Often referred to as Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four is one of Marvel Comics’ most popular and recognizable super teams. Having starred in video games, several animated TV series and two feature films, it’s safe to imagine that fans of the FF’s appearances in other media would be inclined to check out their four color adventures. There’s just one potential problem, though — this November, the FF celebrate their 50th anniversary with the release of “Fantastic Four” #600. That’s great for long time fans of the comic series, but that kind of history can be a little intimidating for new readers.
In February 2012, Marvel will try and remedy that with “Fantastic Four: Season One,” an original, in-continuity graphic novel by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“Stephen King’s ‘The Stand'”) and artist David Marquez (“The Magdalena,” “Secret Warriors”) which will update and re-examine the titular team’s origin and early days as a group. CBR News spoke with Aguirre-Sacasa about the project and his recent work on another Marvel-centric project, the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
Aguirre-Sacasa’s first comic book project was the 2004-2006 “4” series from Marvel’s Marvel Knights imprint. The series lasted 30 issues and was a labor of love for the writer, so when he was offered another chance to write Mister Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman, he quickly said yes.
“This came about because the editor of ‘Fantastic Four: Season One,’ Lauren Sankovitch, knows two things about me. One is she knows that I’m usually pretty busy juggling ‘The Stand’ along with my TV writing (currently “Glee”) and other projects. But Number Two is, if ever there’s an opportunity to work on the Fantastic Four she needs to call me because I would love to do it,” Aguirre-Sacasa told CBR News. “They’re my favorite characters, ’nuff said. I love their relationships and rapport. Even though I’ve gone on to do a lot of other different things at Marvel since ‘MK 4,’ that’s still probably my favorite run. It was where I cut my teeth and learned how to be a comic book writer.”
“Marvel Knights: 4” began with a financial crisis that brought the tight knit family of adventurers closer together, giving Aguirre-Sacasa many chances to play with the FF’s unique family dynamic. In “Fantastic Four: Season One,” he’ll turn back the clock to show exactly how that dynamic was established.
“We’re going back to the origin, but updating it, and fleshing it out for a contemporary audience. We meet the characters right before they go into space, and from there things move very quickly,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained. “The FF’s origin is exciting, but well-known. The challenge became, how do we make this fresh and not just a re-tread? Because of course we’re hoping longtime fans check the book out as well. So we decided to play up the reality of how they might get away with launching their rocket in this day and age. What would happen? How would they feel when it seemed like they were going to die? What would actually happen when they first realized they had these powers? We put a lot of thought into those situations and tried to make them as real and grounded — and, frankly, horrific — as possible.”
The fateful space flight that gave birth to the FF is a pivotal event in “Fantastic Four: Season One,” but it’s not the only one. Aguirre-Sacasa’s says his story is sort of a “Fantastic Four: Year One” in that it looks at a number of events from the team’s early days.
“There were two things I had in the back of my mind as I was writing this. The first was Joss Whedon’s run on ‘Astonishing X-Men,’ which I felt boiled down the characters and told emotional stories that really focused on the core group. It was very clean storytelling, unencumbered by a lot of stuff. The other was ‘All-Star Superman,’ which again felt like it distilled the mythology of these characters down and told the quintessential stories. That’s what my take on this has been as well,” the writer said. “When the Fantastic Four debuted, they weren’t living in a New York that was populated by tons of superheroes. They were the first ones.
“This takes place over several weeks. You’ll see the characters in action with and without costumes, and you’ll see their first public appearances as the Fantastic Four,” Aguirre-Sacasa continued. “Basically, you’ll see them figuring out how they’re going to be their versions of superheroes. And, as these things often go, they name themselves the Fantastic Four before they’re probably ready for the name.”
Thematically “Fantastic Four: Season One” is about how four people recover from a traumatic, life changing event and come together to form what will become the First Family of the Marvel Universe. So, at times, the dynamic between team members will be a tension-filled one.
“Throughout the graphic novel the dramatic question is, after having gone into space and come back changed, how is this family going to re-form?” Aguirre-Sacasa explained. “They had their friendships and relationships before the space flight. A lot of the graphic novel is how they’re sort of piecing themselves back together on the other side of that. Especially Reed and Ben, who blames Reed for his disfigurement.”
That piecing together will take place in a series of adventures that introduces the Fantastic Four to some of their greatest foes. “The Mole Man, Doctor Doom and Namor are all in ‘Fantastic Four: Season One,'” Aguirre-Sacasa stated. ” During ‘MK 4,’ I did a story where the team had lost their fortune and Namor approaches Sue and says, basically, ‘Listen, Reed has put your family through the wringer. You’re poor. You’re teaching. You don’t deserve this. Let me make you my underwater bride and I’ll give you the world.’
“It was a two issue arc, and when I look back at the stories I did for ‘Marvel Knights: 4’ I feel like that was the one that got away from me because I hadn’t yet completely gotten comfortable writing comic books. I’ve always wanted to go back and take another crack at Namor, also one of my favorites,” Aguirre-Sacasa continued. “I got to write a lot of the FF’s biggest rogues during my run on ‘MK:4,’ but I never did anything with the Mole Man. So when this came up I thought, ‘Great! Finally! Mole Man! Yes!”
