In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Marvel Comics readers to a new kind of superhero group with the “Fantastic Four.” Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, and Reed’s best friend Ben Grimm were all exposed to cosmic rays that transformed them into superheroes…and a close-knit family. The world would come to know them as Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, the Human Torch, and the Thing, and over the years the familial bonds between the group would grow stronger. Reed and Sue married, and Ben and Johnny would become uncles to the couple’s children, Franklin and Valeria. These days, the Fantastic Four are known as the first family of the Marvel Universe, and their adventures are being chronicled by writer Jonathan Hickman and artists Dale Eaglesham and Neil Edwards. CBR News spoke with Hickman about “Solve Everything,” his recently wrapped first arc on “Fantastic Four,” as well as his future plans for the book.
“Solve Everything” was a story that was almost entirely about Mr. Fantastic, and there were several reasons why Hickman wanted to begin his “FF” run by focusing so sharply on the character. “I felt like the book had primarily become about Reed Richards, and a lot of that was because Reed had been such a pivotal guy in the Marvel Universe these last couple of years. All the Illuminati stuff, ‘Civil War,’ ‘Secret Invasion’ – he’s been in it all in a major way,” Hickman told CBR News. “And, to me, it just felt like the other characters weren’t as important. If you’re doing a book about a team, that’s one thing. It’s okay to have major and minor characters. But if you’re doing a book about a family, there are no minor members. So very quickly that became a problem.
“It was also a problem in that “Fantastic Four” is a book about a family, and Reed had been behaving like a bad dad. He’s not a bad man, and of course, everything is complicated; that’s where good drama comes from. But he didn’t feel like a guy who would ever put his family first. It was all big ideas and big problems. So, how do you make the book not be about that anymore and jump back to everybody being on an equal footing?” Hickman continued. “How do you bring Reed back to everybody’s level without diminishing him and having him say, ‘I was wrong to do all those things. My motivation was impure. I’ve been a bad person. Please forgive me and we can move on.’ I don’t think that’s a satisfying conclusion. So the only thing left to do was to elevate the [rest of] family as being equally important. That was one of the goals of this story. There were other reasons why I chose to do this story, but the Reed problem was paramount in the things I needed to address if I was going to be able to tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell down the road.”
In order to address the issues with Reed, the plot of “Solve Everything” involved the scientist coming face to face with the Council, an inter-dimensional think tank composed entirely of his counterparts from alternate dimensions. Hickman and his artist for the story, Dale Eaglesham, had a blast designing all the alternate reality versions of Reed. “I had some specific Reeds that I wanted to see, because we’ve possibly got some story points for them going forward. The rest of the Reeds were all Dale,” Hickman explained. “It was really cool. Dale did a fantastic job, and I went back and named them all and we talked about their powers. A couple of the guys that Dale designed got to live through the big conflict, and maybe we’ll see some more of the Council. Who knows?”
In “Solve Everything,” the Council had accomplished numerous great things and found solutions to many of the biggest problems in their respective realities. It’s no wonder than, that at first Reed was very attracted to the work they did and even joined them. He ultimately rejected their work and quit the council in “Fantastic Four” #572 when he discovered that, in order to accomplish their great works, the members of the Council had to sacrifice everything. They had to give up friends and family and became almost coldly logical. According to Hickman, Reed rediscovering and reaffirming how important his family is to him can be seen as sort of a mission statement for the “Fantastic Four” moving forward.
“I think it’s okay for the Marvel Universe to have a functional family. I’m doubly okay with me writing that, and even more okay with it being the Fantastic Four. To get to that point, I had to do some things,” Hickman remarked. “The obvious problem with the beginning is that nobody knows where you’re going. So this story isn’t really indicative of the kind of stories we’re going to tell beyond the execution. Dale did a damn good job drawing the story, and there will be some thematically similar stuff. We’re getting ready to go really big and really crazy, but not without losing the book’s soul.”
Nathaniel Richards, Reed’s father, appeared in several flashback sequences in “Solve Everything,” and the character will play a role in future issues of the title. “I think it’s fair to say we’ll do some father and son stuff at some point,” Hickman revealed. “I definitely want to do a flashback story of Reed, Ben and Victor von Doom in college that involves Reed’s dad showing up. That’s on the schedule.”
In “Fantastic Four” #573, Hickman moves the spotlight off of Reed Richards and onto the other members of the FF’s biological and extended family. “I’m a huge fan of buddy stories, and I think Ben and Johnny work really well together in those type of stories,” Hickman said. “And #573 is more than just a buddy story. I just spent three issues on one character, and we needed to do some stuff with the other family members. So Ben, Johnny, and the kids are off on Nu Earth[an alternate Earth that Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch introduced in their run on “Fantastic Four”] doing bizarre and insane stuff.”
