If Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's run on "Fantastic Four" has done anything for Marvel's first family, it's bringing back the sense of fantastic to the title. In the "Death of The Invisible Woman" arc, which crossed over with Millar and Steve McNiven's "Old Man Logan" story in "Wolverine," the New Defenders - the last six superheroes of horrific future - came back to modern day Marvel Universe in an effort to save the world.
But with eight billion refugees along for the ride, Earth was getting a little tight.
Thankfully in the arc prior, "World's Greatest," Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny saved a back-up planet one of Mr. Fantastic's ex-lovers was creating for any earthlings who could afford it. And now the New Defenders, re-christened "Fantastic Force," have a home.
Joe Ahearne, a veteran British writer who was nominated for a BAFTA for his Series 1 work on "Doctor Who," is set to tell the story of Nu-World's settlers and the six unlikely heroes destined to lead the way in a miniseries, illustrated by Steve Kurth, which kicks off April 22. Bryan Hitch is providing covers for the entire series.
CBR News checked in with Ahearne to learn more about the project and found a long-time Marvel zombie re-invigorated with the blood of Millar and Hitch.
CBR : First off, how did you land this gig writing "Fantastic Force?" Are you and Mark Millar pals?
Joe Ahearne: We are. I was a big fan of Marvel during my teens but I stopped reading when I went to university. I got back into comics through Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. I worked with Bryan when he was concept designer and I was directing "Doctor Who." I saw his work pinned up in the production design department and it took my breath away.
Mark contacted me after he saw the show and I got to see a lot of his work like "Wolverine" and "Ultimates" and became re-inspired by the comics medium. Mark introduced me to Marvel and I did some work on "Fantastic Four," yet to hit the stands, and I've been devouring the current Millar/Hitch run on "Fantastic Four." So I was familiar with the Fantastic Force, or New Defenders as they're called in the "Fantastic Four" book, and was excited to be asked to come up with an arc for a miniseries. They reminded me very much of the kind of characters that came out of the first 100 issues of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run. Characters, like the Silver Surfer, Black Panther, Inhumans, Him/Warlock, who were powerful enough to survive beyond guest appearances and become books in their own right. The hints given about their powers and character traits were intriguing enough for me to want to know more.
What were some of your favorite characters or titles as a kid?
My main period is the seventies. I didn't read much in the eighties and nineties. I love the Englehart run on "Avengers" and the Shooter/Perez work on that title. Love Neal Adams work on "Avengers" and "X-Men" too. You still can't beat the first 100 issues of Kirby/Lee "Fantastic Four." I'm also a sucker for the cosmic scale. I'm a big fan of Starlin's work on "Captain Marvel/Warlock" and Brunner's run on "Doctor Strange."
What can you share with us heading into the miniseries and the Nu World storyline?
It's designed so people can jump on without knowing a blessed thing. A group of superheroes from the future on a new planet that's all you need to know. The Fantastic Force is a group we know next to nothing about apart from their powers so it doesn't matter whether you've read the latest "Fantastic Four" book or not. Though if you haven't, shame on you. It's a fresh start. Two things readers might want to consider:
1) They won't know me from Adam but they should get to know Steve Kurth if they don't already. His art is just great. He's a proper storyteller.
2) Remember, if you can what it was like to read a new Marvel team without knowing who the characters were or where it was going - the shock of the new. We need it every now and then.
"Fantastic Force" is set on a contemporary facsimile of Earth and they're the only superheroes on it. They know next to nothing about the rest of the Marvel Universe apart from their brief encounters with the likes of Doom and the Fantastic Four. Everything is new to them. And yet they contain within themselves and their powers this enormous Marvel heritage. Fantastic Force is a way to play within the Marvel Universe without being totally confined by strict continuity but only because we're on a different planet, not because we're ignoring it.
Growing up, I was inspired by team books like "Avengers" and "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men." "Fantastic Force" combines elements of all three but with a spin. We have the "Avengers" angle of a group of disparate characters thrown together for a purpose, in our case to save the population of a dying planet, our own Earth of the future. We have the family relationships from "Fantastic Four" - the Hooded Man is Banner Jr.'s stepfather and Lightwave is Psionics' dad. And from "X-Men," we have the genetic or mutant component: Banner Jr. is the son of the Hulk, Lightwave is descended from the Surfer, Psionics from Polaris, Natalie X from Jean Grey. So you've got a bunch of characters who are fresh but have echoes of the greats.
They arrive on Nu-World with billions of refugees expecting a peaceful new life but face enemies who want them to go back where they came from. And the longer they stay the worse the threats ramp up.
Is there a villain or villains or are the Fantastic Force considered the bad guys?
The Fantastic Force are the good guys. The main bad guy initially is Ted Castle, who created this synthetic planet for the elite of Earth to retire to when the environment collapses. He's not pleased when his world is taken over by refugees from the future and he fights back with all the machinery at his disposal. As the story progresses, we discover that there's an all-powerful supervillain remaining on the devastated future Earth they abandoned. This supervillain has recruited an old Hulk enemy, The Harpy, and we've also got Dark Phoenix, Polaris and the Scarlet Witch showing up in their evil incarnations - an all-new group called the Hysteries. So the Fantastic Force have plenty on their plate. The threats keep getting bigger through the series until by the end, it's on a planet-shattering scale.
