In 1961’s “Fantastic Four” #1 legendary Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced readers to a new type of super hero group. The FF were essentially a family of adventurers and explorers. Their heroic natures meant they often battled villains looking to exploit, manipulate and destroy the various sentient beings of the Marvel Universe, but their primary purpose was to seek out and discover the weird, wondrous and sometimes frightening aspects of the Marvel U.
That heroic tradition lives on today in the current Marvel NOW! volumes of “Fantastic Four” and its sister series “FF,” both written by Matt Fraction. Fraction and artist Mark Bagley kicked off the new volume of “Fantastic Four” by sending the titular team and the two young children of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman on a “road trip” through time and space. In “FF” Fraction and artist Mike Allred are chronicling the adventures of the substitute team of heroes that took over the classic Fantastic Four’s responsibilities while they’re away: the reformed thief and electronics expert known as Ant-Man; the classic emerald hued She-Hulk; Medusa, the Queen of the Inhumans; and pop star turned exoskeleton-powered super hero Ms. Thing.
In the upcoming months these two quartets will come face to face with some of the Fantastic Four’s deadliest foes. CBR News spoke with Fraction about his plans for both books which include an investigation of the day that transformed Victor Von Doom into the megalomaniacal super villain known as Doctor Doom, as well as a confrontation with a new incarnation of the villainous group known as the Frightful Four.
The Fantastic Four are using a space ship capable of traveling through time for their “road trip” so the original itinerary for their trip had them gone only four minutes, but days have passed in the pages of “FF” and Marvel’s First Family still hasn’t returned from their journey. Several days after that a person appearing to be an older Johnny Storm emerged from a time portal claiming that his family had perished during trip.
While the casts of “Fantastic Four” and “FF” may be on separate journeys, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be links between the two titles. In “Fantastic Four” #6-7 the team battled their old foe Blastaar, the Living Bomb Burst and at the end of issue #7 they deposited the defeated villain back into his home dimension, the Negative Zone. That dimension will soon be the backdrop for a confrontation between the substitute Fantastic Four and a new incarnation of the group’s classic villainous counterpart, the Frightful Four, a team which Blastaar is a part of.
“I’m using him in both books because he is kind of a cool classic character and he’s one of those characters that can be in all of those places believably. Ultimately though Blastaar’s appearances are a quiet way to remind everybody that these two books are tied together. There’s a master plan, and one book influences the other in subtle ways,” Fraction told CBR News. “It’s not in a way that penalizes you for reading one over the other, but if you are reading them both you’ll start to see the lattice work of these books coming through.”
Blastaar is the vicious former monarch of a planet known as Baluur so he’s used to giving orders or acting on his own, but the Living Bomb Blast also recognizes the value of working with groups like the Frightful Four. “I think anybody can understand that a twig snaps easily on it’s own, but if you bundle a bunch of twigs together they’re harder to break,” Fraction explained. “Plus he’s been part of the Frightful Four before. So bringing him into this new version of the group was a nod to the past, and putting a new version of the group together was a chance to do a story about a weird family.”
Blastaar’s teammate, Medusa is another character with ties to past incarnations of the Frightful Four. The revelation that she was part of the latest line up of the nefarious group had many readers worried that she had betrayed her teammates on the FF and the youthful members of the Future Foundation they watched over. In “FF” #5, readers caught a glimpse of how Medusa looked through the super powered sight of her niece, Luna, suggesting the Inhumans’ Queen isn’t entirely herself right now.
“Medusa made her comics debut not as a member of the Inhumans, but as a member of the Frightful Four. So the Wizard has controlled her before. She has an established vulnerability to him, which also explains some of her actions in the previous issues,” Fraction stated. “That’s kind of deep back issue stuff, but it gave me a chance to pay homage and lovingly acknowledge the history of the book. At the same time we get to tell this new story. And it really complicates things going forward — how can we trust you?”
Rounding out the membership of the new Frightful are the group’s founder, the Wizard and his young clone Bentley, who was part of the Future Foundation before his abduction d by the other members of the Frightful Four in “FF” #5. “Bentley is his young clone/son, and the Wizard really wants a family. He’s trying to build a family through coercion, abduction and violence,” Fraction said with a laugh. “Those actions will force Scott [Scott Lang AKA Ant-Man] to confront his greatest fear head on. Scott’s lost one of the kids he was put in charge of and and everything has gone off the rails. He’s got no other recourse now but to either curl up into a ball and cry, or go rescue his kid.”
