In 1963’s “Fantastic Four” #13, legendary Marvel Comics creative team Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the titular team to Uatu. A representative of the alien race know as the Watchers, Uatu was tasked with observing the events of Earth and other nearby planets, physically appearing to observe events of great consequence, though he is able to witness everything that transpires on Earth.
Of course, this means that along with watching Earth’s heroes’ greatest triumphs, he has also witnessed their secret shames. This summer, Uatu’s wealth of knowledge haunts the First Family of the Marvel Universe just as the ties the bind them begin to crumble. In “Original Sin,” the Watcher is found murdered, and every dark secret he witnessed begin to come to light. CBR News spoke with writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk, about their plans for “Fantastic Four’s” “Original Sin” tie-in arc, which begins in July’s Issue #6, and finds the Thing uncovering a dark secret his family has been keeping from him.
CBR News: “Fantastic Four” is about to tie into “Original Sin,” but in talking with other creators, I get the impression that this event allows for a different kind of tie-in in that it enables you tell a story you were going to tell anyway. Is that the case with “Fantastic Four?”
James Robinson: I think that’s not completely true in that the “Original Sin” stories I’ve written both for “Fantastic Four” and for “Invaders” are definitely stories I may not have thought of had the books not been involved in “Original Sin. But what is fair to say is, as opposed to tie-ins where you really are part of the big story, like “Fear Itself,” where everything involved the ongoing attacks of the Serpent and the Worthy, with this, once the characters have learned what their particular “original sins” are, the book goes off in it’s own direction and you can tell that story. So while they do tie in to “Original Sin,” these are definitely very reader friendly crossovers in that they’re not really crossovers. They’re specific to each title, character and book.
As a whole, the “Original Sin” tie-ins deal with dark secrets of the past coming to light in the present. What can you tell us about the secret that returns to haunt “Fantastic Four?”
Robinson: Basically, the Thing, who is at ground zero when the event that kicks off “Original Sin” happens, learns that his one chance of being cured was inadvertently destroyed by Johnny. It’s a secret that Johnny has kept from Ben, and that Reed has helped keep from Ben. So although it’s a tie-in to “Original Sin,” it will help to estrange the group even more, in the way that I’m doing at the moment. It’s a story in itself, but it will also add the bigger picture of the Fantastic Four as they go their separate ways
So it’s a way to escalate the story you guys kicked off in Issue #1 of this new volume, with the familial bonds that hold the FF together under clandestine assault by an unknown force.
Leonard Kirk: Yes — stuff really starts to hit the fan around this time. It’s already building up. We have some pretty big hits coming up for the FF in Issues #3 and #4. That’s when things also start to crumble on a personal level for the family. By the time you get to Issues #6 and #7, that’s where the rifts in the group really start to explode.
Ben and Johnny’s friendship is one of the core relationships of the Fantastic Four. What’s your sense of that friendship? Why do you think Ben and Johnny ended up being so close?
Robinson: When you have a dynamic where there’s a little brother or big brother that’s pestering you, there’s always love there, and that’s what these two are.
I was speaking with someone in another interview and they were trying to quantify what the Fantastic Four were. They were saying things like Reed Richards is the brain of the team, and I remember them saying that Sue was the heart of the team. I don’t agree with that. I think Ben Grimm is the heart of the team. He certainly has the biggest heart. He really is a gentle giant; we’ve always known that about him. Of course he’s going to care about this young hotshot and perhaps see a little bit of himself in him when he was younger, before he became the Thing. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the sense of betrayal he feels after learning what Johnny did, and where that takes him and the future of the Fantastic Four.
This information is coming to light at a bad time for both Johnny, who has lost his powers, and Reed, who’s started to doubt himself.
Robinson: Yes, absolutely. Then, bad things are going to happen to Ben almost immediately. When the secret comes out, everybody is in a bad place.
Will Sue have a significant role to play in this story?
Robinson: Everyone has roles to play in this larger story. Her’s is not necessarily in “Original Sin,” although she will be in those issues.
Is the revelation that comes to light the central plot and conflict of the story, or is it just the latest bombshell in a series of revelations?
Robinson:There’s a ground zero event that kicks off “Original Sin,” and the Thing is present at it. We pick up almost immediately afterwards in “Fantastic Four.” Like we discussed, this story is part of our big story. The thing about “Fantastic Four” is, we have multiple plots going on all at once. The “Original Sin” stuff is one of the plots. There are other plots involving other characters, and other villains as well.
