How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
Remember the rumor that Marvel was going to get rid of all its mutants? Last year, there was a big fear among some fans that, due to backstage politics between Marvel and Fox, the X-Men would be “No More’d” out of existence with a line-wide reboot that would effectively replace mutants with Inhumans.
That sounds terrible, obviously, but it’s the kind of thing that nags at us when we think about film rights (as we so often do). However, while it can be fun to ponder a character’s place in a fictional universe, there’s little use in trying to discern the plans and motives (rumored or otherwise) of corporate executives. That way lies madness, Dear Reader.
Keeping the comics over here, the movies over there, and the business dealings far, far away is probably the best way to enjoy the stories. Yet, there’s no denying that mutants and Inhumans can be viewed as similar entities in the Marvel Universe — and, believe it or not, there are some decent reasons to at least readjust the X-Men’s place within in it.
Serialized stories can lead to a lot of stagnation. There’s only so much growth permitted for long-running characters before they escape their original purpose and risk losing those fans who fell in love with them the way they were.
After 53 years, I’d argue Spider-Man has actually regressed some, to keep his original operation. Editorial believes having Peter Parker as a married man ages him too much and limits him as a traditional superhero, so we remove some bits and try on new ones, because he has to go somewhere. Growth is longevity, after all, and changing with the times ensures a character reaches that 53rd anniversary. Aged too far, a character becomes someone else entirely and risks losing readers who miss the “old” interpretation.
Change is such a tricky thing that, when done well, should be celebrated. With that in mind, hooray for Loki!
In a way, it’s may be a good thing the Fantastic Four movie is doing so poorly, because now we get to talk about Marvel’s First Family.
For some reason, interest goes up whenever the Fantastic Four are in dire peril, whether that’s imminent death or cancellation. Most recent writers have chosen to threaten the team’s existence to generate interest, with mixed results: James Robinson came on under “The End of Fantastic Four”; Matt Fraction said the radiation that gave them their powers would kill them; Jonathan Hickman killed Johnny Storm, then rebranded what was left; and that’s just in the past five years.
It seems every time the team appears in danger of falling apart, or losing its title, is precisely when fans and critics like myself haul out the tributes and care about the Fantastic Four’s place within Marvel history. There’s an image we all have of what the Fantastic Four is and what it means in our heads. It’s just that putting that idea onto paper and sold for $3.99 is a difficult journey.
Marvel announced this week that as part of its “All New, All Different,” post-Secret Wars lineup, a new Hercules series will debut from writer Dan Abnett and artist Luke Ross. That’s awesome for many reasons, not the least of which is because Ross will set the tone, for sure, as his art has a clean, classic style that wouldn’t be out of place on a major title, as evidenced by his work on Captain America.
However, there’s a rhythm to his storytelling that goes beyond just choreographing big fight scenes and powerful figures. He can do everything form subtle humor to weightier emotional beats that tell me, even from the initial design work, that this title is going to be a different kind of Herc than we’ve seen before. Gone is the little Grecian wrap around the waist as Ross has updated the demigod.
However, that cocky smile remains.
We live in interesting times, Dear Reader. When I went to the late-night screening of Ant-Man, a line had already formed a half-hour before showtime. It wasn’t a big line, mind you, but it was still 30 people or more than I expected to be excited enough to turn up early. And they weren’t merely hardcore comic fans, but Marvel movie fans, Paul Rudd fans, and assorted interested parties.
There’s a second-act cameo that caused a group of teen girls behind me to gasp and cheer, a huge coup in making comic books more mainstream. Pop culture always used to sound like soda pop, the delight of the young looking for sugar, and now it seems we might just be popular after all.
WARNING: Spoilers! Nothing too direct, but to talk about the movie, you have to talk about the details, so go out and see Ant-Man, and follow along!
