Marvel Passes the FANTASTIC FOUR Torch After 14 Years
CREDIT: Marvel Comics
When Fantastic Four #1 comes out on February 26, it marks the end of an era and a changing of the guard for the book that defined Marvel Comics. A new creative team in James Robinson and Leonard Kirk are onboard, but there’s also something going on behind the scenes that is a sea change: a new editor, Mark Paniccia, will be taking charge.
Paniccia will be taking the reins of Fantastic Four after the title and the team has been guided by Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort for the past 14 years and 150+ issues. As Senior Editor, Paniccia has worked for the House of Ideas since 2004 (and had a stint prior to that in the 1990s), and currently edits a majority of the “Heroes” titles at Marvel including Iron Man, Hulk, Ghost Rider, All-New Invaders, Iron Patriot as well as the Ultimate line consisting of Miles Morales The Ultimate Spider-Man, All-New Ultimates and Ultimate FF. In addition to that, his editorial team also supports Marvel’s all-ages titles, third-party projects like Once Upon A Time and Castle, as well as the Custom Solutions department headed up by newly minted Creative Director Bill Rosemann.
Paniccia has a long history in comics, getting his start as an artist on the independent scene in the mid-1980s before receiving some chance advice from Dick Giordano who encouraged him to venture into editing. Since then he’s served as an editor for DC, Marvel, TOKYOPOP and Malibu. Paniccia worked as Malibu’s Licensing Line Editor when the company was purchased by Marvel in 1994, leading him to jump to Marvel for a period. It’s through this 20+ year run as editor that Paniccia has learned the skills and established relationships with comic creators that he’s putting to use today at Marvel.
With the launch of the new Fantastic Four series just weeks away, Newsarama caught up with Paniccia to talk about the passing of the torch of the book’s editorial reins from Brevoort, as well as the behind-the-scenes stories about how Robinson and Kirk’s run came together and also an idea of what it’s like to be in charge of one of the pillars of Marvel Comics’ publishing line.
Newsarama: Congratulations on the new position overseeing Fantastic Four, Mark. Can you tell us about your duties as the supervising editor of Fantastic Four?
Mark Paniccia: I have been involved in every stage of development from plot sessions with James to logo design, new uniform designs and cover compositions.
Nrama: You've had a diverse career in comics, from starting out as an artist to becoming an editor overseeing everything from Star Trek to Battle Royale, doing stints at DC, Malibu, TOKYOPOP, Marvel (of course!) and even some independent work like editing Bulletproof Monk. What’s the journey been like so far?
Paniccia: Yeah, I guess I have. I sometimes forget how long I've been in this industry. Time flies when you’re having fun!
I had originally wanted to be a penciller and was ready to pack up and move to New York before the end of high school but Dick Giordano talked some sense into me. From there I thought I my career path would most likely be in commercial art or automotive design but when the black and white boom hit, it gave a lot of us aspiring comics creators unique opportunities to break in.
Nrama: And now you're picking up the reigns of editing one of Marvel’s key pillars Fantastic Four. Tom Brevoort has been overseeing this title for the past twelve years - a record in modern times for a book I'd imagine. So how did it all come together for you?
Paniccia: It was completely unexpected. Fantastic Four was an editing Holy Grail for me - one I never imagined would find its way to my desk. I thought the only way one would get it was to pry it from Tom's cold, dead hands. So when he came to me to talk about passing the torch (no pun intended) I was fairly surprised…and very honored.
Just like fans, editors can’t help but daydream (when time is available) about what you’d do with certain titles and Fantastic Four was top of my wish list. I've had many ideas about it, many dream teams and story ideas… I just never thought I'd get a chance to work on it and al that got filed under “fantasy.” It's a real gift to have this as part of my career. And Tom was very good and supportive. It was a great feeling to know that over the years I earned his respect enough to take on his favorite book.
Nrama: What were the conversations like with Tom as you took on these new responsibilities?
