Stranger Than Fiction: Cornell on “Fantastic Four: True Story”

There’s nothing more satisfying that just diving into a good book. This July, the First Family of Marvel Comics will do literally just that in the pages of the four-issue miniseries, “Fantastic Four: True Story,” by writer Paul Cornell (“Wisdom,” “Captain Britain and MI:13”) and artist Horacio Dominguez. CBR News spoke with Cornell about the series, which depicts the FF rubbing elbows with some of literature’s most legendary characters.

“I have an abiding hatred for the Lee/Kirby - no, no, of course that's not true! But wouldn't it be funny if someone said that?” laughed Cornell. “Of course, the Lee/Kirby stuff is the defining stuff, the run that everyone will always look to.”

Indeed, Cornell is a big fan of the Fantastic Four, and when editor Tom Brevoort asked Cornell if he had any ideas for FF stories, the writer happily pitched the idea for “True Story,” which spotlights the exploring and super science aspects of the Fantastic Four, which Cornell finds most interesting. “Exploring isn't something many people do any more, mainly because there's not a lot of planet left uncharted, but Reed finds places to go that are untouched by Google,” said Cornell.

“True Story” begins with the Fantastic Four noticing a great sadness seems to have settled upon the world’s population. “Sue realizes it's got something to do with the way people interact with story. Nobody's reading anymore. Nobody's going to the movies. It's as if something bad has got into fiction,” Cornell explained. “So Reed has to invent an entire new field of human endeavor: it'll take him a few minutes and he'll need a screwdriver. This is the one where the FF ventures into fiction itself. And it's a bit like 'Fables’ too. And I'm sure Neil Gaiman's done something with this as well, indeed. Listen, it's *Reed* that's got to invent a whole new field, not me!”

In “True Story,” the Fantastic Four visit and band together the forces of some of literature's most famous worlds to fight a bigger threat. Said Cornell, “It's swashbuckling, it's huge, it's great big galumphing *fun*, but also, gradually, these serious notes start to emerge, because there's stuff in fiction that you really wouldn't want to start having applied to you.”

He continued, “One of the lovely things about this story for me is that I get to play with these characters I love by having them interact with other characters I love. Ben Grimm amongst the Dashwood sisters from 'Sense and Sensibility.’ But it isn't like a school classics book, this is rollocking fun. Is that a word? And I get to comment on the relationships amongst the FF using the literary characters. Lots of jokes. Lots of cool set pieces. Extraordinary literary violence.”

For obvious reasons, the FF will only get a chance to traverse the worlds of literature’s most enduring works. “Something prevents them from visiting the more recent worlds, a barrier which cuts off about seventy five years after the death of the authors in question. No, I'm not being flippant, that limitation about copyright is very much part of the story,” Cornell said.

Among the public domain characters seen in “True Story” is Dante, the writer and narrator of “The Divine Comedy.” “[He’s] their guide in the world of fiction, and continually annoyed at being so,” Cornell said. “We crash through the walls of 'Ivanhoe’, 'Wind in the Willows’, and see, ahem, Dracula vs. Frankenstein! Literally. And many more, as they say.”

“True Story” marks the first time Cornell has penned a Fantastic Four adventure but the FF have much in common with another explorer of time and space, who Cornell has worked extensively with, Doctor Who. “You could say the Doctor is the FF all rolled up together: Reed's brain and academic distance; Johnny's impulsiveness; Ben's down to earth care for the ordinary people and Sue's invisible force field--no, come on, that metaphor was working so well!” remarked Cornell, who’s written a number of Doctor Who novels. “What's the Doctor got that Sue's got? Warmth, I suppose. And a nice bottom. So I'm told. I don't objectify comic book characters like that.”

Cornell designed “True Story” to be a fast paced and diverse adventure. “It's a rollercoaster ride with hints of humor, horror and action. It gets progressively darker, I think, but it really belts along,” Cornell remarked. “I think this is for, well, me, really, all of us who really love *story*, and don't see a barrier between comics and all the great literature we read as kids. It's just such a blast to see Reed loving the adventure of meeting all these fictional people and bringing them together to save everyone. It's meant to feel like a big mad movie about the loveliness of books.”

Cornell is very happy with the way Horacio Dominguez has brought to life all the literary action and mayhem of “True Story.” “He has a lovely European but manga-influenced sensibility, all flowing lines and pageantry,” the writer said. “His characters are hugely expressive emotionally, which is great for this. I love what he does with Ben clobbering an entire landscape.”

“Fantastic Four: True Story” has been a labor of love for Cornell and he hopes fans have as much reading it as he had writing it. “I just what to emphasize how much it's about warmth and heroism and love for these characters, both the FF and the literary ones,” he stated. “And I get to write: 'Next issue: Reader, I clobbered him.’”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.

Russian Culture Minister Slams Adults Who Read Comic Books

More in Comics