Wouldn’t it be nice to reinvent yourself every year? Just toss out all your old clothes, get a new job, take a new direction in life? It’s fun to think about, but really difficult to put into practice; there’s a lot of security in knowing who you are and working a job (you hopefully love) for year after year. We crave consistency but yearn for change. It’s why fiction is so important as an escape, from what comforts us. Heroes can risk it all in these huge, life-changing decisions, and we can watch from the bleachers, cheering them on or judging them harshly.
Let’s get to doing that with the latest all-new, all-different titles at Marvel, arriving in October.
Oh, man. The toughest part of these announcements is the sheer weight of information we get at once. Marvel could reveal these one at a time, but I think that would take away some of the spotlight, as one new title would be forgotten as the next new was announced. Instead, we get this 45-title avalanche showcasing a variety of new books and looks for our favorite heroes and villains, leaving people like Yours Truly to sort it all into manageable chunks. How do we parse all of this?
Congratulations, everyone! It’s a boy! Like, an actual boy: The newest actor to step into Peter Parker’s shoes is 19-year-old Tom Holland, the youngest Spider-Man yet (when cast at least, as he’ll probably be 20 or so by the time he shows up on screen).
The news has been met at my store with mixed “mehs.” Some are disappointed because Miles Morales won’t be appearing in his place, others are worried that we might have to sit through yet another origin story. Some are just put off by how young Holland looks. While there’s nothing fans can do to change the minds of studio executives, there’s still a chance that we might not have to watch Peter be bitten by a spider for any longer than an opening-credit sequence. It’s the teen years we’re really focusing on, and it can be such a sticking point with the discerning fan.
Why does Peter Parker always have to be a kid?
Frank Castle is a simple yet evocative character who would be as much at home in a pulp novel or in a ’70s action movies as in a comic book. He’s a man out for revenge, which is an age-old trope. However, the fact that there are three Taken movies proves we don’t care; we just want to see it. What was initially a throwaway Spider-Man villain has become a fan-favorite character, making The Punisher ripe for adaptation in other media.
Being so popular means you can survive a lot of bad ideas, like Dolph Lundgren or being an Angelic host. But what’s the best use of the Punisher?
Sometimes big marketing announcements can take the wind out of the sails of the comic event you’re reading.
Let me explain: Late Wednesday, Marvel began rolling out promo images for the “All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe,” and yes, I can almost see your eyes rolling. As of this afternoon, there are two teasers of Iron Man coming at you with a motley assortment of characters, refreshed or re-costumed, or just different, all under this “All-New” banner. So, even as I’m trying to enjoy the complicated chaos of Secret Wars, I’m already thinking ahead to what fictional life will be like once the event is over and speculating who will be all-new or all-different. I know this is just how comics are solicited — months ahead of time — but, man, it can really bum me out sometimes.
The way this is pitched, it doesn’t really seem like a reboot at all. Some characters will be relatively new, and others will be different than they were before, but … it’s still the Marvel Universe. Time still seems to be a constant, moving forward rather than backward to retell origins. Some past elements may be negated, but does that really constitute a reboot? And why is that word so bothersome? Why do comics resort to them as this cure-all, but the very mention of one makes longtime fans grind their teeth?
WARNING: I spoil who the current new Thor is at the very end of this post. Otherwise, I am free of insider knowledge and full of outsider musings. Read on!
Dear Mr. Andrews,
Forgive the Victorian formality of this letter as, while we have never met in person, I have been a great admirer of your work for a few years now. Your wonderful covers for the Incredible Hulk saved me from a rough time when Bruce Jones was writing the series.
It’s funny how we tend to blame the creative team when the book is “bad,” but can often seem like we’re praising the characters when the book is “good.” I don’t assume that’s always the case, but it goes a long way in explaining the fear readers have when there’s a creative change to a title, whether that’s the artist and writer of a comic, or an actor or director on a movie. In the hands of someone we don’t trust, don’t like or who simply doesn’t fit our “vision,” we can fear for the character’s safety more than we do the story the change might lead to.
Sorry for the absence, but I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, in and out of the country this month, which has taught me a valuable lesson: the English language makes no sense.
