It is not in my nature to pile on. When something or someone has failed so cataclysmically that people start breaking out puns I try to stay above the fray and let the pour souls involved limp off with whatever is left of their dignity. So I will just say this about the new Fantastic Four movie: it was not good, not good at all. But it did inspire me to write this guide for all future handlers of the Fantastic Four legacy so hopefully one good thing can emerge from the ruined husk of Josh Trank’s career. So this week in “The Franchise” will take a crack at breaking down the essence of Marvel’s first family, The Fantastic Four.
Core Concept: First and foremost the Fantastic Four are a family. That is their core dynamic and thus any successful Fantastic Four story must emphasis those relationships and conflicts. For all their wacky powers and harrowing adventures these people love each other. That’s not to say they always like each other all that much and that’s where a good story teller can create tension and conflict but at the end of the day they will always be there for each other. After family comes the fantastic. This franchise is about exploring the wonder and horror of the unknown. Pushing the boundaries of imagination. Out of control inventions and never before discovered dimensions. This is the fabric of the Fantastic Four: Campy, kitsch 60’s science fiction. Their identity as Super-heroes is really secondary to their identity as explorers and scientists. They are just as likely to stumble into trouble of their own making as they are to face a villain out to destroy them. Family and the Fantastic; no Fantastic Four story can ever be successful without embracing these two elements.
Essential Moments: Their origin is obviously very important. Not because it’s where they get their powers (although that’s obviously important) but because of the guilt Reed carries with him for changing their lives forever especially the guilt he feels for turning his best friend into The Thing. Also on the list of essential moments is the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm all the way back in 1965’s Fantastic Four Annual #3. That marriage is one of the unshakable pillars of the Marvel universe. No other comic book marriage comes close to it for longevity. The union also produced two children in Franklin and Valeria who are every bit as important to the Fantastic Four as the titular heroes themselves.
Rouges Gallery: While the roster of Fantastic Four villains may not be as deep as the rouges galleries of heroes such as Batman, Spider-man, or The Flash it does pack quite a punch at the top. Dr. Doom is one of the greatest comic book villains ever created. This is not an opinion. This is a fact. If he’s not in your top ten you clearly have been reading comic books wrong. The arrogance, the genius, the vanity. Also the dude is a world class sorcerer and has his own country. Half the time he’s trying to take over the world he’s got diplomatic immunity. More than that Doom is the Anti-Reed. He’s the perfect shadow that allows us to see that for all Reed’s failings (and there are many) he could be so much worse. Too many people think giving a guy the same powers as your hero makes an arch-nemesis. What that makes for is a boring fight. Give your hero and villain the same choices and you have yourself a story. Doom truly believes he is a superior being and has the right (or even the obligation) to rule. Reed is the smartest guy on the planet and probably should be in charge of things but his family keeps him grounded. Keeps him humble. Reminds him that he doesn’t have the right to play God (which by the way that’s what Doom literally is doing over in Secret Wars right now.) So yeah Dr. Doom makes up for all the Paste-Pot Pete’s you want to throw at me. Also you’ve got Galactus and his herald of the week. You want a scary villain? Dude eats planets.
Best Stories: Really in this case it’s hard to top the original creators and all around legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. “The Galactus Trilogy” (Fantastic Four vol.1 #48-50) introduces marvel mainstays Galactus, Utah the Watcher, and the Silver Surfer while drawing a pretty good allegory for the cold war and mutually assured destruction. That arc is followed by “This Man…This Monster!” (Fantastic Four #51) The quintessential Thing story that’s incredibly moving. Then skip ahead to Byrne’s “Trial of Galactus” arc (Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #242-244, 252-255, 257-262) a beautifully written look at compassion and consequence. “Unthinkable” (Fantastic Four vol. 3 #67-70, 500) is one of the best Dr. Doom stories around and one of my personal favorites. And finally for a Lagniappe pick go read the “Crossover” (Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-23) and “Frightful” (Ultimate Fantastic Four #30-32) arcs from the Ultimate universe.
NEVER DO IT THIS WAY AGAIN: Any of the Fantastic Four movies? Each and every one of those films is a train wreck. 1) Do not tie in Doom’s origin to the FF’s origin. Doom is no man’s after thought. 2) Don’t go too dark. If you wouldn’t let an eight year old read/see it then it’s probably not a good Fantastic Four story. 3) Let Fox have anything to do with it.