The Fantastic Four aren’t just a superhero team, they’re a family first – and in February relaunched Fantastic Four series writer James Robinson is bringing Marvel’s first family back to basics and exploring new heights by sending them to their deepest depths. Robinson is joined by artist Leonard Kirk, and together they have big plans than involve putting the space-faring team squarely back in Manhattan and fighting against long odds – against both friend and foe.
After being leaked at New York Comic Con earlier this year, Marvel formally announced Robinson and Kirk’s new Fantastic Four seriesin an article with USAToday.com. Robinson, who’s well known for his interest and success writing classic comic characters such as Justice Society of America, is aiming to make family first for Marvel’s first family – steeped in the rich legacy of creators who have worked on the group from Jack Kirby and Stan Lee to Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, Jonathan Hickman and others. Kirk, who’s worked in the industry for 20 plus years and worked on a string of cult-favorite superhero series like Agents of Atlas and Captain Britain & The M.I.-13, is trading up to take on one of Marvel’s – and comics – most popular series.
This new Fantastic Four series will join a burgeoning number of new series launching as part of All-New Marvel NOW!, and Newsarama spoke with both Robinson and Kirk about this bold new series, mixing history with adventure, finding out what makes a hero and what makes a family.
Newsarama: First question, James – how do you see the Fantastic Four as a team and a title?
James Robinson: Well, I think the best versions of the Fantastic Four haven't shown them as a team at all, but rather as a family. There have been wonderful arcs by various creative teams before Leonard Kirk and I, and what they all have in common is that they depict the Fantastic Four as a family. That level of love, caring and intimacy is an aspect that a regular team rarely has.
Nrama: As you mentioned, the Fantastic Four have a long history of epic runs in comics, from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby all the way to recent runs by Jonathan Hickman, Matt Fraction and Mark Millar. What would you say your foundation is for how you perceive the characters and the style of stories you’re going for here?
Robinson: Well, there have just been so many great runs by incredible creators. You have to look at what’s come before and draw inspiration from all those amazing stories. Kirby and Lee, 100 issues – that’s more than a run, it’s an epic saga. Then you have Millar and Bryan Hitch, Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo, Hickman, Matt Fraction, and lets not forget the great runs before that too -- Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and incredible runs by both John Byrne and Walt Simonson too of course.
These are the creators I'm inspired by, but at the same time what they did was so singular to themselves each time that you obviously you can’t just copy what they did; instead you have to find your own (hopefully) unique take on the FF while acknowledging all the great work these creators have done. Truthfully Leonard Kirk and I hope to do a run that people in the future can look to and says it stands on its own like those I mentioned before. Fingers crossed.
Nrama: What can you say about the story you two have planned for your run here?
Leonard Kirk: When I joined the team, I knew very little of what was coming up. Our editor Mark Paniccia had given me a pretty simple synopsis. I met up with James at Fan Expo and he gave me much more detail.
The story starts off with the Fantastic Four hitting rock bottom and what brought them to that point. Beyond that, the readers are just going to have to wait to see if the team can recover and start kicking ass again.
My own plans are to draw the best freaking' Fantastic Four book I can.
Robinson: Well great drama comes with taking your protagonists and dragging them through all kinds of trials, tribulations and heartbreaks before showing their heroism and perseverance as they rally, come back and ultimately triumph. So guess what my plans are. Sure I love the Fantastic Four, but I’m going to put them through hell before you see them come together as a family and defeat the ultimate, underlying threat in this arc.
For the individually characters, I’m trying to focus on each character physically and metaphorically in terms of what makes them unique. For example I'm going to be writing the fall and rise of Johnny Storm. He'll go through a lot of bad stuff in the course of my run, but ultimately triumph as the great hero we know him to be.
And while there will be cosmic elements and events on the other worlds and dimensions that Reed is constantly exploring, a lot more will take place in New York City. Looking at the previous runs by Hickman and Matt Fraction, a lot of it took place off-world, so I think it's time to bring things back home for a while. If you look at the early runs by Lee, Conway and Roy Thomas, a lot more took place in New York City itself. For instance, the first time the FF met Galactus, it wasn’t out in space – he was looming over Manhattan with Silver Surfer flying by.
Another thing I should mention is sometimes when a new writer comes onto a book, they pretend nothing happened on the book before they came to it. That definitely won't be the case here. For me, the comics medium is about building on the lore of the creators who came before us and what they put into those characters. So while Leonard and my run will be a new direction, there will be points that hinge around events that occurred in Hickman’s run, Matt Fraction’s run, and even reference and touch on earlier runs and adventures in ways that might surprise you. I intend to be very careful and respectful of what came before.
