UPDATE: The FANTASTIC FOUR Become a Terrific Trio in Sep

The FANTASTIC FOUR Become "3" in Sept.

UPDATE JUNE 8, 2010: Three other teaser images, one each originally appearing on other websites, have now been released to run here. Each shows a different combination of three remaining members. You can see them within this piece.

In September, Fantastic Four becomes "Three."

Beginning with Fantastic Four #583, artist Steve Epting joins writer Jonathan Hickman to kick off the six-issue storyline "Three," where the War of Four Cities ramps up to an ending where, Marvel promises, "one member of the Fantastic Four will have breathed their last."

And Hickman says the impending death isn't just hype. "There's a reason we're calling the arc 'Three,'" he told Newsarama.

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"'Three' is a cosmic, star-spanning Fantastic Four story with consequences," the writer said. "And more importantly, it's the first time we see Doom in our Fantastic Four."

The writer has been building this storyline since he joined the title last year with artist Dale Eaglesham, who is now moving over to the Ed Brubaker project coming up in July, Steve Rogers: Super Soldier.

In fact, Brubaker and Hickman are sort of trading artists, since Epting just finished The Marvels Project for Brubaker, with whom he's worked on Captain America since the title was relaunched in 2004.

With "Three," the title gets a new artist and begins its first major, multi-issue storyline, and Newsarama talked with Hickman to find out more.

Newsarama: Jonathan, before we get into the details of "Three," let's talk about the addition of Steve Epting to your team. Have you started talking with Steve about Fantastic Four, and what do you think he's going to bring to the title?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, Steve actually lives near me, so we had dinner and talked about plans for the book and where we're headed. He already has a script and is already working on the book. He's turned in some beautiful pages. So my position on Steve is, we're stoked! I'm loving the work he's doing. He's fantastic. He's a consummate professional.

Nrama: Because we've seen him working with Ed Brubaker for the last few years, and Ed's stories are so grounded, it feels a little odd to have him on something so cosmic. Yet Steve's been around awhile and has certainly done the cosmic stuff. Is this first story tailored to him in any way, or is he just adjusting to the needs of the story?

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Hickman: I've seen what he's drawing on Fantastic Four, and I can tell you that Steve can do this story and do it beautifully. And you know, people need change. No one likes to be pigeonholed. No one likes to do just one thing for the rest of their life. One of the worst things you can do with an artist is expect him to play to type forever. So this has been a really good thing for Steve, and a good thing for the book, because it's truly beautiful stuff.

Nrama: Let's talk about War of 4 Cities, because I think some readers were surprised this last issue didn't kick it into high gear. D

Hickman: All of this has been a slow burn to what's coming. This is true for just about everything that I've done on the book so far, starting with the Council of Reeds stuff, each of the Four Cities, the Nu-Earth issue that I did, the Future Foundation issue that just came out, the next issue that is kind of... uh... well, I don't want to give that way, then we're doing a two-part story about Reed and Doom and Ben in college -- all of it is building toward when Steve starts on the book.

So we'll see all of that stuff again. All of that comes to a head when Steve starts on the book. He starts on Issue #583, and that's when "Three" starts.

Nrama: How would you describe "Three?"

Hickman: if I had to sum it up, it would simply be defined as the summation of everything we've done to this point, culminating with a tragic series of events whenever all of the pieces that we've put on the table so far start to fall apart.

It's a week in the life of the Fantastic Four. It takes place in New Atlantis and the Negative Zone, and some of it in the Abandoned City of the High Evolutionary, and some of it takes place on Nu-Earth, or Nu-World, as we're calling it now.

"Three" is a cosmic, star-spanning Fantastic Four story with consequences. It's easy to start knocking that stuff down when you spend as much time as I have setting it up.

And more importantly, it's the first time we see Doom in our Fantastic Four.

Nrama: So does this two-issue arc that shows Doom in college with Ben and Reed set something into play that leads up to this encounter with Doom?

Hickman: When Tom Brevoort read the scripts for the two-issue college arc, he said it was the first time that the superstructure of the overall narrative I'm telling became really, really evident.

It's where it all kicks in.

We see the return of Nathaniel Richards in those issues. We see a future Franklin again. And we start off in college in the '60s, and we journey to close to the end of space-time. Since we've done all this work and laid all this track in front of us, we can travel at a really, really high speed now.

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We'll also use "Three" to push the book back into more of a Marvel-centric kind of series. It feels like the FF has been isolated, on its own, for a very long time -- certainly since Civil War. We want to push it back into Marvel central, and to do that, we're going to have to tell stories that deserve that scope.

And to get there and not seem just completely random, you have to lay all the groundwork, and that's what we've been doing. And that's especially true of the two-issue Doom-in-college arc.

Nrama: Marvel has stated that when the War of 4 Cities ends, "one member of the Fantastic Four will have breathed their last." Is that just hype or is it real?

Hickman: Oh, no, it's real. You can't do these things without there being some weight to it.

There's a reason we're calling the arc "Three."

Nrama: Is "Three" more of a traditional storyline? Because your work on Fantastic Four hasn't really been defined by the usual six- or four-issue arcs we see on so many other ongoing comics.

Hickman: I think if you look at my entire run so far on FF, I think you could say we have told only one story so far that had an arc, and that was the first three issues. That was Reed and his dad and the Council and that kind of stuff.

Everything else after that has really been a series of one-shots, even though we grouped the Four Cities stuff into a collection called Prime Elements, and we marketed it as the Four Cities. They're really all stand-alone issues.

"Three" is our first broad story arc of the series. It's six issues.

Nrama: Did you consciously go into this series with the intent of ignoring the six-issue standard until now? Or is this just the way you write?

Hickman: No, I would say it was a very conscious decision. The number of single issues we've done has been very intentional. I wanted an arc to feel like an arc. If you do big arc after big arc after big arc, they just become monotonous. I know we live in a trade culture, which is fantastic because, while it has its detriments, people read your work in a broader way, in a broader audience. But you have to look at these things as super-stories as well, collections of trades.

I had a 30-issue outline when I got the gig. And we're on course. I have always thought the book should be about ideas, and about characters. I think those are the two things the Fantastic Four should be about, and I feel like that's what we've done with the book. I'm proud of what we've done so far.

We've got a lot of pretty big milestones that are coming up to. We've got Issue #600, and we've got the 50th anniversary. There's just so much big stuff we're doing on the back end of this that I felt like we had to have both the elements to play with that weren't in play in the rest of the Marvel Universe, and I felt like we also had to reintroduce the big, key characters, like Namor and Doom and the Inhumans, in a fresh, new way, or else it's just another one of those stories. We've been building a lot, and I've hinted at some even cooler things to come.

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