasn't really a fan. N-Zone is available from amazon.co.uk for £8.99.