The Fantastic Four regularly explore the farthest reaches and most remote locations of the Marvel Comics’Marvel Universe. In other words, when it comes to dealing with alien civilizations or entities, it would be a fair assumption to call them experts. What would happen if they were suddenly forced to confront a series of real world and strange problems in the heart of the Marvel U? And what if these problems were actually an orchestrated attack designed to fracture the familial bonds that hold the FF together? How would Marvel’s First Family react?
These questions and more will be explored in an all-new volume of “Fantastic Four” by writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk, which kicks off in February. CBR News spoke with Robinson about his plans for the series and the types of challenges he wants to put in the team’s way.
CBR News: James, I read that as a boy you picked up “Fantastic Four” #99 at a newsstand and it made you a lifelong fan of the characters. How did it feel to be offered a chance to pen their adventures? And what is it about “Fantastic Four” that makes the book so interesting to you?
James Robinson: The book has remained interesting to me because there’s a familial element to it. I really love the classic feel of the married couple, the kid brother, their brawny friend, and how they all work together and care about each other. There’s really no other team quite like that and that’s always touched a nerve with me.
Then all comics have a soap opera quality to them, but with the FF especially you always had great soap opera moments like the birth of Franklin and the slow realization that he had powers. Then in the John Byrne run you had dramatic moments like Sue (seemingly) losing her second baby. So those moments resonate and they stay with you. All the drama with Ben and Alica. Johnny and Crystal. The hatred of Dr. Doom.
Now I’m finally getting a chance to work on the Fantastic Four and it really did come out of the blue. It came from my working on “All-New Invaders” with [editor] Mark Paniccia. We’ve known each other for 20 years and we worked with each other during the Ultraverse days at Malibu. So we rekindled that working relationship and it’s going really well. Obviously I had to pitch my take on the book and there were other writers in the running, but I know already having a good working relationship in place certainly didn’t hinder the decision to give me the book.
Let’s talk a little bit about your core cast of characters. What do you find most interesting about the individual members of the Fantastic Four? Which aspects of their personalities are you especially interested in exploring?
What I want is to showcase our heroes, while outside forces attempt to erode them — who they are. And it’s through this adversity that you’ll really get to see who they are as characters. One thing that occurred to me is that a lot of scientific breakthroughs are as much due to the confidence of the person that’s making them as they are their education and intelligence. So with that in mind, it made me realize with Reed, who’s arguably the smartest man on Earth, that if you remove that confidence a lot of what he has falls apart. So you’ll see Reed at his lowest and then ultimately at his highest and most heroic.
It’s the same way with Sue. In many ways Sue is one of the most interesting characters in the Fantastic Four because she really has gone from being a not particularly interesting female sidekick whose power was basically hiding, to this character with an amazing array of very powerful powers, which makes her an incredibly valuable and effective member of the Fantastic Four during any conflicts. Also though, she’s grown as a strong person in her own right. She’s a loving mother who dearly loves her two children as we’ll see the children of the Future Foundation as well.
With Johnny, it really is that he’s a relatively young guy who has the best of everything. He looks like an Adonis. He has the best super powers in that as the Human Torch he can fly. If you look back at his origin he’s excited that he can fly. So everything has been easy for him. He’s always got the girl. He doesn’t have to walk around like Ben Grimm in this gigantic horrific form. Bringing him down as well so there’s more to him than all of these trappings of fun, fame and good fortune allows us to show he’s a heroic guy at heart.
Obviously, I’ve just started working on these characters. So it isn’t like I’ve arrived at these points yet. The prospect of getting there though is very exciting.
Then one of the most interesting things about the Thing, and this has been consistent since the earliest days of the Fantastic Four, certainly from the moment he meets Alicia Masters, is that there’s a gentility and a nobleness to him that his rocky exterior and slang speaking dialogue belies. So one of the things I’m doing is reintroducing the idea of a romance between Ben and Alicia, but in time even that leads to problems. So we’ll see this gentle side to Ben, but at the same time we’ll see lots of him leaping into battle and yelling, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
You mentioned Reed and Sue’s children Franklin and Valeria. In recent years they’ve come to be part of the core family unit and have almost become unofficial members of the team. How big a role will they play in your run? What’s it like writing those characters?
That last question is probably something you should ask me a year from now since we’re still getting everything up and running. Having said that, they are fun characters. I haven’t written Valeria just yet, but I have her mindset, attitude and everything else worked out. So she’s definitely someone I’m looking forward to writing, and so far I’ve only written my first scene with Franklin and the Future Foundation. I had a lot of fun writing his dialogue and Bentley 23’s dialogue.
So I can’t say too much because I don’t want to reveal every plot point. I sometimes worry that we end up revealing a little too much in these interviews and readers rush to prejudgment and never get to enjoy the surprises. I will say that Franklin and the Future Foundation have their moments and play a part in the big story line. You’ll see Scott Lang, Darla Deering and all those supporting characters introduced in the runs by Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction. Valeria will also be an element of this story that leads into something big down the line.