Is this a story that happens strictly in the present? Or will we get a flashback that shows exactly what happened with Johnny and what he destroyed?
Robinson: Oh, yeah. There will be flashback images of the FF, in their original blue costumes. Fans who don’t like the red costumes will have a moment’s reward for sticking with the book.
Leonard, stylistically speaking, what are some of the ways you like to handle flashbacks?
Kirk: It depends. There’s a flashback in Issue #3 of Johnny thinking back to a time when he was battling Asbestos Man and sort of chuckling to himself about how ridiculous some of his adventures were.
It really depends, though, on how the flashback is supposed to fit into the story. If it’s a basic, simple narrative, I might draw it the same way I draw anything else, but maybe set it apart in terms of how I draw the edges and borders of the panels. If it’s something else that blends directly into what somebody is thinking at the moment, I might bring that character into the flashback or make the scene look a bit more ethereal and dreamy. It really depends on how it’s written. I try to make it fit whatever the writer wants to put in there.
Let’s talk a little bit about your takes on the main cast, starting with the Thing. Which aspects of the character do you really want to emphasize and capture in your depictions of him?
Kirk: Ben is one of those characters that’s the most fun to draw, but at times the most difficult, just because you want to be able to get expression from him and you also want to keep a certain level of consistency. So Ben is a bit tricky.
I focus on making him big and lumbering. I’ve noticed that some other artists have tendency to give Ben average height; somewhere in the neighborhood of six feet. I’ve decided that I like the idea of making him a bit bigger than that, keeping him huge and broad. I’ve carried that over to things like the redesign of the Fantasticar, where if you look closely at Ben’s section, you’ll notice the controls and the seat are giant-sized to accommodate his proportions.
In terms of the character of Ben himself, I wanted place some emphasis on him as a pilot. Everybody goes on and on about him being a big bruiser that clobbers stuff, but before the incident that turned him into the Thing, he was an ace fighter and test pilot. I mentioned to James that maybe when the Fantasticar separates, his section is purposefully designed to look more like a fighter plane than any other segment of the car.
I was telling James that I would like to focus some on that, and asked if he could write some scenes at some point in story where Ben pulls some “Top Gun”-style flying stunts. I always liked that aspect of the character in addition to everything else, but we don’t see a lot of focus on that in a lot of the other series.
How are you approaching Johnny Storm, especially now that he lost his powers?
Kirk: With Johnny, I just like drawing him as a youthful guy. James made a couple references early on that Johnny is usually wearing something stylish when he’s not in costume, and in the first couple of issues we establish that he’s starting his singing career. We think of him sort of like a Justin Timberlake-type character. That’s sort of where I was going in terms of his design and with his hair. It’s not the same as Timberlake’s, but it’s stylish and it’s the same with some of his clothes.
Beyond that, we’re only starting to get into some of what’s going to happen with Johnny. He just lost his powers, so he’s going to start to focus more on his music career and how that affects his life. There really isn’t much going on in that direction in Issues #3 and #4 though because the FF are into more clobbering and fighting and Manhattan is basically being leveled. So he’s a little bit too busy at the moment to focus on getting anything done in the recording studio.
What’s it like drawing Reed Richards, now that’s he started to lose his confidence?
Kirk: Reed, typically, is the one with all the answers, so it’s unusual. When some of the stuff happens over the course of the next year, Reed is going to be like a deer caught in headlights. He’s going to realize how much of what seems to be going wrong seems to be pointing more in his direction. He’s just going to be stuck there, trying to figure out not only how to solve things, but how did he screw up along the way? He starts to wonder how on Earth could he be responsible for some of the stuff that’s happening, to the point where he does begin to doubt himself, I think, much more so than he has in the past. This is something that he hasn’t really gone through a lot.
In terms of drawing, I basically just treat him as any other character going through something like that. As I start to think about certain panels that I’ve already drawn, though, it kind of hits me that we haven’t really seen Reed depicted like this a lot of times, so it is going to stand out a bit. The finger of everyone is really going to start eventually pointing to Reed; not only people outside the FF, but people within the FF as well. That’s going to add to the split between the group.
Sue always seems like she’s sort of the emotional bedrock of the family, and with everything that’s going on, she’s dealing with a lot of intense emotional things.
