The road trip is a classic family outing. It’s also an outing that can produce a variety of outcomes. It can bring you closer to your family or make you upset with them. It can also lead to some exciting moments and some excruciatingly boring ones. When the Fantastic Four, the First Family of the Marvel Universe, embark on their own version of a road trip all these outcomes are possible, except for the very last one. That’s because when the Fantastic Four head out on a road trip it’s not just to see one area or portion of a country. Their road trips take them all over time and space. Writer Matt Fraction and artist Mark Bagley began prepping that road trip in the debut issue of their new Marvel NOW! series “Fantastic Four,” on sale now.
The Fantastic Four have responsibilities to both to the world and the youthful members of their other organization, the Future Foundation. So if they are off planet (or dimension) for a while they need to appoint four heroes to oversee their responsibilities while they’re gone. On November 28, Fraction kicks off his other Marvel NOW! series, “FF,” where artist Mike Allred will join him to chronicle the adventures of a new fantastic foursome who are overseeing things while the First Family of the Marvel Universe are gone. Comic Book Resources spoke with Fraction about his plans for both titles.
The Fantastic Four have made brief appearances in some of Fraction’s other titles such as 2009’s “Utopia” crossover between “Uncanny X-Men” and “Dark Avengers” and the line-wide 2011 event “Fear Itself.” The writer enjoyed penning those appearances, but was initially hesitant when Marvel approached him about taking over “Fantastic Four” and “FF” following writer Jonathan Hickman’s run on the titles.
“At first I didn’t think I’d do it,” Fraction told CBR News “Then I thought about it for awhile and kind of figured out how I could do a take that wasn’t like Jon [Hickman’s] stuff and in a way that excited me to actually write it. So it was one of those things I came around to as I sort of found my way in.”
Fraction’s take on the “Fantastic Four” began to emerge when he started to really think about the characters and the larger roles they play in the Marvel Universe. “I think there’s a reason why these characters are the foundation stones of the Marvel Universe. I think their powers are very representative of who and what they are and why they work,” the writer explained. “I also think there’s something very elemental about who they are. Part of the fun is writing to that and against that — sort of spinning against the drive of the way these characters go. I think there’s something to be said about the fact that they’re a family, both literally and metaphorically.
“Plus, I like that they’re explorers and adventurers. I’m trying to embrace that. They’re an astronaut family.”
That family includes the titular team’s four adult members and the two children of Reed and Sue Richards, Franklin and Valeria, who will also play a large role in Fraction’s “Fantastic Four” run. “This series is about four adults, two children, and all of time and space. I’m locking them all in the car for a year and we’ll see what happens,” Fraction remarked. “I’ve got my own kids so that’s obviously coming out in the writing. The whole thrust of ‘Fantastic Four,’ though, is about the things a family does for its kids. It’s about Reed and Sue wanting to spend more time with their family as a family, if that makes sense. So they kind of take this family road trip, but it’s a very Fantastic Four-style family road trip.”
Fraction’s road trip story line was inspired by the exploits of a real life First Family, that of former Maine Governor Angus Young. “After he left office his family got an RV and the kids wrote blogs and they home schooled the kids on the road for awhile, which just sounded like an amazing way to spend a year. So part of this is wish fulfillment, part is admiration. What a great notion for a Fantastic Four story,” Fraction remarked. “This lets us run with the astronaut family idea to its fullest, but it’s also bit of a challenge because the Marvel Universe is our universe. So there’s nothing necessarily pioneering about walking on the moon in the Marvel Universe. So you have to find bigger, more imaginative things than that.”
Thankfully time and interstellar travel are a reality in the Marvel U, which allows Fraction to give the Fantastic Four’s trip the largest possible scope. “This will be a trip through time and space. So they’re going to watch the Big Bang and the Big Crunch. They’re going to find new worlds and meet new races. It’s all new experiences. They’ll have lunch with Caesar on the Ides of March and explore new times. We’ll have all sorts of new stuff. I want every issue to be a brand new adventure.
