Ancient cultures used to devise complex and exciting mythologies about their gods and heroes that were full of drama, pathos, and adventure. When the first superhero comics were published in the 1930s and ’40s, this tradition was revived. Like the myths of old, the best superhero tales were ones that let readers experience intense and amazing adventures while also giving insight into the truths about humanity.
One of the most respected new modern day myths is the origin story of the Fantastic Four, created by legendary Marvel Comics team Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Exciting, poignant, and beautifully told, Stan and Jack’s stories of Marvel’s first family are forever reflective of the 1960s — and while the FF’s early adventures are fun to revisit, more new readers come to comics every day for a modern look at superheroes. What if Stan and Jack’s ideas were inserted into that modern day sensibility? What would that look like? How would that affect the FF?
In Fantastic Four: Season One,” writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (“Marvel Knights 4,” “Avengers Origins: Ant-Man & the Wasp”) and artist David Marquez (“Secret Warriors,” “The Magdalena”) attempt to bring a modern sensibility to the classic origin story with an original graphic novel aimed at new readers. Aguirre-Sacasa provides CBR with some insight into the pivotal pages from the book’s first chapter, which features an introduction to Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Sue Storm and Johnny Storm and the accidental exposure to cosmic rays which turns them into heroes.
SPOILER ALERT: THE FOLLOWING COMMENTARY TRACK CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST CHAPTER OF “FANTASTIC FOUR: SEASON ONE,” IN STORES NOW.
CBR News: Roberto, the first moment of “Fantastic Four: Season One” gives each member of the FF one-word descriptors of heart, mind, body, and soul. How do these particular designations describe your cast and how do these roles differ?
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: This page is a direct homage to the first page of “Fantastic Four” #1, where Jack and Stan literally announce, “Here they come.” I believe in the original, it has their real names and their Fantastic Four code names. We didn’t want to do that because in our story they’re not the Fantastic Four yet. Although it seemed to me that the FF are often described in terms of the four elements — fire, air, earth, and water — it also occurred to me that you could describe the these characters using the terms heart, mind, body, and soul.
To me, Sue Storm has always been the heart of the team. She’s my favorite character and my favorite member of the Fantastic Four. When things begin, she’s sort of like the big sister and later on she’s like the mom because of Franklin and Valeria. Reed is clearly the mind because he’s the super smart one. Then you get down to body and soul and in a weird way the Thing could be the body because he’s made of rocks. In “Fantastic Four: Season One,” though, Johnny is a model. He’s very vain. He’s sort of an intensification of the Human Torch we all know and love. It felt like if he had a nickname it would be Johnny “The Body” Storm. [Laughs]
Ben gets the short straw and is trapped by his powers while everyone else seems to be freed by theirs. Throughout the graphic novel, he has the more emotional and soulful struggle. So I definitely saw a way in which Ben is the soul and Johnny is the body.
At the bottom of the page we get a glimpse of Sue Storm’s female friends. Are these established Marvel characters or new characters that you created for this story?
We’ll see these gal pals throughout the graphic novel, but they’re new characters that we created to flesh out our supporting cast.
So, the character “Trish” isn’t Trish Tilby, the Marvel Universe’s TV reporter at large?
[Laughs] She’s not, but you’re not the first person to think that.
Reed Richards is interacting with Alyssa Moy, a character introduced by Chris Claremont in 1998 and more recently appeared in Mark Millar’s run of “Fantastic Four.” What was the impetus to include Alyssa in “Season One?”
There were a couple of reasons. One, I think she’s a great character. I love the work that Mark Millar did with her on his run of “Fantastic Four.” The second is since Reed and Sue aren’t yet married in “Fantastic Four: Season One,” I thought it would be good to give Reed a foil and potentially develop a small love triangle between Reed, Alyssa and Sue. I thought it would spice things up a little bit.
One of the ideas behind “Fantastic Four: Season One” was to think of it as the first season of a Fantastic Four television show. In a first season you want to get as many pieces on the chessboard as you can so you have them to play with. So I thought, “Hmm — a lady scientist who is as smart as Reed and is kind of the odd character out once Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben go into space and she stays behind. She could be an interesting character both in this “Season One” story. If there were further volumes she could become even more interesting because one of things she says in “Season One” is: “I want to study everything about you and find out as much information as I can about your new powers.” If she knows all the secrets of the Fantastic Four, she’ll have some pretty valuable files. It makes her a character that’s both on the inside and outside of their world.
At the top of this page, we’re introduced to Jackie’s gym and a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jack Kirby. Are the character’s likeness and the name of the gym a deliberate homage to Kirby?
Yes, that is correct. You’ll notice the comic book that the Jack character is reading is “Namor.” Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing?
We also get a first glance at Ben Grimm — it seems like even before his transformation he’s a haunted man with a lot on his mind.
Yes, that’s right. He’s down on his luck. That’s why he says some of the best things in his life are his friendships with Reed and Sue, which is part of the reason he agrees to their cockamamie plan to go into space.
Also, there’s a sense that he hasn’t completely fulfilled the promise of his college years. You see that David put him in an Empire U shirt. I think that suggests the greatest years of his life were his college years.
The introduction of Johnny Storm makes it seem like he’s much older than in the original “Fantastic Four” origin. Is he still a teenager in “Season One?”
