Ultimate Doom is the third part of a 12-issue maxi-series that is pretending it is a standalone, four-issue mini-series in order to keep sales juiced. The first two parts of the maxi-series were Ultimate Enemy and Ultimate Mystery. In those books, a mysterious force launched stealth attacks on the American scientific establishment and on particular members of the New York superhero community. As a result of these attacks:
Now Sue, gravely injured by Reed, lies dying in the Triskelion infirmary...
We open with the laziest two-page spread in recent comics history: three almost-wholly-black panels. The first has some sound effects, the second a long yellow line, the third some faintly inked word baloons. The point is that Sue Richards’ heart has stopped, and while her body is dying her mind is elsewhere.
And that’s nine percent of the story, right there. Pure storytelling magic this ain’t.
So what is Sue thinking about? About a time she and Reed had a picnic on the roof of the Baxter Building. After some bleating about how he never went on picnics as a child, he remarks that he doesn’t like the world... but maybe he can fix that. After all, the Fantastic Four found the Negative Zone, didn’t they? And that means, they can find other dimensions too. Maybe one of them will be perfect, or at least perfectible.
Sue finds this talk troubling. “I swear I can’t tell if you’re talking romantic or creepy.”
Reed frowns at her, and we focus in on that image as we fade to white. Sue’s body is finally responding to the defibrillators, which means her mind has to get out of her dreams and into her hospital room.
It’s a rough transition. She can’t help but turn on her forcefield, knocking away the doctors trying to help her. The rest of the Fantastic Three are out of their minds with worry, so much so that both power up - Johnny with fire, Ben with purple energy. The purple energy is more helpful in this case, as in this state Ben can pass through Sue’s forcefield and gently calm her down. Once she’s calm, she warns everyone that “Reed Richards... lied to all of us!! He’s a monster!” But before she follows up on that thought, she warns everyone that they need to evacuate the building.
Suspenseful! Let’s keep the suspense going by cutting away to Roxxon Industries, where Jessica Drew is held captive by the Roxxon brain trust, and their just-revealed leader, Dr. Octopus. Octopus casually tells the assembled brain trust that Jessica is a clone of Spider-Man, one that he himself made. But before he can drop any more info-bombs, Spider-Man bursts into the room with a SSMMAASSHH. (Wait a minute, didn’t the caption on the previous page say this was Sub-Basement 7? How can he just smash through a window and be here?) Spidey webs up the brain trust and frees Jess from her restraints. Of course, Jessica tried just this back in Ultimate Mystery #4, and it didn’t work because Samuel Sterns ‘hulked out’. He does that here, too, but Spider-Man’s spider-sense allows our hero to dodge.
Without the benefit of surprise, Sterns doesn’t bring much to the table. “I was always wondering,” sez Spidey, “what the Hulk would look like all old and creepy,” and proceeds to smack Sterns around pretty good. Meanwhile, Jessica is doing the same to Doc Ock, who can’t defend himself what with all of the webbing. Having worked out their anger, the two web-swing away into the streets of Manhattan. Sub-Basement 7 isn’t as deep as the name suggests, I guess. Jessica gives Peter a thanks-for-saving-me hug, which Peter seems to find a little uncomfortable. Luckily for him, the awkwardness is interrupted when the new Roxxon Building is destroyed by a gigantic spore creature, just like in Ultimate Enemy #1.
Back at the Triskelion, Sue Storm is playing hurt, using a computer to call up Reed Richards’ research files. Why does the Triskelion have these? Because Nick Fury stole them.
“You had secret Baxter Building files?” asks Danvers.
“Bet your ass,” replies Fury.
“When were you going to tell me?”
“When I needed to. Now.”
“What do you have on me?”
“Nothing you don’t know about. But you might want to stop sending your boyfriend those phone pics.”
So that’s dating in the twenty-first century, huh? Dag.
Sue didn’t hear this exchange, but she’s gobsmacked anyway, because she’s appalled at just how many alternate dimensions Reed has discovered. It’s not clear why this should be a problem, but anyone with a decent imagination can dream up some scenarios.
Ben, unable to process all of this, says “I still can’t believe Reed lost it this bad.”
“And I can’t believe we didn’t see it coming sooner,” retorts Sue.
“Maybe it’s not Reed,” Johnny suggests. “Maybe it’s a trick. Maybe it’s a shape-shifting alien or some kind of...”
Sue cuts him off. “It’s him, Johnny.”
Hey, we haven’t tortured anybody for a few issues, let’s do that. Sue needs data on Reed’s dimensional shifting, and remembers that Marvel was infected by Reed’s tech. Accordingly, there may be biological traces in Marvel’s system that can identify where in space-time Reed is operating. Marvel is reluctant to give up the data, by which I mean provide blood and urine samples. So Fury, of course, whips out a gun and holds it to Marvel’s head. Smooth negotiator, Fury.
Thankfully this scene is cut short as the room begins to rumble and shake. Looks like Reed is finally getting around to attacking the Triskelion. I guess he read my review of Ultimate Enemy #3. As the entire building crumbles in a spore-creature-explosion, much like the one that took out Roxxon, we see Ben Grimm flying away in a tiny purple beam.
The only survivor? Probably not. But it sure looks bad for our heroes.
Sigh. More torture. I’ve belaboured this point enough already. Just stop it, Marvel! Please!
What else do we have? Some bright spots. The story moves ahead. The Triskelion is finally taken out, as you think it would have been in the first round of attacks. We have some hints as to why Reed is doing this: Reed believes in utopian perfectibility, and hence - in a bit of intellectual shorthand - he’s prone to sociopathy, on the grounds that the desire to make a perfect world justifies any means, no matter how bloody. Note for the record that I don’t endorse this trope, but I do recognize what a commonplace it is in Anglo-American political thinking. Reed is a utopian, and therefore ipso facto we readers can recognize that he’s a potential mass murderer. That’s a good start for a motive.
Add to that Nick Fury’s offhand remark that Reed was - is - a barely socially functional 18-year-old kid, and we have the rest. Of course Reed doesn’t appreciate the value of regular human life, having been so isolated from it! Of course Reed would have delusions of grandeur, given what he’s already achieved! Of course Reed could justify any action to himself, if he thought that action would make the world a better place!
All of this is a good start. But I hope Marvel is going to follow through on all this. If you take an established heroic figure and turn him into a villain, you need to make a strong, convincing case for the change. Otherwise it’s just a misappropriation of continuity, a theft of readers’ emotional connection to a character just to trade on the shock value. This seems to be going around Marvel these days - see, for example, my reviews on the just-concluded ‘Big Time’ arc in Amazing Spider-Man #652.
The story lurches forward, and we finally have a sketch of an answer to the Ultimate Mystery. That’s worth two webs, but no more.
Huh. It wasn’t until Ultimate Mystery that we found out who the Ultimate Enemy was. And it’s not until Ultimate Doom that we solve the Ultimate Mystery. Makes me wonder what comes after Ultimate Doom. Mark my words, we’re not going to wrap all of this up in the two remaining issues.
No, Captain Marvel doesn’t kick any ass in this issue. At least he appears in it, as do the Spider-people, who actually do kick some ass. I’ll rate this cover as only Somewhat Misleading. Incidentally, I’ve finally caught on: the four covers of this mini-series are supposed to form a single poster. I’d appreciate that more if each issue’s portion of the poster highlighted characters who figure prominently within.