Kirk:Yes, she’s sort of the bedrock, but because she’s the bedrock, she’s showing concern and support for basically everyone. When a number of the other characters start to fall inwards and focus on their own concerns, Sue, of course, is the one that’s looking at all of them.
So, yeah, she’s definitely overwhelmed, because she’s going to be focusing on Reed’s problems, Ben’s problems, Johnny’s problems and all the kids’ problems. I don’t think she’ll have a lot of time to focus on her own issues, because those are her issues. We’ll hit on some of that starting at the end of Issue #4 and going into Issue #5.
What kinds of roles will the supporting cast have in the story?
Robinson: As the team splinters, you’re going to see some involvement from Namor and Wyatt Wingfoot, and a lot of involvement from Alicia Masters. She’s a big part of the things that happen to Ben. We’re even going to see a little bit of involvement from Doctor Doom and Valeria.
It feels like New York City is also a major supporting player in “Fantastic Four” these days. Leonard, what’s it like bringing the city to life?
Kirk: New York is tricky, because so much of the Marvel U is set there. There are times when you can fake it, because there are sections where a lot of the buildings are somewhat similar, but there are other areas that have to be recognizable. That can be kind of tough, especially when you’re blending fictitious elements like Avengers Tower and the Baxter Building in a big cityscape with other recognizable buildings, like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the almost completed FreedomTower.
Incorporating a lot of that can be difficult, but one thing that’s really helped and not just with Manhattan, but with drawing various locations in general, is Google Maps. Google Maps is absolutely awesome! Because I’ve had other scripts that are so detailed to the point of saying, “I would like you to draw this burger joint that’s located at 7th and 42nd” or something like that. Before, it was like, what the heck? Now, I can type in the address, get the street view, turn it around, and there’s the burger joint. [Laughs] I just print out a picture of that and I then I have everything I need.
That’s been very, very helpful for drawing certain aspects of Manhattan. Plus, I’ve been to New York a few times. Unfortunately, I can’t rely a lot on my memory, so Google has definitely become a best friend to most comic book artists at one time or another.
I don’t have anything against New York, I love it, but there are times I enjoy ripping the hell out of it. [Laughs] We’ve already seen that in the first couple of issues, with those little demon like creatures flying around. We’re going to see a lot more buildings smashed, streets torn up and lots of smoke and debris flying around. So yeah, Manhattan is going to suck for a while. [Laughs]
Overall, it sounds like the “Original Sin” tie-in is where the larger story you’re telling really starts to boil over. Is #6 new reader friendly for folks who may have missed the opening chapters of this new volume and are looking for a good jumping on point?
Robinson:Very much so. I’m trying to make the book very new reader friendly. Even though I’m referring to the Fantastic Four’s past, I want to make it so new readers who haven’t read the book in forever, or have never read the book, can really get engaged by the story.
I’m excited about this story. It will definitely send Ben, Johnny and also Reed, to a degree, off in different directions. I think it serves as a great story and as an excellent springboard for the book’s main drama as it unfolds in the issues that follow.
Kirk: I’m thrilled to be drawing this book — I still don’t know if it’s hit me yet that I am drawing this title. I’ve drawn a number of titles and I’ve drawn these characters before in others books, but I wasn’t sure, at first, which particular Fantastic Four series I would be drawing. When I asked my editor, Mark Paniccia, if I’d be drawing the main FF book and he said yes, it was like “WOAH!” It really just came out of the blue. I was stunned, in a very pleasant way.
I’m also really thrilled to be working with James again. The last time we worked together on anything was about ten years ago. It was my last project with DC before I went over to Marvel — a “Batman” and “Detective Comics” cross over. That was a lot of fun, and James and I have been looking for something to work together on since then.
I’ve worked with Mark several times as well. I worked with him way back when Malibu was still around and I was drawing “Deep Space 9.” Mark was my editor on that. So it was really cool to work with both him and James again.
I’m very flattered over how my name got tossed into the hat for this, too, because I certainly wasn’t the only artist they were thinking about for this new volume. What happened was, Mark and James were having conversations about potential artists. At one point, James said, “There’s another name I would like to throw in there.” Mark asked, “Leonard?” And James said, “Yeah!” They apparently both came up with my name at the same time. I was really very flattered and thrilled when I heard that.
It’s a bit intimidating, going on a book like this, but at the same time, it’s really cool to know that everyone else involved has my back and I have that kind of support. That makes the work that much more fun.