The Fantastic Four are BACK and I, for one, cannot wait for the high-concept sci-fi adventure that Marvel has been sorely missing since they went away.
The FF have been MIA since the 2015 Fox adaptation bombed and essentially made the property as radioactive as the cosmic rays that gave the quartet their powers. It’s common knowledge (based on the Batman & Robin/Batman Begins scale) that the radioactive half-life of a tainted property is about eight years. So it’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing the four on the silver screen any time soon.
But the comics…the comics! Josh Trank’s cinematic turd may have ensured we won’t see an adaptation any time soon, but Marvel salted the earth and stopped publishing Fantastic Four around the same time as the release of the movie. The move was rumored to be retaliatory in nature as the comics division of Marvel didn’t want to give the Fox movie any free advertising.
A brief digression. In the 1990’s things were not great for Marvel. The comics boom of the early 90’s had gone bust and Marvel ended up selling off the film rights to multiple properties to remain in business (there have been several deep-dive articles on the subject out there). Spider-Man went to Sony, X-Men, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four all went to Fox. So when your child asks why they can’t see the Hulk fight Wolverine, feel free to give them the above overly complicated answer.
So, it was a baller move by Marvel to stop publishing the book which had been in print since 1961. “So you’re going to do a grim and gritty remake of a property that is completely tone-deaf to what the book is really supposed to be about? Cool. We’ll just STOP PRINTING THE BOOK THEN. (mic drop)”
When I was a kid, my go-to comics were always Spider-Man books. To me, there was nothing cooler than a nerdy guy that was just trying to do the right thing. Some of the earliest books I was given to read were reprints of the original Amazing Spider-Man books in which the FF popped up in from time to time. Reed Richards (one of Stan Lee’s several alliterative heroes) aka Mr. Fantastic was someone even smarter than Peter Parker so he HAD to be cool, right? Well…
I never connected with the Fantastic Four books on quite the same level as I did for the other Marvel books. In the mid to late 90’s I’m pretty sure I only read books with X in the title – X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, X-Farce (a parody book), and on and on. But the Fantastic Four was always there. Every character in the Marvel Universe would always drop in on Richards and company to answer the unanswerable questions.
Between 1992 and 1993 I ended up picking up two Fantastic Four books, which was a record breaking number for me at the time. Both of the books had gimmick covers which were all the rage back then. Fantastic Four #371 featured an all white, embossed cover which loosely tied into the Humans Torch developing a new EXTREME power and burning hotter than he had ever burned before.
The next issue I received was given to me by my Cool Aunt. You know the relative, the one that gives you comic books for every major holiday? Good times. It was Fantastic Four #375 that awaited me in my Easter basket that year and it had a PRISMATIC FOIL COVER. It was milestone issue in which Mr. Fantastic got a big gun and pouches added to his costume, The Thing got a facial scar (possibly given to him by Wolverine? He was everywhere those days) and a badass mask to hide said scar. Sue Storm, The Invisible Woman, got…less of a costume.
Marvel was desperately trying to adapt their first family for the changing times and impossible to predict wants of their audience. And it all seemed kind of…wrong.
Even at that age and being a casual FF fan at best, I knew what the book was supposed to be about. Science, family, adventure, the fantastic.
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did over a hundred issues of Fantastic Four and everyone after them has been playing catch-up. There have been some notable runs that have captured my attention over the years but nothing has come close to the thrill of reading those original issues.
Fantastic Four will be relaunching this August and I will be there for it. Written by Dan Slott with art by Sara Pichelli this book has the potential to be, well, fantastic. In recent years, Marvel has unfortunately diverted most of its resources to producing books that support their film properties.
As far as what I’m hoping to see out of Slott and Pichelli’s run, I have to go back to what I wrote at the beginning of this piece: high-concept sci-fi adventure. I honestly hope that Slott chooses to do away with the trope of the tortured genius. Characters like Doctor House and the current iteration of Sherlock Holmes are tired and need to be put away for awhile. I would love to see a Reed Richards who is excited about learning, teaching, and sharing that knowledge with others to better humankind. In a climate that is increasingly anti-science and reason, inspirational characters like these are sorely needed.
In Grant Morrison’s 1234 miniseries, Mr. Fantastic says, “My family are an equation: Alter one part of the equation and it no longer tells the truth….You can’t change our essential nature anymore than you can change E=MC2.” Marvel would do well to remember that.