Bentley’s abduction is especially frightening for Ant-Man because the hero is still having a difficult time dealing with the passing of his daughter Cassie Lang (AKA the size changing heroine known as Stature) who died during the “Avengers: The Childrens Crusade” mini-series. In “FF” #6 readers saw him try to shake off a nightmare he had about his late daughter. “In the issue you saw him recall some of the elements of his nightmare while he awake,” Fraction explained. “So he’s not delusional. He’s lost his daughter and that’s weighing on him. Understandably so.”
Bentley’s abduction came right around the time the Future Foundation was adding a new member to their ranks, Ahura the son of Medusa and her husband, Black Bolt. Fraction brought the troubled teen into the book because of what he added to the larger dynamic of the Future Foundation. “Ahura is the dangerous boy that comes to class and causes all sorts of chemical reactions. For instance we’re starting to see cliques happen amongst the kids,” Fraction said. “And if there’s one thing that I think ‘FF’ needs it’s more kids.”
Ahura, the rest of the Future Foundation, and their adult, super powered protectors were plunged into the Negative Zone at the end of “FF”#6 and will face off with the Frightful Four in a tale that runs through issues #7-8. The Frightful Four are a classic Lee-Kirby creation that Fraction is having a lot of fun with, and over in “Fantastic Four” he’s having an equal amount of fun with a story that explores the origin of Lee and Kirby’s most infamous FF villain, Doctor Doom, kicking off in June’s “Fantastic Four” #9.
“In our ‘Age of Ultron’ issue Ben made a video confession to the kids that he might have had something to do with Doom’s accident, and they remember that,” Fraction said. “So this is a story about the Fantastic Four investigating the day Doom was born. Not Victor Von Doom, but rather Doctor Doom. It’s the day of the accident that shoved him down the road to becoming an armored super villain.”
The Fantastic Four won’t be the only group interested in that fateful day. “They show up and it’s almost like a nativity in that Dooms from all over time and space come to witness the birth of the prime Doom,” Fraction said. “There are literally 30 different versions of Doctor Doom sitting in this room waiting to watch it. It was a fun issue to write.”
The Doom’s day story will also further the tale of the sickness that Fraction introduced in his initial “Fantastic Four” issues, which is causing the minds and bodies of the group to decay at an accelerated rate. “Only Reed and Been have begun to manifest symptoms, but the two of them and Sue realize that this coming for all of them eventually. Johnny is not aware yet. My editor Tom Brevoort and I have started to joke that maybe Johnny will never be aware and we’ll reveal it to him when everything has been taken care of and fixed,” Fraction joked. “The gang finally gets home and it’ll be like — ‘WE WERE WHAT?'”
Sue’s brother Johnny and her two children with Reed Richards may not be aware that the Fantastic Four are sick, but the chances of them discovering that secret when the group is confined to a small space like the team’s time and space ship are very great. “Sue has basically said to Reed, ‘What makes you think you can keep a secret from people locked in a car like this? It’s all going to come out in time,'” Fraction remarked. “That’s one thing to keep in mind with this book too; the difference between story time and publication time. It may feel like they’ve been doing this for eight or nine months but they really haven’t been.”
Franklin Richards has powers that allow him to alter and manipulate reality and in certain ways Valeria Richards is even smarter than her father, but readers shouldn’t expect them to be able to easily cure their family members if and when they discover that they’re sick. “If they did that would be terrible writing,” Fraction said with a laugh. “Sometimes it seems like Franklin’s power is he can get them out of whatever terrible story they’re in. To just Franklin all this stuff away would be bad writing. I played with that a little bit to start this whole kerfuffle.”
Fraction is enjoying the chance to write for both “Fantastic Four” and “FF,” but he’s even more conscious than usual about what he puts in his scripts. That’s because the writer is still a little intimidated to be collaborating with Mark Bagley and Mike Allred, two of his favorite artists. “It remains terrifying,” the writer explained. “I don’t think I’ve got a hold on writing to all of their strengths quite yet, but I’m having fun trying.”
Fraction wants fun to be the watch word when it comes to both “Fantastic Four” and “FF,” and part of that means keeping the bulk of his plans for the books to himself and allowing fans to discover what comes next by reading them. “I’ve decided I hate previews. I would like people to be surprised, intrigued, excited and not know where we’re going from moment to moment,” the writer said. “I can tell you though that in July the ‘Fantastic Four’ will be on hand to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Then over in “FF” we are going to have the pool party to end all pool parties. Beyond that, stay intrigued stay curious, and stay wondering.
“I hope everyone enjoys reading them as much as I’m having writing them,” Fraction continued. “I get to read them to my kids. I’ve never had that experience before with anything I’ve written. So I’m getting a lot out of these books.”
“FF” #7 is on sale now, and “Fantastic Four” #8 goes on sale May 22.