The kids of the Future Foundation and their mentors make for a pretty large cast, but it sounds like you want to give them as much room as possible?
I want to give them as much room as possible, but I want the book to have a certain feel. I don’t want to ignore all the stuff that happened before but Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction’s runs are the most recent on the book. They comprise at least five years of FF continuity, and even though shortly after they introduced the Future Foundation they split them off into the “FF” book, to me, it did feel like a gigantic ensemble book most of the time.
So even though we will be dealing with all these characters at different points, with this book I really wanted to distill it down to the four main characters. I really wanted to remind people that it’s the Fantastic Four and company as opposed to the Fantastic Forty Four.
You already mentioned that Alicia Masters will be returning, but I also understand you’re bringing another supporting character back to the book, Wyatt Wingfoot. What do you feel Wyatt adds to the book?
He’s an interesting grounding point. I also just have affection for him. He’s one of those characters where it was like, “Oh, suddenly Johnny Storm has a Native American best friend. Okay.” He was introduced before I was reading comics, but the idea in this instance is that he’s a grounding element for Johnny. We’ll see his heroism as well and how he handles things differently being a non-powered supporting character instead of one of the main quartet of heroes.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Fantastic Four’s rogues’ gallery. What’s your overall sense of the FF’s villains? And can you hint at the identities of some of the villains we’ll see early on?
The forces that are plotting, and even succeeding one might say, in bringing the Fantastic Four down will be using many of the FF villains as well as any other villains in the Marvel Universe that I can get my hands on for as long as I’m on this book. So if there’s a villain you particularly like you’re probably going to see them. Doctor Doom will also play a part at some point in this story, so obviously he’ll be in there as well.
Let’s move away from character and into your larger plans for the series. Over the last several years a lot of emphasis has been placed on the FF’s role as explorers, but from what I’ve read it sounds like in your story, at least initially, the Fantastic Four will deal with a myriad amount of problems in their own back yard. Is that correct?
Yes. I was reading Hickman and Matt Fraction’s run as they were coming out, and Matt Fraction’s run is technically still coming out so I should qualify that, and to me they felt very, very cosmic. Even Matt and Mike Allred’s “FF” run, a lot of which took place in Manhattan, felt very out of this world because Matt has this incredible and very singular style. Plus having Impossible Man’s kid join and all the sort of psychedelic Mike Allred art has really made the book feel like it’s off in the world of the fantastic, no pun intended, that the Fantastic Four explore.
Meanwhile in the main book, the family has been off exploring time and different worlds. Then with the Hickman run there was so much that was off world; you had different dimensions, different Reed Richards, and the Negative Zone with Annihilus. You had had all these different aspects. So it just felt like with this next arc I need to bring things back to Manhattan.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have cosmic elements and the kind of crazy stuff that the Fantastic Four fight. Remember when we first saw Galactus he was hovering over Manhattan. He wasn’t hovering above Counter Earth or some other location. So that’s my take for this run. I want to stress that there still will be cosmic stuff and all the wonderful stuff that the Fantastic Four normally face.
So essentially your plan is tell stories that are a mixture of real world and, for lack of a better word, fantastic problems?
We’ve talked about characters and larger plans, so let’s start to wrap up by chatting about the work of artist Leonard Kirk, whom you worked with on “Detective Comics.” What do you feel Leonard brings to the book as an artist?
He’s an artist that has this wonderful and dynamic ability to draw anything that you want. He has a clean style that’s akin to Stuart Immonen or Olivier Copiel that I think really suits the “Fantastic Four” book, and the artwork he’s done so far has these amazing camera angles and points of view that would have never occurred to me. There’s a whole load of great stuff that he’s bringing to the project.
I’ve wanted to work with him again since our collaboration on “Detective Comics,” and I’m thrilled with the sheer inventiveness to this book. I’m very happy to be collaborating with him.
Finally, what can you tell us about your inaugural “Fantastic Four” story?
When I talk about the fall and rise of the Fantastic Four and the fall and rise of Johnny Storm, that’s the overall arc that you’ll see over a period of time. So what I’m trying to do with this book is really make it a book where after you finish every issue you just have to read the next one.
So we’re going to have a lot of smaller adventures, but within that the Thing will be accused of murder; Johnny’s life is going to fall apart; Reed and Sue become at odds with Manhattan and the Avengers. Then we have Dragon Man. He’s a character I’ve always loved and now he’s that he’s this scholarly pacifist I love him even more. You’ll see a life and death situation with him where all of the FF and the Future Foundation have to come together.
I hope readers enjoy this book as much as I’m enjoying writing it. Also please check out the “All-New Invaders” book I’m doing with Steve Pugh, which has its own Human Torch in it who is very different, but just as cool.
“Fantastic Four” #1 by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk debuts in February.