The title of the series is “Fantastic Four,” but Hickman plans on spotlighting all of the members of the Marvel Universe’s first family, not just the adults. Franklin and Valeria will have important parts to play in the series, and issues #573-574 will find them spending some time in the spotlight. “I have kids, so I dig [the Richards siblings]. I don’t have any trouble writing them, and kids make a family book more about family. Plus, Franklin and Valeria are really cool characters,” Hickman stated. “Franklin has got a fantastic history, and I love what Mark Millar did with Val. We’re going to see a really cool arc for her. The kids are just as important as any of the other characters.”
December’s “Fantastic Four” #574 is a guest star packed issue that finds Franklin celebrating his birthday. “It’s really a two part tale; the front half of the book and the back half of the book. It’s funny, serious, happy, and sad,” Hickman explained. “Spider-Man might show up. There’s a little Power Pack, some Artie and Leech, and I think we stuck Dragon Man in there. It’s a lot of fun. It may be my favorite issue that I’ve done so far.”
In January’s “Fantastic Four” #575, Hickman kicks off the the new year with a four chapter story titled “The Prime Elements.” “It’s about four different cities. When I was doing my research for this gig, certain characters jumped out at me. I want to tell a Doctor Doom story. I want to tell an Inhumans story, and I want to tell a Sub-Mariner story. All of those characters are busy doing other things. The FF have one of the coolest rogues’ galleries in all of Marvel Comics, though, so instead of whining about things, we came up with some pretty clever solutions to reintroduce some of that stuff into the FF universe,” Hickman revealed. “This four-part arc lays a lot of the groundwork for that, and it also lays a lot of the groundwork for the expanded cast of the Fantastic Four. I think anybody who has followed my work knows that I like to have a lot of spokes coming off the center of the wheel. So, while every issue is going to be about the family, there are all these additional pieces that seem to fly off of it and connect to the greater wheel of the story.
“The first issue is a voyage to the Mole Man’s territory, and it’s insane [Laughs],” Hickman continued. “This stuff certainly feels like old Jack and Stan ‘Fantastic Four’ comics where absolutely anything can happen from one issue to the next, and I like the kind of kinetic energy that we seem to be generating internally. This stuff hasn’t been dispersed to our audience yet, but around the office, and between me and the other creators, things seem to be resonating.”
The supporting cast of Hickman’s upcoming “Fantastic Four” stories will feature several new characters with ties to older, established FF characters. “In ‘Prime Elements,’ we’re going to do a Negative Zone story. When we last saw Annihilus at the end of ‘Annihilation,’ he was a baby, so we’re going to do a story about what’s going on now in the Negative Zone and what it means for Earth; how people dying in the Negative Zone affects people living in our universe and vice versa. We’ll see what that means spiritually and karmically, and there will also be explosions, violence, and lots of cool science.”
The chance to craft wildly imaginative and epic stories is just one of the reasons why Hickman is having a great time working on “Fantastic Four.” Another is that he gets to collaborate with artists Dale Eaglesham and Neil Edwards.
“Neil is doing issues #573-574 and then Dale is doing #575-578. After that, Neil is on for four issues and then Dale is on for six. We’re doing rotating artists because we want the books to be on time, and more importantly than that, we want the quality to stay really high,” Hickman remarked. “Dale is doing some pretty amazing work, and I’d never want to affect that because he’s so happy with it and so are we. And Neil is a new guy we feel really good about. He’s got a Bryan Hitch type style. We’ve seen all of his pages for #573 and most of #574, and it’s all really good stuff. So I’m happy.”
Writing the “Fantastic Four” affords Hickman the opportunity to write a number of compelling characters, one of the most compelling being the group’s arch-enemy, Doctor Doom. Doom’s activities around the Marvel Universe are currently keeping him busy, but that doesn’t mean that the armor clad dictator won’t be appearing in the pages of the series that introduced him to the world. “Doom is a major player in the Marvel Universe, and he really shouldn’t be seen just as a foil for the Fantastic Four. So January’s ‘Siege’ and February’s ‘DoomWar’ are huge, and there’s another thing coming down the pipe with another franchise that will involve Doom,” Hickman revealed. “We will get to a point, though, where we can do a very big Doom story in my run on ‘Fantastic Four.’ So don’t worry – that is going to happen.”
Hickman is very appreciative of Marvel for giving him the opportunity to write “Fantastic Four,” and now that his first story arc of the series is complete, the writer is feeling great and looking forward to the future, “Writing this book feels very natural. I’m not really emotionally attached to the stuff I write, even the indy, creator-owned work. When I create a story, I get it out of my system and move on, but ‘Fantastic Four’ feels like the most personal thing I’ve ever written,” Hickman explained. “It feels very personal and epic. It almost feels like the most ‘me’ thing I’ve done, as far as how it reflects me as a person. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We’ll have to see where we are down the road a little, but we’ve got a solid plan for this series that isn’t driven by the whims of me and how my wife treats me at home [Laughs]. So working on this book feels really good.”