Give us a quick tour around your lineup and shed some light on the team members.
The Hooded Man is the Wolverine of the future, several hundred years after the current "Old Man Logan" storyline. You might think he'd be an obvious choice for leader of this gang, but he's got other ideas.
His stepson is Banner Jr., who has the body and strength of the Hulk but prefers to use his brain to solve problems. The Hooded Man's been trying for years to get Banner Jr. in touch with his berserker rage without success.
Lightwave is from the planet Zenn-La and used to be a supervillain before all superpowered people on Earth had to team up to fight off Galactus. He can fly and manipulate solid light waves. Or is that liquid photons?
His daughter Psionics has the power of telekinesis and has something of a weakness for superpowered guys. Marooned on Nu-World where the Fantastic Force are the only superheroes she's got a dating desert to look forward to.
Natalie X is the future era's most powerful telepath and youngest member of the team.
Alex Ultron is a robot but that's not how he sees himself and neither does Natalie. They're in love and have no 21st century hang-ups about human-android compatibility. Although just like Quicksilver the mutant was prejudiced against machines, Alex the machine has a bit of a xenophobia thing about aliens going on. Whatever minority you are you can always find someone to pick on.
What can you say about the work of your co-creators Steve Kurth and Bryan Hitch?
I'm fortunate to be working with Steve Kurth on "Fantastic Force," who in addition to being a superb artist is also terrific with keeping the eye moving and interested. When I've written TV shows, I've nearly always directed them myself so I'm very conscious about the importance of the placing of the camera. Steve always comes up with great frames and lots of extra storytelling detail. He does so much of the characterization, as well as the design.
I'll break it down into panels in the script but more often than not he'll change that and bring something out I never thought of or amend something which is illogical. And he sprinkles it with little visual jokes too which makes the final read very rich and satisfying.
Bryan Hitch of course designed the characters in their "Fantastic Four" outing and he's contributed the covers to the series. I've been very lucky to have worked with him on some "Fantastic Four" stories too.
If sales and popularity of the miniseries warrant it, would you like to do a second series or an ongoing?
It was designed as a mini from the outset rather than an ongoing so it's got a very definite conclusion -- but never say never.
The concept actually plays a little bit like a Doctor Who story. Do you see a resemblance between the Doctor and Mr. Fantastic?
Yes, the Doctor and Mr. Fantastic are quite similar. Mark Millar repositioned Reed back to being a cool guy which Chris Eccleston also did in "Doctor Who." Not just a father figure who spouts science but a romantic lead in his own right. Sometimes the sexuality gets left out of those characters and that's wrong.
Speaking of Mr. Fantastic, you're a co-writer on "Fantastic Four" #568. How long are you staying with the title?
Just for a couple of issues, and I've also written a longer special which is drawn by Bryan Hitch but I don't know when that's coming out.
Can you share any details about the storyline?
Mark will kill me if I blow any big surprises for his arc so I'd better steer clear of that. The special I wrote involves Reed, Sue and Ben shrinking to microscopic size and fighting a supervillain inside Johnny's body while he fights a villain in the normal-sized world. The twist obviously is that Johnny can't flame on without killing his comrades and they can't really cut loose inside his body without ripping him to shreds. So it's a fun dilemma driving the action. We meet the daughter of a very famous supervillain and Johnny Storm undergoes a truly life-changing event which has been brewing in his life for some time.
What separates the Fantastic Four from other teams like the Avengers or the X-Men?
It's the family thing and the tone which is very particular. It's more sunny somehow, even when it gets serious. There's something pleasingly big scale and bold about it but always a version of a normal family. They go on vacation, they have nannies but with that extra fantastical dimension. The Avengers and X-Men have a looser attachment and emotional connection. The Fantastic Four never change line-up for long.
Can we expect to see you on any more books at Marvel?
Only the readers will decide. I'd love to. It's been a wonderful experience. My storytelling in TV has been very much informed by comics and specifically Marvel, using the image to tell the story and not just the dialogue. It's hard to do in TV because of budget and time constraints, so getting into comics is like coming home.
What else are you working on TV-wise? Specifically, any news on a second series for "Apparitions?"
No more "Apparitions," but I hope to be doing a new thriller with Martin Shaw. Also, possibly a book adaptation of a well-known ghost story - lots of things in development at the mercy of various decision makers. And hopefully some more comics work amongst them.
In British television, I'm known mostly for horror/sci-fi/thriller projects. My first show as creator was a modern vampire hunting miniseries called "Ultraviolet," no relation to the movie, which was a sci-fi take on vampires, pre-Blade - lots of cool weaponry and updates of the vampire myth. If vampires existed now, what would they be doing? I realized looking back that it was heavily influenced by comics. I loved "Tomb of Dracula." I wrote and directed a dramadoc about space travel, "Voyage to the Planets," a group of astronauts who explore the solar system but using present day science, for example, where we might be now if the Apollo program had carried on. We filmed on zero gravity flights and went to astronaut training facilities in Moscow and the Mars stand-in deserts in Chile.
What TV has taught me with these kinds of subjects is to pay close attention to characterization and not jeopardize it for a cool effect or suspense sequence. In comics you can really have both amazing visuals and great characters without straining quite so hard against the limitations of the form. So going into comics is like taking the gloves off in a way.