Paniccia: He got me caught up on the end game with the current creative teams before turning the re-launch completely over to me. The only thing he asked was that my writer wouldn't completely ignore or contradict what came before and I'm not the kind of guy who would intentionally do that anyway which I think he knew.
And I was really lucky that James was such a fan of all the previous runs and had planned on touching back to characters and building from the rich tapestry that those before him had created. While our main focus is the core four, James has got some great moments planned with many of the supporting characters from the past few years. He views the book as a story about family and the kids, Dragon Man, She-Hulk, etc. are all part of that family. Fans of recent runs will really appreciate and dig what’s on the horizon.
Nrama: What's it like taking on the editorial role of a major comics franchise like Fantastic Four and calling the shots?
Paniccia: I try to look at what hasn't been done with a character or franchise for a long time - if ever - and see if there's an organic way to get there without going against the core of the characters. With Hulk we hadn't seen him exiled in a while (not since “Crossroads”). We moved him off world and let him cut loose as a gladiator on a doomed planet. But we were still able to retain and build off his inherent nobility. That was key.
With Iron Man, his mythos is so connected to his family and heritage that when Kieron came up with the idea of Tony being adopted, we knew it was something that had momentum — that would truly shake his foundation but wouldn’t destroy his core. He’s such a cocky character, so sure of him — he thinks, no…knows he can build anything, do anything. Throwing an existential curve ball at him like this would challenge his perception of himself and the world around him, paving the way for some unexpected storylines.
For Fantastic Four I really wanted to focus on the original team. I wanted to go back to the soap opera vibe I remember them having when I first started reading comics. Man, that stuff was intense! When discussing with James, he wasn’t sure about pitching at first, especially since there were a few other writers we were talking to. He felt that Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction had already done so much with them and wasn’t sure he had a story to tell. But as we talked, it was clear we had the same nostalgic reference points for the series, the same favorite moments and he was getting more and more excited about it.
He slept on it and came back with this amazing pitch that focused on the original four, put them in absolutely heartbreaking circumstances, kept the extended cast from the previous series and created some cool stuff while touching on some very wild moments in Fantastic Four history. I was sold and so was the rest of Marvel.
Nrama: Let’s back up and talk about recruiting James and Leonard to relaunch Fantastic Four and represent the beginning of your editorial run on the title.
Paniccia: Both James and Leonard are guys I've known since my days at Malibu but I had a lot of experience working with Leonard. He was one of my main guys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and was a huge asset to me in terms of knowledge of the show and ability to do likenesses. And the guy can draw anything! Detailed backgrounds, wild alien tech, crazy vehicles. He’s what I would call gifted in the ways of perspective in an almost scary way.
When I came back to Marvel in 2004, I brought him over and had him work on one of my first assignments penciling the new Scorpion in Amazing Fantasy.
When discussing artists with James we were going over a list I’d made and just before we got to Leonard he brought up his name. So that kind of felt like fate. Leonard was just finishing the big Galactus-goes-to the-Ultimate-Universe series,Hunger for me so schedule wise it couldn’t have been better.
As for James, we had been working on All-New Invaders and I brought up Fantastic Four in conversation. I had a feeling he’d write a great Fantastic Four and I’m pleased to say I’m right! The characters come so natural to him, it feels like he’s been writing them for years. Oh, that and he was cool with the idea of the red costumes [laughs]. The thought behind that was that it not only signaled a new start, but also that something was wrong…that visually we were telling the reader, “yeah, this might not feel right…and it’s a sign of things to come.”
Nrama: What are your goals/ambitions for Fantastic Four going forward?
Paniccia: I want the arc to be something that will inspire fans and be considered a favorite for them years from now. With the stuff James has planned for the next year or so I’m pretty sure fans will be entertained and strapped to their seats for the whole very bumpy, very twisty, very surprising ride.
And I want Tom Brevoort to be proud…so he doesn’t take it back [laughs].