How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
There is a page in FF #12 that would knock Jerry Springer’s socks off. Not in trashiness, but in the complexity of the relationships of the people on panel. Let’s see who we have here: there’s an alternate Reed Richards who came from a collective of Reed Richards..es. There is the time-traveling Nathanial Richards, his not-quite father. Doctor Doom sits collared by the machinations of alter-Reed, while Kristoff demands justice for his not-exactly father and the inherited name of Doom. Did I mention there’s a Wikipedia entry that has hinted that Nathaniel Richards might actually be Kristoff’s biological father? Yeah, wrap your head around this, because this is key: the relationships of these people on this page are why no one should be dropping this title due to the return of the Fantastic Four.
Potential spoilers for Fantastic Four #600 and FF #12 after the jump!
Last week Fantastic Four returned to publication under its full name and original numbering with Fantastic Four #600. You may have heard of this. Inside, Johnny Storm’s fate is revealed, Marvel’s first family grapples with Ronan the Accuser and the Kree armada as well as the creeping threat of Annihilus’ inevitable return. It is 100 pages of all-new story and art that furthers the goal that Jonathan Hickman started in Fantastic Four #570. It is deep, it is lengthy, it is surprising, and–to borrow a term–it is fantastic. So why is FF still on the stands? FF, short for Future Foundation, was a way to show the reader how Marvel’s first family adapts to a loss in number. Because let’s face it, they’re never the Fantastic Three for very long. No matter who leaves and who stays, they always bring the ranks up to four thanks to the immense variety of supporting characters and surrogate family in the Marvel U.
Because their supporting characters are so awesome, their villains so villainous, the stakes so high, on both personal and global levels, there is simply too much to fit into one book. Everybody loves Doctor Doom, but he can’t be in the book all the time, or else he loses something of what makes him such a great character. Being honest with ourselves, having his own book doesn’t seem to be a possibility either. Doctor Doom is simply at his best when pitted against his most enduring foes. FF allows breathing room for Doom, and other supporting characters, without crowding the Fantastic Four. This is what happens when your characters have been around for six hundred issues: you bring a lot of back story.
Like having kids.
Grade schoolers haven’t been this interesting in the Marvel U since Power Pack. In fact, a lot of kids of superheroes wind up in the gutters as they are sidelined for the more interesting adult adventures. We even skip their formative years by sending them into the future, putting them under some aging ray, throwing them in hell… man, Marvel doesn’t really like kids, do they? Stan Lee isn’t fond of teen-aged sidekicks, babies are often taken hostage, pawned off to nannies and sitters, or simply forgotten, to make way for people with their drivers licenses. Hickman has sort of broken the mold and continuously used the Richards kids as both plot points and secret heroes in their own right. Sure, Franklin and Valeria may not be ordinary kids, but having a childlike point of view on Hickman’s trademark cosmic-powered philosophy stories has enhanced the reader’s connection and enjoyment. I actively care about a couple of grade schoolers, and that’s a new one for me as a Marvel Zombie.
The Fantastic Four are a great team in which to watch characters evolve. Reed Richards has been called a futurist in the recent run of Fantastic Four comics. And so the Fantastic Four, while always scientifically minded, now have a stronger goal that unites not just them, but their family, and surrogate families as well. They no longer just want to protect the people of Earth, they want to protect mankind itself, which turns an eye to the future. Since Civil War, Reed Richards has caused more trouble for everyone as a “futurist.” No matter how much math he can do, no matter what machines he can create, advancements in technology, inter-dimensional travel, none of this tends to go well. It is ironic that an antagonist of the series is just Reed Richards himself. Sure, an alternate version, but you get the idea. The lesson to learn from this and to watch develop in the pages of FF is that you can’t control the future, you have to let it grow up on its own, and guide it to the best of your ability. The Fantastic Four will always be the world’s greatest magazine, and their heroes Marvel’s first family. The FF, and the Future Foundation as a whole, is a way for the next generation to grow into its own, without Reed’s direct hand. He can still look to the future, because it’s right beside him in the eyes of his children.
Our past is the foundation of our future. You can’t stop reading now.