Kirk: When I started designing props and other elements, one thing I said I want to see is some focus on Thing's technical abilities. Everyone sees Ben as the muscle of the group, which he is. However, many have forgotten that Ben is a pilot, and a damn good one. Let's see him pull off a little Top Gun action with the Fantasticar!
Nrama: You brought up the Human Torch, so I have to ask this; you’re writing both of Marvel’s Human Torches, the original inAll-New Invaders and then the most popular in Fantastic Four. What’s that like?
Robinson: That’s actually a good question. Obviously they’re very different; Johnny Storm has a very well-defined personality in the way he conducts himself, the way he speaks, and the way he interacts with Ben, Sue and the family. He is very defined, so I have to be careful; there’s a little bit of wiggle room from one writer to the next, but not much. So for Johnny it’s very much me being truthful to what came before as he goes through all the drama that will be going on.
However, in All-New Invaders writing the original Human Torch, Jim Hammond, it’s quite different. Working with Jim Hammond gives me the opportunity to do what people seem to remember me for: taking characters who perhaps don’t have much of a personality and adding a humanity to them in the way they act and feel, giving readers something to care about. With Jim Hammond, I have much more of a free reign to embellish his reactions, especially compared to the other Invaders who are more firmly established. Oh, and events in Rick Remender's Secret Avengers where Jim appeared last before this will definitely play into how he thinks and acts.
Oh and one thing I’m proud of that stems from collaborating with All-New Invaders artist Steve Pugh is how we've established how the two Human Torches should look different when they’re on fire. The way the original Human Torch was drawn in the 1940s and 1950s is the same way Jack Kirby drew Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four. However now, we’re determined that if these two were to fly side-by-side you’d immediately know which is which. Obviously Johnny isn't going to change, but we've changed Hammond's fiery form just enough. There’s a possibility – I’ll won't say very likely – that they might meet somewhere down the line; I haven’t planned it out in stone, but I have thought about it obviously. With my writing both books it would be kind of a wasted opportunity if they didn't after all.
Nrama: As you said earlier, the Fantastic Four is more than just a team – it’s a family. How will the children and ensemble characters play into this series?
Robinson: Well, this is where I don’t want to say too much. Answering that fully would start to give away plot points I don’t want reveal yet. Suffice to say, I definitely had the option of having the kids go off to different places and be out of the book, but I feel that when Hickman created the Future Foundation he really added another amazing layer to the Fantastic Four, and so all of those children will still be around and will definitely play a part in the larger saga. Some of them more than others; I’m not sure if Black Bolt’s kid will be around with Inhumanity happening, but the others like Bentley 23 will be there. And at different times, both Franklin and Valeria will be very important to the story.
Nrama: So is it going to be kind of a Lost In Space vibe with the adults and the children?
Robinson: No. One thing I will say is that Leonard and my Fantastic Four run will be more so about the core four. I really want to concentrate on them. However, let me stress that even with that I promise all of those peripheral characters will be a part of the story too – Ms. Thing, Scott Lang, Dragon Man, Turg the floating Moloid Head (who I love), you’ll see them all. Oh, and Wyatt Wingfoot will play a crucial supporting role too.
Nrama: Leonard, you’re well known for drawing books with large casts – from JSA to Captain Britain & MI: 13 to Agents of Atlas and on through to X-Factor recently. But how is this team with Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben so different?
Kirk: Well, there are only four of them, for starters. In fact, there might not be enough on the team to make it work for me. I'm pushing for the title becoming the Sensational Seven!
No. I'm not doing that. There are plenty of people to be drawn in this book. It's hard to say what makes this team different from the others I've drawn but it does feel different.
I think the Fantastic Four may be a more iconic team than the others you mention. They started off as these four. They've gone through changes, added teammates, dropped teammates but the Fantastic Four have always come back to the original cast, Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben.
Nrama: Interestingly, this isn’t the first time you’ve written Fantastic Four – you did an issue when the Fantastic Four crossed over with Jim Lee’s Wildstorm characters at the end of Heroes Reborn in 1997. Obviously there’s a big difference here in context and time, but how do you look back at that issue you did and what you’re doing here?
Robinson: I look back on that issue with great affection. I got to work with Mike Wieringo before he passed; a lot of writers can’t say that. I worked with him on an issue of Firearm back in the Ultraverse days as well, but the Fantastic Four issue is the one I remember more.
