Monday, October 13, 2008

Crossover: Part 3 of 3 (Marvel)
Where: Ultimate Fantastic Four #23 When: November 2005 Why: Mark Millar How: Greg Land

The Tape...
Strength: Draw 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Thing 3 (Straight A)
Speed: Hulk 3 (Athlete)
Stamina: Hulk 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Hulk 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

Math: Hulk Ranking: Hulk (#4)

The Fix...
If you missed last week's shipping list you might not know that Marvel have wheeled out their fifth iteration of the Marvel Zombies franchise! Zombies 3 brings the threat of undead extinction to the Marvel Universe (616) and follows the escapades of a breakaway group of interlopers pre-Zombies 2. No doubt we'll be looking later in the month at one of the stars of Zombies 3, as well as some of our own theories about the brand, but first -- what about the beginning?!

The premise is so simple it's amazing it didn't happen sooner!
Take the heroes and villains of a parallel Marvel Universe, introduce a threat that would tempt extinction upon them all, and observe the ensuing chaos!

Conventionally the zombie is one of the weakest creatures on the monster map. It's a mathematical terror theoretically dismissed with a simple course of quarantine, but so easily overlooked in a world of invisibility, mysticism, super-strength, and the physically intangible.
If a zombie were to walk solitary into the arena of the Infinite Wars he would surely be squashed in an instant, but in their first appearance, the Marvel Zombies ahered to the tried-and-true tradition of the mythic zombie horde.

With the horde expanding into it's own marketing juggernaut, you'd be forgiven for forgetting it all began in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four, under the watchful high-concept eye of Mark Millar.

The ambiguously titled "Crossover" played with fan expectations, using the sci-fi vein of the Ultimate title to tease only an interdimensional meeting between the young Reed Richards, and his older counterpart from a 'familiar' universe.
Five years after the inception of of the Ultimate line (Earth-1610), it seemed feasible that the two universes might finally overlap. Instead, fans were treated to a conceptual double-whammy that introduced both Earth-2149, and by extention, the Ultimate incarnation of the Frightful Four - the zombie FF!

Millar's Frighful quartet remained a lingering plot thread for an entire year, surviving twelve issues to embody the Ultimate imprint's ability to take traditional Marvel concepts, and completely reinvent them.
This nightmarish reflection on the title characters remains one of the most memorable pauses in the title's history, surpassing the more familiar (or misguided) reinventions that have populated the series before, and since.

The glaring negative would be the marketing frenzy that resulted from the expansion of the Marvel Zombies concept. A slew of zombie-themed variations on Marvel covers infected the entire brand, extending to a catalogue of issues completely removed. This farcical pandering to the collector's market will no doubt live in infamy as one of the shameful quirks of the decade, but for the Ultimate franchise, another cost was arguably incurred.

The mission statement for the Ultimate imprint has managed to shift and morph over the course of it's life, but it seems safe to say the brand's relevance has passed for the forseeable future. While Millar (and Land) are certainly not responsible for the brand's decline, their venture into alternate universes seemed to represent the type of complication the brand was designed to avoid.

Best described as a version of the Marvel Universe for the movie generation; stories like Crossover have kicked the doors down to conventional Marvel tropes. The contemporary chic of a subdued, modern reinvention platform seems to have been compromised to a point where even dedicated neophytes have been drawn away to the 'proper' Marvel Universe. A Marvel Universe where the convolusions associated with the medium have gravitas and justification.

While stories like Crossover have expanded the boundaries well beyond the content of a theatrical release to allude specifically to the "616," it's also been made increasingly evident that the Ultimate universe is no less immune to lasting change than the core brand. One wonders if it was simply an issue of availability (or promotional agenda) that saw concepts like these fall into the Ultimate offices, rather than the traditional alternative.

For the specifics of the issue, even the often maligned Greg "photo reference" Land deserves kudos. The artist successfully delivers on a script that plays with a lot of Marvel conventions, like the arrival of a zombified Hulk to clash with Thing.

Hulk's arrival (from the air) begins with a vague reflection in a broken skyscraper window as we follow the monster's descent from Mr. Fantastic's POV, enjoying an ominus obscuring of the Hulk through continued shadow, and movement.

The Hulk really is a monstrous character! The macabre qualities that inhabited Jack Kirby's original artwork gradually faded as the creature was refined into a more palatable superhero figure. Land does well here to play with that size, giving Hulk's landing a handheld cinematic quality that really hammers home how horrific a snarling, seven-foot, green behemoth would be!

This dramatic entrance feeds into a curtailed exchange between two classic comic book rivals! All it takes is a two-fisted uppercut from the FF's Thing to topple the zombified Hulk, punctuating a brief end to the zombie onset!

The quick fix doesn't appropriately reflect the focus Millar delivers in his script, which remains consistently trained on the important details enough to convey some delightfully subtle details (like; Mr. Fantastic's gradual stretch across the zombie-invested cityscape), despite the plot's grandiose scope!

The legacy of Marvel Zombies doesn't really represent the original.
While Zombies deserves credit for maintaining more of a plot than anyone could rightly have suspected, it doesn't feel quite as complete an arc as Crossover. The tone differs considerably, a little less tongue-in-cheek in it's self-awareness than the glorified meme of subsequent additions.

Please note; our references to compromises made in the Ultimate brand are really far too broad to rest on the shoulders of this story. It is, however, part of a larger story that is the Ultimate line.

Winner: Thing
The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5

Crossover and Marvel Zombies are both available collected in trade. By using purchase links provided on the site you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars! Check out the online store for more great savings on titles reviewed previously on the site!

No comments: