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Fantastic Four Returning to Marvel Comics

The Longbox Theory

Fantastic Four #1

The issue that launched the Marvel Universe: Fantastic Four #1, 1961.

The Fantastic Four will return to the world of comics this August in a new series from writer Dan Slott and artist Sara Pichelli. The first family of Marvel Comics, who ushered in the Silver Age at the publisher, had not appeared since the conclusion of 2015’s Secret Wars, in which Reed and Sue Richards left on a mission to repair the universe, with the help of their children Franklin and Valeria.

Readers assumed Marvel had written the characters out of continuity due to their contentious relationship with Fox who hold the film rights to the property. With Marvel’s parent company Disney now engaged in the process of acquiring Fox, a deal that will take months to complete and requires government approval, and the publisher undertaking a reboot that will bring back the original versions of their stable of characters, it makes good business sense to reunite the team. If and when the acquisition goes through—as most assume it will because money talks and there are 52 Billion reasons it’ll happen—fans giddily expect the Fantastic Four to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe and finally get the film they deserve. In the meantime, building up the brand in the comics can only help.

Though message boards and comment threads reflect a great deal of excitement and anticipation over the announcement, there have been reservations. Slott’s ten year run on Amazing Spider-Man was not without its controversies, and fans had mixed reactions to the news that he’d be scripting the relaunched title. Slott also happens to be overseeing the return of Tony Stark as Iron Man. With the departure of Brian Michael Bendis to DC, it seems he has taken on a more prominent role in the overhaul of the Marvel Comics universe.
Fans are anxious for him to get the title right.

Beyond some of his divisive story ideas on Spider-man, there are reasons for trepidation. Although many interesting ideas and stories emerged out of the alternate-continuity Ultimates universe, the handling of the FF—and Reed Richards in particular—angered and alienated longtime fans of the original book. Over in the main continuity, splitting up the team and having two members vanish for years made it clear Marvel might do anything with and to these beloved characters, including simply wiping them away, despite their preeminent status as the publisher’s flagship book.
Reintroducing the team is historically relevant, but getting it right is critical.

Fantastic Four #51

An all-time great Fantastic Four story, by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

Foremost is remembering that, at their core, the Fantastic Four are a family. The main difference between Marvel and DC in the Silver Age was that Marvel’s heroes had problems readers could relate to on a monthly basis. Whether it was Spider-Man struggling to pay his bills and juggle his dual identities while caring for his elderly aunt, or the FF engaging in banter and familiar domestic squabbles, Marvel stories seemed more realistic than those of their distinguished competition. Many forgettable runs on the book have strayed from the fundamental dynamic Jack Kirby and Stan Lee established; the Fantastic Four are related, so when they bicker and pull apart, or come together and sacrifice for one another, the emotional stakes are heightened.

Another key is incorporating science and discovery on a consistent and thought-provoking basis. The Fantastic Four aren’t a typical superhero team—they’re scientists and explorers. They use their powers to help others, but their best stories are closer to the sci-fi genre than the usual superhero material. The more often the FF encounter a problem from space, the negative zone or some other dimension, with Reed building some outrageous machine to solve a problem only he is aware of, the more memorable the stories end up being. The best FF tales have featured villains that play to this dynamic, and it’s critical that Slott handles those antagonists correctly as well.

Finally, whether or not the Fantastic Four exist in the MCU, they should be prominent in Marvel Comics. Unnecessary crossovers and company-wide events have alienated many fans, but there’s a way to make individual stories in a monthly title relevant, resonant and impactful. The most beloved runs on the Fantastic Four featured multi-part narratives that took center stage in the greater Marvel universe even when they weren’t crossovers. It’s the legacy of being the groundbreaking title of an innovative line. FF plot lines are a paradox; intimate characterization, featuring the unique interaction of the four main protagonists as they take on earth—or even universe—shaking events in widescreen action stories.

Fans are hoping Dan Slott is the right man for the job. After years of waiting, it’s what readers deserve. Beyond that, after decades of being at the center of the Marvel universe and the hallmark of Jack and Stan’s legacy, it’s what the Fantastic Four themselves deserve.
It’s clobberin’ time.

Watch: Return of the Fantastic Four (Teaser Trailer) via YouTube

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