Amidst the rumors that Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter has been trying to dismantle the Fantastic Four franchise, Marvel gave them the perfect send off in Secret Wars #9
In a sentence, Ultimatum is the superhero comic that will make you hate superhero comics and will have you reading nothing but Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, and Daniel Clowes for the rest of your comics reading career. (My apologies to Fantagraphics.) Jeph Loeb really should have apologized to Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis for destroying their carefully crafted, simultaneously optimistic and nihilistic universe with all the skill of a child knocking over sand castles and then pulling its pants down to take a piss on the wretched ruins.
The Fantastic Four are the first family of Marvel Comics. Created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (apocryphally, the result of an edict by Marvel publisher Martin Goodman to tryout a superhero team, a la rival DC Comic’s super-successful Justice League) and heavily inspired by the monster comics Marvel was publishing at the time, their tremendous popularity and success is responsible for launching Marvel’s Silver Age superhero renaissance, transforming a middling publisher of romance and sci-fi comics into one of the “Big Two” publishers of superhero adventure stories, leading to the creation of some of pop culture’s most enduring and beloved characters. Without the Fantastic Four, there would arguably be no Spider-Man, no Hulk, no X-Men or Avengers. Fantastic Four #1 is, simply, the Big Bang of Marvel Comics.
Civil War was a massive Marvel crossover event running from 2006 to 2007 and tied into virtually every Marvel comic including cosmic ones, like Nova, and quirky teen ones, like Runaways. The comic begins with the New Warriors (a team of perpetually C-Listers) fighting a group of supervillains to garner better ratings for their reality TV show, which leads to the villain Nitro blowing up a school in Stamford, Connecticut leading to many civilian casualties. This leads to Tony Stark, Reed Richards, the Avengers, and SHIELD supporting the Superhuman Registration Act, which bans secret identities, implements mandatory training for young heroes, and makes superheroes agents of SHIELD. This is opposed by Captain America, who doesn’t want to hunt down his fellow heroes, and the conflict begins as all the heroes of the Marvel Universe must either choose the Pro-Reg or Anti-Reg side.
The only misstep on Hickman’s part is the reveal of Doom’s face, something that should never be exposed to readers. The mystery of Doom’s scarred face should remain just that as readers should question whether his face is actually mangled and charred or if his face is only slightly scarred, but because of Doom’s own vanity he hides his imperfection completely. Overall, it’s a minor gripe in what is otherwise another exciting installment in Marvel’s most ambitious event.
For the most part, Hickman and Ribic keep Secret Wars #1 from being too bloated with timely reaction close-ups of characters, and little jokes or insights into them, like Thanos being disgusted with humanity’s fear of death or the aforementioned Rocket joke. Esad Ribic’s storytelling makes this comic work as a pure work of superhero action with cutting panels for his sharp fight scenes. He also uses well-placed montages as the stakes continue to get higher as the comic progresses. Secret Wars #1 is a true superhero epic with wide-screen action, the occasional character insight, and real consequences even if it may be a little too expansive at times.