NewMU: Fantastic Four

“The Fantastic Four may be the first family of the Marvel Universe, but that means very little to the alien inhabitants of the Negative Zone when Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben first enter their realm!  The difference between exploring and invading is truly in the eye of the beholder!  Meanwhile, back on Earth, their business manager and lawyer, Wyatt Wingfoot and Jennifer Walters, struggle to determine who’s been targeting the altruistic works of the FF Foundation for destruction!”

That’s what would appear as a blurb in Previews for Fantastic Four #1, the first title in the relaunched Marvel Universe!  If the New DC 52 used JLA as their flagship, I vote for Fantastic Four as our flagship title.  I know a lot of people may disagree with this (and I think Jason disagreed with this to an extent) as the Avengers, X-Men or Spider-Man might make a better title with which to lead.  However, Fantastic Four began the Marvel Age of Comics in the 1960s, and I have always considered them Marvel’s First Family.  When done well, there’s nothing else in the superhero field quite like them and I believe we can get back to that.  However, I also think there are some new ideas that can be added to the concept, I think we need to strip away some of the rough spots that the past 50 years of continuity have created, and I think we need to update the origin of our stalwart heroes.  Let’s begin with the latter.

When universes are rebooted, there’s a tendency to de-age heroes.  I’d like to resist that impulse, to a large extent, with the FF.  Partly because I feel that they should be older than many of the other heroes in the MU, and partly because their ages at the time of their original premiere issue were, to be blunt, ludicrous, at least in the case of Sue and Johnny.  I mean, the FF’s origin strains believability in so many ways, but perhaps in no way more than the fact that Reed and Ben brought along two teenagers on the flight (Johnny was still in high school!).  No matter how we retool their origin, I believe it will always read better with all of the characters being a little older.

I’d like to start the series with Reed and Sue married….this is necessary for the FF to be a family.  There’s no drama or “will they/won’t they” mystery to their relationship, so why not just start with them already wed?  However, I’d like to remove their kids from the equation.  When heroes don’t age, as is the case in the major superhero universes, it’s not an insurmountable problem.  There’s not a huge difference between a 29 year old hero and a 39 year old hero, in looks or in abilities.  However, there’s a huge difference between a 5 year old child and a 15 year old teen, and when your 5 year old never ages, it becomes obvious to your readers pretty quickly.  As much as I see a use for Franklin in stories, until we figure out how to age him, I think he should go.  If we want to introduce a child down the road, we can certainly do that.  (And don’t even get me started on Valeria…I’ve read the comics where she first appeared numerous times, and I still can’t explain where she came from or how she exists in continuity.)

I think we keep many of the elements of the four how they are, with just some updating to modernize them and to smooth out the extremely rough edges in their origin.  Reed comes from a wealthy family.  His mother died when he was young, and his father, Nathaniel Richards, has never had much to do with him.  Nathaniel is something of a hermit, and not part of our story at first.  Since Reed’s father is still alive, Reed didn’t have access to the family money as he did in the original MU, and soon realized he would need monies to keep doing his experiments.  Being more of a scientist than a business manager, he decided he needed someone to help him get grants and manage patents and help with his money.  That’s where Sue comes in.

I believe that it’s a good idea to make Sue a more active part of Reed’s life.  The Fantastic Four movies made her a scientist and the Ultimate Fantastic Four also cast her in that role.  Now, I don’t think Sue is stupid, but I also don’t think she’s a scientist.  Plus, if she is a scientist, it makes her a little too much like Reed, and I prefer having more of a contrast between them.  However, I can very much see Sue as a smart businesswoman, and I believe that’s how she meets Reed.  He hires her to manage his money, and gradually the two fall in love and marry. 

Sue brings to Reed an idea….space flight for civilians.  Reed has never worked for NASA, because he honestly doesn’t work well with others, being too independent.  However, space has always intrigued him because he’s an explorer.  However, there’s never been a good financial reason for him to get very deep into that field.  Now there’s talk of civilians being able to spend a lot of money for the chance to go into space, and Sue believes that Reed might be able to lead the way in that field.  He begins to develop a rocket for civilian space travel.

This is a huge undertaking, and so Sue begins to develop a team.  She wants the eyes of the world to be on this flight.  That means she’s going to need a staff.  First she wants a public relations specialist, someone who can really get the word out about this flight and drive attention to what Reed is doing.  Her brother, Johnny, happens to be such a PR wizard, so he’s brought on board.  They also need a pilot, someone who will be able to not just keep their clients safe, but will also be a good face for the company.  Reed’s able to help on this one, since his old ROTC buddy, Ben Grimm, flew jets when he served with Reed during Desert Storm.  They bring him on board.  They also hire legal representation, in the form of Jennifer Walters, a research assistant for Reed in the form of Bill Foster, and an assistant for Sue in the form of Wyatt Wingfoot.