No. I would say he’s about 20, but his personality is still extremely adolescent. So he’s a little bit older.
Johnny was a teenager when he was first introduced but I feel like he entered his early ’20s very quickly and has stayed there for most of his existence. So I thought aging him a little made sense. Also it allowed us to tell some saucier stories with Johnny that we couldn’t do if he was jailbait. [Laughs] If he was in his early 20’s, we could have a little more fun with him as a sex symbol and public heartthrob.
Johnny’s career as a model is interesting, considering he seems to be a character many people judge solely on looks.
Right. In the original “Fantasic Four,” the first time we meet Johnny is as a mechanic. He’s fixing a hot rod. So I felt like for this it would be really fun if he was doing a photo shoot as a hotrod mechanic. So it’s a fun nod to the original and it’s a little poppier and more unexpected.
While Reed’s shuttle is in flight, Alyssa comments on how he and his friends have launched the first privately owned, financed, and designed excursion into space. Will there be any repercussions from government or corporate entities later in “Fantastic Four: Season One?”
In the second chapter, Reed and Alyssa implement a big cover up to hide the crash. Plus I believe I was writing this when the most recent and final space shuttle launch happened and I thought, “What a great distraction! Everyone is watching the space shuttle launch.” So that’s when Reed launches his shuttle to take advantage of everyone’s diverted attention and sneak out under the radar.
During this discussion between Reed and Sue, it seems Reed is much more open with the way he feels about her than in the original early issues of “Fantastic Four.”
Yeah, in those early issues of the “Fantastic Four,” Sue is so marginalized and Reed is almost patronizing when he talks to her. Part of that was the time period and part of it was the character. If this was an ongoing series where we had 30 issues to slowly develop Reed and Sue’s love affair, I think I would have started Reed in a much more detached, intellectual, and guarded way with Sue.
Since we’re trying to tell a complete story with “Season One,” it felt like we had to cut into their relationship a little bit deeper and have him be more open so this graphic novel could be a love story for them. Then, if we get a chance to do sequels to this story, maybe “Fantastic Four: Season Three” would be the wedding of Sue and Reed.
In this scene, the members of the FF begin their transformations into their super powered selves. Earlier, Sue wished she could become invisible — was this an indication of a psychological component to the FF’s powers?
I would say it’s more a case of “be careful what you wish for.” I don’t think it signifies any more than that. I don’t think there’s some higher force choosing which member gets a certain power. There is a sense, though, that it is kind of fated. There’s the irony that Ben feels weighed down by his past and then becomes the Thing, but that’s all just icing on the cake. It’s not really the point.
Although Johnny is portrayed as very self-involved earlier in the book, his first reaction after his transformation is concern for Sue and Ben, which seems to speak volumes about his true character.
That’s right. To me, the fun thing about Johnny in this moment is that as soon as he realizes his fiery form doesn’t hurt him and he’s not burning away he immediately rolls with it. So while this scene does show his concern, it also shows how he glides through life and goes with the flow of things.
This is a pretty striking ending shot. We know the FF will eventually get together and become heroes, but this page has the feel of an alternate universe where Ben murderously clobbers his friends in a fit of rage.
Absolutely. We wanted to give Ben a great introduction and originally I thought we might have Ben look down at his hands and watch them transform from human into the Thing’s hands. Another idea was to have Ben walking through the woods and we don’t see what he looks like. It’s from his perspective and he sees a deer that looks at him and then sprints away in horror. I went through a couple of ideas, but it felt like ultimately the scene with the most visual impact was what we did here, a huge reveal of the Thing.
For “Fear Itself,” I did a three-page origin story. There were short origin tales for all the characters involved that tapped into the fear or anger that was within them. I did the one for the Thing and it was exactly what you described, which is after the crash everyone is transformed, Ben is furious and he kills off the Fantastic Four in a fit of murderous rage. So that was definitely in my creative unconscious.
Wrapping up, any final thoughts to share about working on this book? Any hints or teases about what readers can expect from the book’s later chapters?
It was really great to work on this book. Lauren Sankovitch, my editor, kept making me go deeper and deeper. She would say things to me like, “What would Sue really think if she saw Reed all stretched out in a way that made it look like he had been killed and all his bones had been pulverized? What would she do if he then jumped back to life? She would freak out even more. She would not want him to touch her.” All those things felt emotionally true.
What’s also exciting about this, besides the fact that Marvel put it out as a graphic novel, is that up through this first chapter it’s pretty much the origin of the FF. There’s some embellishments, tweaks and adjustments, but it’s still the origin. So from Chapter Two on, the story will start moving in a bunch of cool, hopefully surprising directions. We accelerate into adversaries like Namor and the Mole Man and a bunch of other stuff. So it feels like we got the nuts and bolts of the story done in the first chapter and now we can really have some fun.
Plus, David’s art is so beautiful. Getting to see it in this nice graphic novel packaging is very cool. When I got David’s pages, the line work, the expressions and the subtlety were all as good as the pages I got from Steve McNiven — though of course they’re very different artists — when we were working on “Marvel Knights 4.” It’s just breathtaking stuff.
“Fantastic Four: Season One” is on sale now.