English is complicated, difficult to learn for non-native speakers (and heck, even some native speakers!); it’s a mishmash of other languages just kind of thrown in a blender with a hope for the best. It’s amazing it’s gotten us so far, but it’s also easy to see why communication gets so tangled up between people when the words we use can be so imperfect.
Take, for example, that English doesn’t have a standard plural for “you.” In the United States, we have regional forms of a plural “you,” but there’s not a standard one taught that I know of. That makes direct speech all sound personal, when the speaker might be generalizing more to a group rather than than the person sitting down to read this right now (hi, Mom). I can say something like “You read comics” and, for the most part, be correct; if you’re visiting this site, you probably read comics in one form or another. But if I say “You also watch Game of Thrones,” that’s a lot more hit-and-miss.
Well, here we go. Three years in the making, two of Marvel’s most prestigious titles dedicated entirely to its development, a complex mythology created practically out of whole cloth by Jonathan Hickman involving a cast of thousands, all pursuing the end of everything.
I’m tired just typing about it; I can’t imagine the dedication and passion it took to actually produce it month after month. But here we are, at the result of all that hard work and creativity: Secret Wars. “Everything dies” has to be one of the most depressing taglines ever for a comic book story, but this is it. Everything is dying, and there’s nothing that’s going to stop it.
That’s not true. We all know that there’s going to be a Battleworld after this, and then Free Comic Book Day gave us a teaser for the All-New Avengers debuting in the wake of the immense summer event, so we know that not “everything’ dies,” just the world as we know it. Will we feel fine?
I’ll admit it: I fell asleep at midnight last night. I got really close to the debut of Netflix’s Daredevil series, and stayed up as late as my poor brain could take, but then the next thing you know it was 7 a.m. and I had a kid who wanted breakfast.
Early reviews have been extremely positive; sure, everyone’s going to make the same Ben Affleck jokes, but I think a TV series is better venue for the Man Without Fear than a two-hour movie (good gracious, that was a long movie!). Due to his court dealings and his continual fights against similar foes (or just the Kingpin over and over), Daredevil better suited to the episodic format. His roots are in a quantifiable location, and his threat level remains the same. There’s a reason you don’t see Daredevil on the moon fighting Galactus; he’s just not that kind of guy.
His origins are very humble and, radioactive goo aside, very practical. In fact, if you break apart his backstory, you could get a variety of shows and movies out of Matt Murdock, yet none of them would inform all that much on the man he is today. Despite his early years, Matt Murdock is so closely associated with the Frank Miller era that the most important book for new fans to read is still Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. We’re lucky the new TV show seems to be skipping the steps it took to get to be Daredevil and going right for why he’s so cool now. It would be really easy to slow everything down to a step-by-step guide to being the Man Without Fear, but then when would we get to the kicky-punchy parts?
I think I finally realized why we’re here. The penultimate issue of Nathan Edmondson’s run on The Punisher, Issue 17, arrived this week and contained more of a solid understanding of the Frank Castle than I felt the previous installments had. Don’t get me wrong, Frank’s adventures in Los Angeles fighting a South American drug cartel have been spectacular in design and action, but the purpose of the run hasn’t come into focus until the Punisher was staring down Captain America in our nation’s capital.
You see, the Punisher is kind of like a very fancy hat: It looks great with the right outfit and on the right occasion, but you simply can’t wear it with everything you own.
Sports entertainment and comic books are like cookies and milk these days, what with pro wrestlers stepping into the writers’ chair from time to time to the Marvel offices being huge marks for the WWE. We’ve hosted quite a few Wrestlemania previews on ROBOT 6, and as the Super Bowl of wrasslin’ ramps up to the inevitable Mania on Sunday, my mind’s been particularly preoccupied with the most entertaining of sports.
Which is why I saw the above panel from Magneto #1, viscerally drawn by the incredibly talented Gabriel Hernandez, and thought to myself, Huh, that reminds me of John Cena.