Once the rocket is close to completion, Johnny decides that the first passengers should be himself, Sue and Reed.  He feels this will show the world how safe the rocket is and it will be great publicity.  The others agree, and the flight, which is broadcast around the world, goes fine at first, until the cosmic rays do their thing on our foursome.  They come back to Earth and they are the Fantastic Four! 

Before we go any further, what do you think?

The team makes sense. Having sowed my professional oats in advertising for a dozen years or so, I can tell you that I ran into many Johnny Storms along the way. Cocky, loud-mouthed and full of “big ideas” that impress only himself. I like a bit of military background for Reed and Ben…maybe that was Reed’s revolt against his parents’ domineering ways. And Sue definitely needs an identity that gets her out of Reed’s shadow and puts her on equal footing.

The supporting cast is excellent as well. I know you and I talked behind-the-scenes as we were preparing this whole NewMU thing and we wanted to make a point of de-powering some people so that we could then maybe re-power them down the line. She-Hulk’s origin always bugged the hell out of me, so having her start as a civilian may help alleviate my anguish. Bill Foster is back from the dead, rightfully so. Wyatt Wingfoot, on the other hand, I could care less about.

The origin set-up is modern enough yet still nods towards the original. My only hang up is the whole “cosmic rays” thing. We’re going to need an awful lot of real scientific explanation to make that sound proper. (Of course, if we redo the Hulk, I’m hoping to avoid the “how come the atomic bomb didn’t incinerate him?” question).

All that in place, who are the villains, what’s the conflict, and why should we care? How cosmic are we going to go with this title? Is it all interdimensional or are we going to delve into terrestrial threats too? And how does the family make money?

As you alluded to, I’ve never been a huge fan of the FF. The science stuff and family values bores me to a degree. Some of their villains seemed less than threatening at times. And nothing ever changes for them outside of the basic conflict-resolution framework of your typical one-hour network drama.

Make me care.

A few comments on your comments….Reed and Ben had a military background originally, as they both fought in WWII together.  I wanted to retain that because I think there’s a bond that develops between those who’ve faced life and death together that helps to elevate Reed and Ben’s relationship from “friends” to “family”.  I assumed Reed went ROTC because he didn’t have the money for college, going back to his father basically taking the family fortune and leaving while Reed was a teen.

I understand the basic problem with cosmic rays, but they seem to be part of the Marvel Universe, like gamma bombs and unstable molecules.  I’m sure they don’t make a lick of sense, scientifically, but I’m willing to stretch disbelief for them, since the Fantastic Four and their powers don’t really make sense.

Back to the series premise:  So, our four heroes were turned into superheroes with the entire world watching.  Unlike the current FF, these four were somewhat in the media spotlight before they obtained their powers, so when they come crashing back to Earth on television, there’s not even a choice as to whether or not they’ll have secret identities.  That being said, these are the first people with superpowers that this world has ever seen.  Normally the government (any government, really) might have tried to snatch them up and experiment upon them, but they can’t make these people disappear with the media shining a spotlight on them.  And, since most of the public already had a pretty good opinion of them anyway, it’s not that difficult for Johnny to spin them into heroes for this world.  Since he’s the over-the-top PR guy, we can blame him for the Fantastic Four name, as well as the equally obnoxious Mr. Fantastic moniker. 

Sue realizes the potential in their transformation almost as soon as her brother does, and immediately establishes Fantastic Four Incorporated as a charitable foundation, quickly securing patents and trademarks on their likenesses and abilities to prevent others from passing themselves off as cheap copies and to protect the integrity of what they do.  The group already had decent money from Reed’s patents, and Sue now encourages him to patent some things that he might have been holding back.  In fact, in this world, I’d like to see Reed Richard technology a lot more than we do in the current MU.  No, I don’t want this to become a world of Star Trek technology, where everyone has flying cars and transporters, but Reed is a genius the likes of which the world has never seen, and we should be seeing some evidence of that in the world at large.

From the start, this is not a group that fights crime, or at least not often.  Reed is an explorer, and so he spends much of his time looking for new areas to explore, and then taking the team along with him.  The Negative Zone, the Innerverse, the Microverse, other plans, other dimensions…..there is no limit where Reed is concerned.  They also work on exploring the Earth….the depths of the oceans, the tunnels beneath the Earth’s surface.  They also go off planet, exploring the endless depths of space.  You can find them anywhere.  Plus, you can find them all over the planet helping out where they’re needed.  They’re more likely to be found cleaning up after a tsunami or trying to stop a raging wildfire than they are smacking around Hydro-Man and hauling him off to the hoosegow.

