Sunday, June 09, 2013

Evil Reed Returns!

Evil Reed returns care of writer Josh Fialkov and penciller Carmine Di Giandomenico
in issue #25 of Ultimate Comics The Ultimates.
Maybe a return to form for DC Comics iconic Superman is not the only hope for rekindling my romance with superhero comic books. The return of "evil" Reed Richards as part of Ultimate Comics has already got me picking up the few recent back issues since his last appearance.

Cover of Ultimate
Fantastic Four # 15 (2004).
If there is one I enjoy about comic books its the well-written heel turn of heroes. This is especially so when it appears as though a forced or trite redemption is not in the future. One great example of this is the recent evolution of former super-hero Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) in the Ultimate Universe line of comic books published by Marvel.

Launched in 2000 as a hard reboot of the traditional Marvel characters (in geek-speak referred to as the "Marvel 616 Universe"), the line-up of titles had changed periodically, but the continuity (for the most part) has been consistent. My entre into the Ultimate Universe was the 2004 publication of Ultimate Fantastic Four #1, written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar with art by Adam Kubert. As a longtime collector of the original Fantastic Four (through numerous soft reboots past and present) I looked forward to being able to jump on with a legit first issue, and to follow my childhood favorites as updated, modern characters.

Cover of Ultimate Comics:
The Ultimates #9 featuring
the return of Reed Richards.
The key tact used by the creators to reinvigorate the team was to present them as teens rather than older men (and woman), in an effort to make them more relatable to the teens they had hoped would buy the comics. The younger Reed was here characterized as an idealistic, socially awkward super-genius who, rather than grabbing the mantle of leadership over the team, sat back as Susan Storm (now his age and intellectual equal--or better) asserted herself.

Over the course of the Ultimate lines history, and beginning with the Ultimate Enemy (2010) mini-series (the first of three four-issue miniseries eventually rebranded in total as Ultimate Doomsday)that teased the reveal of the "true face of evil" in the Ultimate Universe. The final issue of the third miniseries, Ultimate Doom, sees the full reveal of Reed Richards as this universes version of Doctor Doom, an individual who while not necessarily overtly "evil" does see the end (a perfected world) justifying the means (destruction and death). Eventually, Reed is defeated by the heroes and further spurned by Susan Storm, left to drift away in the N-Zone.
Ultimate Reed Richards.
Reed eventually returns (naturally) and his plan are further enacted in the revamped team book Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates (2011) written by  Jonathan Hickman and penciled by Esad Ribic. Oddly, while Hickman was developing the evil Reed in the Ultimate Universe, he is also scripting a respected run on the 616's Fantastic Four and, eventually, it's spinoff sister-title, FF.

Following Reed's defeat by the Ultimates nearly six months ago, and the books subsequent spiral off of my pull-list, I was glad to see that this week's The Ultimates #25 revealed that Reed was once again freed to work with BFF Ultimate Hulk and some new powerful allies. The fact that writer Josh Fialkov is at the reins is a positive sign too. I had dropped the book prior to the previous arc, having lost interest in the story which, despite promise, had crumbled under the weight of its own ideas and (in my mind) poor execution. As a fan of his work on DCs New 52 (and cancelled) title I, Vampire, Failkov and Reed have my dollars for at least a few more issues to see where this arc goes.

Here's hoping that The Ultimates continues to improve and that Reed's characterization does not result in his being simply a lackey... a dangerously boring heel-progression that the introduction of the new "big bad" suggests might be in the cards. The 616 Doctor Doom wouldn't settle for that, so let's hope the Ultimate Universe's doesn't either!

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