Typically, the FF would encounter one of their villains as they explore strange, remote and otherworldly locales, but the action in “Fantastic Four: Season One” covers the team’s early days before they established themselves as the foremost explorers of the Marvel Universe.
“I’m a big fan of the fact that much of the Marvel Universe is set in New York. So these adventures are unabashedly New York-centric. There some space travel and other dimensional stuff, but for the most part it takes place in Manhattan,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained. “A lot like those first Lee-Kirby issues. For instance, in #4, Namor is a homeless guy living in the Bowery. It feels like the truly big, space opera-style adventures would be in ‘Fantastic Four: Season Two.'”
Aguirre-Sacasa has penned many comics, but “Fantastic Four: Season One” is his first original graphic novel. The scribe found writing for the format to be a different experience than what he was used to.
“When I first started working on this, Lauren said, ‘We’re not sure if this is going to come out as a miniseries or a graphic novel.’ It would, of course, be a different kind of feast if it were one big graphic novel, so I started thinking about the individual issues as chapters in a novel,” the writer remarked. “Then, after the first or second chapter, Marvel decided this was going to be a graphic novel. So I did a few revisions to the first couple of chapters, then figured out chapters three through five as more of a unit.”
Aguirre-Sacasa’s script for “Fantastic Four: Season One” is being brought to life by David Marquez, an artist whose work Marvel readers may not be familiar with yet, which suits the writer just fine. He’s used to working with undiscovered artists and feels that Marquez, like another one of his Fantastic Four collaborators, is destined for great things.
“When I first started Marvel Knights ‘4,’ the guy I was paired with was a little known artist named Steve McNiven. Copies of his pages, and I can’t even believe I’m saying this, were snail mailed to me. Not e-mailed to me, mailed to me! When I got the first envelope and opened it I was like, ‘Wow! Who the hell is this guy?'” Aguirre-Sacasa recalled. “When I accepted this assignment, Lauren said to me, ‘We’ve got this artist, David Marquez. We think he’s great.’ Then I started getting pages in from him and they’re absolutely gorgeous. Of course he has his own style, but there is a little bit of Steve McNiven in his work, a little bit of Frank Cho, another fave. David is great with both the character moments and the giant monster stuff. He’ll be drawing ‘Civil War 2’ very, very soon. You heard it here first.”
Working on “Fantastic Four: Season One” with Marquez has been a fun and refreshing change pace from Aguirre-Sacasa’s regular assignment for Marvel, an adaptation of Stephen King’s mammoth post-apocalyptic novel “The Stand.” “It’s always nice to go back to the super hero stuff for Marvel. It reminds me how much I love these characters and how much I miss writing the FF,” the writer said. “It’s great to spend some time with Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben and to be a part of that legacy again.”
The Fantastic Four aren’t the only Marvel characters Aguirre-Sacasa has recently returned to. The writer penned issues #23-40 of “Sensational Spider-Man” from 2006-2007, and earlier this year he was given the opportunity to work with Spidey again when he was brought on to help rewrite the book for the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”
“‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’ was an incredible experience. Because I’m a playwright, and because I write comic books, it was an honor to be asked to come in and help,” Aguirre-Sacasa said. “Also, it was like nothing I’ve ever worked on because it was so under a microscope, press-wise. The media reported on its every twist and turn.
“Another challenge was all the logistics we had to balance, scenic-wise, effects-wise. It’s a huge $70-plus million dollar production and a lot of major decisions had been made before I came aboard,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained. “I feel like given everything, we really did our best to honor the Spider-Man legacy. As part of the new team, we met regularly with Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley while we were working. Marvel was in the loop, Disney Theatrical was in the loop. The imperative was: Get the show more in line with what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created. We tried to bring forward those classic elements from the mythos: more Aunt May, more Uncle Ben, more Flash Thompson, more Mary Jane and more Green Goblin. Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely, but I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished.
“I also have to give a shout-out to the actors. They truly are the hardest working cast on Broadway,” Aguirre-Sacasa continued. “They rehearsed that play for months and the play kept changing on them day-to-day. That’s absolutely grueling, but they were troopers. They stayed with it the entire time and I think they’re really enjoying it now. We opened in time for summer and now they’re having a blast.”
Part of the reason the cast of “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” is having so much fun is because the “Spidey 2.0” version of the musical opened to strong reviews and is proving to be a hit with theater-goers. That success has the writer hopeful that the creative team might one day get a chance to continue Spidey’s Broadway adventure.
“This version is doing very, very well right now. I think it’s grossing around $1.8 million dollars a week and it’s one of the top three grossing musicals every week. So we’ll see what happens,” the writer remarked. “Maybe there will be an opportunity to take a swipe at doing some of the things we wanted to do, but didn’t have the time or resources to put into the current show.”