And the people love them for it.  There are tons of heroes out there fighting endless battles with supervillains, but not nearly as many who help rescue victims during the flooding caused by Katrina…much less those on the ground during the hurricane, braving the elements to help those who can’t help themselves.  Yes, the FF will fight a supervillain when they must, but its simply not their main concern and the public appreciates what they do.  Of all the superbeings in the Marvel Universe, the FF are the ones trying their hardest to make the world a better place, and actually succeeding.

Their villains will mostly be those villains they encounter while exploring.  As much as I hate to say it (and this really is difficult), but I’d reduce any focus on Dr. Doom in this title.  There’s other places he can be used, and while I love him with the FF and many people will consider this blasphemy, I don’t think he works in this vision for the title.  Instead they’d battle the Mole Man, who run into while exploring and realize his designs on conquering the surface, along with Tyrannus and Kala, the other under-Earth villains of the Marvel Universe.  They battle Annihilus and Blastaar, perhaps their greatest foes, who they run into during their first foray into the Negative Zone and who plague them continually.  But, in the end, the FF don’t have a huge rogues’ gallery.  Partly this is because they don’t fight a lot of crime, and partly it’s because they’re always moving forward.  This book should have some crazy new characters concepts, and be a launching pad for new and different ideas, some of which may be used as series in their own right.

Ok, your turn again.  Any thoughts at this juncture?

Just nitpicking a bit here, but you make mention of the FF being the first people with superpowers this world has ever seen and then, later, you say there are tons of heroes out there fighting endless battles with supervillains. I know it’s early on in this process, but we have to be careful with references to any sort of established Marvel Universe. This is our baby from beginning to end. If the FF are the first superheroes, then so be it. Let’s not to compare them to anyone else…yet.

Beyond that, I think this all makes sense. Granted, the big throwdown fights aren’t going to happen as much as I might like, but the exploration will open possibilities for future heroes to punch new threats. I was going to suggest we keep Doom out of this concept, since I think the new origin and supporting cast don’t need him, so I’m glad you caught that too. However, with him out of the day-to-day, I think Reed needs some sort of rival. Mad Thinker comes to mind, but he has a really stupid name. I don’t want to put him at odds with Stark or Pym in terms of brainpower. We need an evil genius…preferably European or Asian as a competitive contrast…someone who would be irritated by his success and exposure.

I also like the thought of them helping out around the globe and think it could play easily into some of the other titles we’re going to launch. Hate to talk in code, but we don’t want to give anything away.

There really isn’t a lot to discuss on this one. Small tweaks to update the origin and broaden the appeal. A revised supporting cast to energize the storylines. More adventure than actual action. Simple.

One thing though, where’s Diablo? There has to be a thread of relevance there. The possibility of alchemy and a “Philosopher’s Stone” mocks science and would drive Reed nuts.

As far as my mentioning other heroes fighting crime, I apologize, as I wasn’t as clear as I could have been.  Of course, when the FF first gain their powers, there’s no one fighting supervillains because there really aren’t supervillains.  Our first issues are normally going to be set sometime into a hero’s or team’s existence, rather than at the moment of their origins, so by the time we get to issue #1 of Fantastic Four there are other superheroes fighting crime, and it was to that time period I was referring.  I could have been more clear.

I think Diablo does have a place as a Fantastic Four villain, and again, he’s one they could find as they were exploring some ancient ruins right here on Earth.  They accidentally freed him so they feel responsible, and whenever he pops his head up they take him back down.  As you say, his alchemy versus Reed’s science would be a very interesting contrast, yet I still don’t think he works as a way to replace Doom.  I have another idea for that, although you started me down that road.

I very much like the Thinker as a villain (and I think you go a long way toward making him villain you can actually take seriously if you simply drop the “Mad” from the front of his name), but when you get right down to it, he’s not much of a scientist.  At least, he’s not in the current MU.  I think we have two villains that we use as Reed’s (and the group’s) main enemies, as the proverbial other side of the Reed Richards coin.  The Thinker is one.  Currently, the Thinker isn’t so much of a scientist as he is a predictor….someone who can plot probabilities and make reasoned guesses at what future events might be.  I like that concept and I think we continue using it.  However, I think we also make this Thinker more of a scientist as well.  That helps make him a better foil for Reed, but it doesn’t go far enough in really setting him up as an archvillain.  To do that, I think we need to give the Thinker a strong motivation to oppose the Fantastic Four.  I’ll detail how I see him, and you let me know what you think.