“I’m using this as a book to create new characters, concepts and settings, with one notable exception. I want ‘Fantastic Four’ to be about traveling and inventing new stuff as quickly as I can think of it,” Fraction continued. “I can’t say much about the adversaries and supporting characters the FF will meet in their travels without spoiling things, but I want to tell stories that are true to the original spirit of the book; where they are scientists and astronauts and they meet both friendly and wicked races and deal with science fiction concepts and the family dynamic.”
The combo of science fiction concepts and family dynamics means the cast of “Fantastic Four” will become embroiled in grand, exciting adventures with heart — all things veteran artist Mark Bagley is a master at depicting. “It’s a little intimidating to work with Mark. He’s a very nice guy and a Southern Gentlemen. Plus, he’s a doting father and grandfather who’s drawn some of my favorite Marvel Comics of the last 10 years and I’m entirely terrified by him,” Fraction remarked. “It’s weird to be writing for someone of whom you are a huge fan. I can also relax though, because I know anything I write he’ll be able to handle. There’s nothing I can do that he won’t be able to draw.”
Fraction also finds collaborating with his artist on “FF,” Mike Allred, slightly intimidating. “Mike was the first pro who was ever awesome to me at a convention. His treatment of me there is my model of how to interact with fans at a convention. He made me feel like more than just an annoying kid getting an autograph. So aside from enjoying his work I’ve carried that,” Fraction said of his collaborator. “I’ve worked with him before and it was kind of nerve wracking because I’ve had this kind of personal debt in my mind to him. It is a delight and pleasure to get to know him as a person and an artist though, and to try and write an awesome Mike Allred comic that a Mike Allred fan would want to read.”
Fraction’s collaboration with Allred on “FF” and his plans for the book grew out of his initial discussions about “Fantastic Four.” “The ‘FF’ title worked. It was a solid moving book and nobody wanted to get rid of it because there were clearly enough stories to tell,” the writer stated. “Plus it certainly made sense that if I was going to be doing new Fantastic Four stories with the classic Four in one book, the other half of that equation would be a new FF with the members of the Future Foundation but use all the classic rogues in that title. So Future Foundation is really about the world of the Fantastic Four with these four newcomers in the center of it.”
Those four newcomers are each chosen by a member of the Fantastic Four to serve in their place while the family is off on their trip. Reed Richards’ selection, Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man, is a character Fraction got to briefly write in his recent “Defenders” series.
“I’ve always liked Ant-Man. I liked the idea of a middle aged ex-con, broke down, ex-super hero dad mourning the loss of his daughter, Cassie [who died in “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade”]. That was not a super hero I’ve seen before and I had been pitching an Ant-Man series before we realized he was a great fit for ‘FF,'” Fraction explained. “As the shape of ‘Fantastic Four’ became the Richards family in time and space and ‘FF’ as everything they left behind it became more and more clear that Scott was a good fit for stewardship. He’s a scientist and he’s broken. He’s a friend of Reed’s and Reed is thinking in some Vulcanish Spock kind of way that the way to fix Scott’s broken heart is to get him around more kids.”
Sue Richards chose Queen Medusa of the Royal Family of Inhumans whose ability to psychokinetically manipulate her superhumanly strong hair allows her to do many things at once “With Medusa I just thought about who and what Sue is. She’s a hero, an adventurer, a warrior, a queen, a wife, a sister, a mother,” Fraction stated. “I’ve watched all the things that my wife does and it seems like she has eight arms at once. So Medusa just seemed like a natural for a super hero-adventurer-mom. Also, Sue is almost the queen of the Marvel Universe. So if she had a replacement it would have to be royalty.”
The Thing’s chosen replacement has actually filled in for him before, Jennifer Walters AKA She-Hulk. “Ben Grimm would want somebody strong, reliable and pure of heart. He would bring in somebody he could never whup — because he was raised to not hit girls,” Fraction said. “Plus, Jen has a connection with the Fantastic Four and that legacy connection made sense.”