However, that issue of Fantastic Four was an interesting project because going into it I knew it was the beginning of the end of the Heroes Reborn-verse. Obviously I have pride in my work and I wasn’t about to hack out something, but I knew that the whole “Heroes Reborn” universe was nearing an end so it was fun to go in there, have fun merging Heroes Reborn with the Wildstorm line, and mix and match the characters, realizing there was no real consequence to it.
Doing that issue – and the other issues in the “World War 3” crossover with the other “Heroes Reborn” titles -- gave me a chance to work in some long-time favorites of mine. For instance I adore the Inhumans; my first issue of Fantastic Four was #99, which had the Inhumans in it, and I got to put Gorgon in the Avengers issue that was a part of "World War 3". Oh, and I should add how excited I am that Matt Fraction is going to be bringing his amazing talents to the world of Black Bolt and his family.
But to get back to your question, although the upcoming run is quite different from what I did then I remember that issue I did with Mike Wieringo with a lot of fondness.
Nrama: Leonard, you as well have a history with the FF -- you drew Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four in 2007. What’s it like coming back, and how is it different being it’s the main book?
Kirk: It feels great being able to draw more of the FF in ANY book. The first time around was meant to be the beginning of even more work with the Marvel Adventures FF series. While I did do a number of covers for the series that issue was the only one I drew.
I guess the real difference working on the main book is the nature of the story. The Marvel Adventures projects I've worked on had a very kid-friendly feel. But, really, they were good for anyone of any age to read. The main Fantastic Four series can also be enjoyed by a wide age range but it will likely appeal more to older readers.
Nrama: What would you say is the overall style or thrust you’re going for with this new Fantastic Four series?
Robinson: This is one of those things where someone can give you an answer, but I don’t think any answer would be true at this early point in the series. Long runs are defined as you do them; no matter what you plan, it’ll come out somewhat differently. You'll get different ideas once you've started, or the artist will bring new ideas, or the editor will; and sometimes things happen at companies like Marvel or DC where a big event will occur and suddenly you’ll have to work that into your plans too. All of these things you have to deal with.
But generally, my plan is to write my cool version of Fantastic Four -- they’re in New York, there’s cosmic stuff, and lots of villains that the FF must take on. You’ll see the family, the family’s downfall and then they'll rise like a phoenix. So that’s really what I’m trying to do; an epic story that upon its end people will agree it had a satisfying conclusion.
Nrama: What’s it like working together once again? Last time you worked together was years ago on a short run in DC’s Detective Comics. Any personal connection you’re reviving here?
Kirk: A bit. Of course, we had a lot of contact working together on Detective. Beyond that, we've talked and seen each other at conventions a couple times. We've always wanted to do another project together but just never had the opportunity until now. I imagine part of that came from my being exclusive to Marvel during the same period he was mainly working with DC.
Nrama: James, what about you?
Robinson: Thrilling – absolutely thrilling. I write detailed scripts with camera angles and panel layouts sometimes. I’d rather have too many ideas on a page than not enough, giving an artist a lot of things to work off of. I don’t expect them to do all of it – it’s there for them to use what they want. And Leonard is great at following the script, while always adding unexpected flourishes, camera angles and creative ideas that wouldn't occur to me.
For example Leonard's redesigned Fantasticar is something to behold.
So yeah, I’m really excited to be working with him again.
He just recently turned in this great double-page spread in which you’ll see the Fantastic Four for the first time in battle in our arc, fighting one of my favorite Marvel characters. It was a blast to see.
And yes, we’ve been wanting to work together again for some time. After working on Detective Comics, we met face-to-face a year later at Emerald City Con and he had moved over to work at Marvel and I was still at DC. So for a time it felt like we were the Montagues and the Capulets, but now I’m here at Marvel too and it’s all worked out.
When you see Leonard’s approach, you’ll see why I’m excited; he does an amazing Thing and when you have an artist who knows how to properly draw the Thing, you know you’re in good hands.
Nrama: And I know it’s very early on, but before you go let me ask about villains.. Can you say who you might use here, or maybe just the top FF villains that stick out to you?
Robinson: Let me answer your question with a question: what if there was more than one team of villains comprising the Frightful Four and what if each time around those varied villains got more and more powerful and deadly? Imagine that, then imagine as many Fantastic Four villains and other Marvel villains as you like comprising these Frightful Four teams and that’s probably close to what the Fantastic Four will be encountering in the book.