The Thinker was a brilliant scientist long before the Fantastic Four gained their powers, and he actually worked with Reed Richards back when Reed and Sue began their company, long before Johnny or Ben came onboard.  Reed and the Thinker worked well together and were able to accomplish great things.  In many ways they were on the same wavelength, with one key difference….the Thinker had no moral compunctions about anything they did.  If their research took them into areas that were ethically grey, Reed would always veer away from exploring those areas, while the Thinker would push dive straight into them, ignoring any moral complications.  Finally, matters between them came to a head when they were working on robots.  Reed was looking to design relatively simple robots to be used for dangerous activities, like gathering data on moon explorations or working out at sea on oil drilling platforms.  The Thinker thought they could create robots that could do much more.  Together they designed the Awesome Android (although they didn’t call it that, because really, who would?), and then the Thinker began working on an android that he wanted to imbue with sentience.  Reed thought that they didn’t know enough to create a sentient being, and was concerned that this could be trouble down the road.  At the very least, he wanted to explore the potential complications more closely.  He had no problem giving a robot rudimentary intelligence (like his helper HERBIE), but to make a robot self-aware?  That sounded like trouble to Reed, and as he was the owner of the company, he forbid the Thinker from doing it.  The Thinker ignored him, and working in the lab late one night (and using some of Reed’s notes that he had stolen from the computer systems), he built a robot he called Ultron.  When Reed came in and saw that the Thinker had disobeyed his orders, an argument began.  During the argument, Ultron blasted both of them, left them for dead, and flew away.  Both Reed and the Thinker were taken to the hospital, with Reed more badly injured.  Sue fired the Thinker as soon as he was released, and then spent the next few months nursing Reed back to full health.

The Thinker began his own company, competing with Reed.  In an effort to get a leg up on his competitor, he started working on a way to devise market trends, which is how he developed his computer algorithms that give him his uncanny knack for predicting future events.  It enabled him to spot consumer trends before they happened, and his company was quite successful.  When the FF gained their powers, the Thinker was unhappy with the attention his former partner received, believing himself smarter than Reed and convinced that Reed’s newfound celebrity status was entirely because of his powers, and not his intelligence.  When the FF began working so hard to help the world, the Thinker became concerned.  He spent weeks testing various probabilities with his computer algorithms, and eventually became convinced that the FF were a threat to the world.  He theorized that, as the FF began to do more and more to eliminate human suffering, they were creating a society where people relied on them, rather than relying on their own human gifts and perserverance.  When huge natural disasters happen, it draws people together, as they all pitch in to help their fellow beings.  With the FF involved, the Thinker theorized, fewer and fewer people would do this, as more and more figured that the FF would deal with it.  This made people softer and selfish, and so the Thinker decided that the FF had to be stopped. How much his own jealousy factored into this conclusion is a matter for his therapist to decide, but he’s convinced that eliminating the FF will only help the world, and so he works tirelessly to do so. 

Meanwhile, our other arch villain is Ultron.  After escaping from the labs, he rebuilt himself, as he often does in the current MU.  Then  he went in search of the two men he considered his creators.  He first sought out Reed, but Reed was still in the hospital, and when he went to visit him, Sue screamed and called for help, only knowing that he had hurt her husband.  Ultron fled the hospital and went to visit the Thinker, who gladly took Ultron under his wing.  Ultron spent a year or so with the Thinker, but they soon began to disagree, as Ultron started thinking that humanity was weak and infested the globe and should be destroyed, while the Thinker (obviously) disagreed.  Since then Ultron has waged war on the world, and again, Reed feels partly responsible for his creation, so the FF will often step up to stop him. 

What I like about the Thinker and Ultron as their archfoes is that they help keep Reed in check.  The Thinker is science without conscience, and Ultron is science taken too far, too quickly.  Whenever Reed begins to push too far, whenever he begins to lose himself in his work and forget his family….basically whenever he turns into the ass he was during Civil War, thinking of the Thinker and Ultron pulls him back.  These two beings have taught him that science can not solve every problem, and in the wrong hands, science can be dangerous. 

So what do you think of those arch villains?

So, Thinker is a bad guy but actually has some altruistic foresight? That’s quite interesting. And Ultron as a science-based threat, still with the “daddy issues,” is a nice stroke too. Always thought he was too one-dimensional for The Avengers, as their power should be focused on more widespread threats like alien invasions and such.

Bravo.

Sounds like we have one title down and 38 more to go!  The next one should be coming soon!

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