The Human Torch’s choice, a woman who will come to be known as Miss Thing, is a little more unconventional than the candidates put forward by his family members. “As I was sketching out my pitch Brian Bendis gave me a great idea and I had to take it. It was that Johnny would forget to come up with a replacement and would just ask his girlfriend,” Fraction said with a laugh. “So the idea of like Katy Perry as a new member of the Fantastic Four stuck with me. That gives you somebody who is completely fabulous outside of the Baxter Building, but on the inside she’s the new kid and the normal one. She’s the lens through which we view the rest of the series.
“My editor Tom Brevoort remembered the old Roy Thomas-George Perez Thing suit that Ben Grimm wore when he was depowered,” Fraction continued. “Then the image at the top of a little Katy Perry head poking up from a big Ben Grimm suit wouldn’t leave us. So it all kind of fell together. It was as much a unique, weird mishmash as the original Fantastic Four were.”
The new Fantastic Four of “FF” will end up getting more than they bargained for thanks to some unexpected and mysterious complications with the original team’s trip through time and space. “The gag is the Fantastic Four have a time machine so they’re supposed to be back four minutes after they left. They choose this replacement Fantastic Four just in case something happens in those four minutes, but then of course they don’t come back,” Fraction explained. “So that’s sort of the inspiration for our Future Foundation ‘FF’ title. They say, ‘We’ll be back in four minutes and then they never return.
The disappearance of the original Fantastic Four means the replacement team will have to pick up a number of responsibilities like caring for the youthful members of the Fantastic Four sponsored think tank, the Future Foundation. “The kids are a big part of this book. They’re not going anywhere,” Fraction stated. “Dragon Man, the Future Foundation’s sort of care taker, plays a vital role in ‘FF’ as well. I’ve noticed that he’s always reading newspapers. I have an idea that in a year and a half we’ll see that he’ll have been reading ‘The Wall Street Journal’ because he’s been playing the stock market and is actually a billionaire.”
The title characters of “FF” will also have to contend with the same dangers and adversaries the original Fantastic Four confront on a regular basis. “Suddenly they’re the Fantastic Four and the world looks to them. Old bad guys come out of the wood work and take shots at them,” Fraction remarked. “Plus they have these kids to take care of and they have to solve the mystery of where the hell the original FF went. Then to top it all off a very old, half crazy Johnny Storm comes back. He’s 60 years old and he destroys the device through which the FF travelled and says, ‘We can never open this door again.’ So they have to deal with a crazed Johnny Storm who won’t tell them what happened in time and space, but he knows. And he’s come back to make sure the Fantastic Four never return.”
The chaos caused by the Fantastic Four’s disappearance will bewilder some of the title characters of “FF,” but others may see opportunities. Ant-Man, for example, hasn’t forgotten the role the villainous Doctor Doom played in the death of his daughter Cassie Lang AKA Stature. “If people read the recent ‘Marvel Now!: Point One’ anthology we foreshadowed Scott’s ultimate goal for the Future Foundation,” Fraction said. “He wants to use them to put an end to Doom.”
When Fraction’s run on “FF” and “Fantastic Four” begins both books will be tied together, but readers won’t have to read one to enjoy the other. Those that read both books though will be treated to two different and occasionally interconnected stories about family dynamics and the weirdness and wonder of the Marvel Universe.
“One book is about the family that you’re born with. The other is about the family that you’re stuck with,” Fraction said. “My goal is to tell stories with big super hero and science fiction ideas and plenty of heart. I would love to tell stories that could be described as something like ‘The Incredibles’ meets ‘Doctor Who.’ That’s a terrific goal. It’s an impossible bar to leap over, but there you go.”
“Fantastic Four” #1 is on sale now, and “FF” #1 goes on sale tomorrow.