This week’s Marvel 2-In-One #1 brought back the Fantastic Four - or at least, reunited the members that are left - with Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm embarking on a mission to find the Richards family in the multiverse after getting an unlikely clue from Doctor Doom.
If that sounds like the start of the FF story you’ve been waiting for, you’re not alone - artist Jim Cheung, who drew the first two issues of the series (and will be drawing at least one more) is just as excited to get back to the core tenets of the Fantastic Four as all the other fans who feel Marvel’s first family have been sorely missed.
With Marvel 2-In-One #1 now on stands (and the second issue dropping January 24), Newsarama spoke to Cheung about his personal Marvel legacy, what it means to draw characters defined by artists like Jack Kirby and John Byrne, and the surprises still in store for Ben, Johnny, and the rest of us as the series rolls on.
Newsarama: Jim, you’ve drawn basically every iconic Marvel character in your career leading up to Marvel 2-In-One. What perspective does that give you on the idea of “Legacy” as an artist?
Jim Cheung: I have had the good fortune of tackling most of the Marvel Universe during my career, and whenever I'm asked to take on a classic, core character, I inevitably wind up defaulting to the versions that were ingrained in me as a kid. I always try to pay a little homage to those that have laid down such a rich foundation that helped spark my childhood imagination, and try to build something as worthy and memorable for those that pick up my books today.
When I was presented with this opportunity to revisit two such legacy characters, and build an adventure upon that amazing history, I immediately jumped at the chance. Chip Zdarsky has written a story that manages to capture the spirit and excitement of those Kirby and Byrne books, and I hope that my artwork will respectfully do the same.
Nrama: You’ve drawn several Fantastic Four covers previous to this. How does it feel getting back to Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm?
Cheung: The Thing and Human Torch have always been my favorite characters from the Fantastic Four, so it took little persuading for me to take on the book after my issue of Astonishing X-Men. I hadn't had much opportunity to draw Ben during my time at Marvel aside from a short Guardians of The Galaxy story, which I found an absolute joy to work on. That story quickly cemented my love for the character, and he skyrocketed into my top five favorite Marvel characters to draw. Sadly that tale was all too brief, and just as I was getting into the groove, it was over. Which is why, when this book was brought up, I found it hard to turn down.
Nrama: Part of the charm of Ben Grimm is that every artist draws him a bit differently. What are your keys to rendering the Thing?
Cheung: I grew up during the John Byrne era of the Fantastic Four, and his work absolutely captivated me like no other. I consider Byrne, along with Kirby, to be the definitive FF artists, so whenever I'm in any doubt as to how I should render any character, I always refer to their versions. I love being able to show the humane side of Ben. Despite his craggily exterior, he is an incredibly emotive character, sometimes through just his eyes alone, and it's been a fun challenge showing his range, especially when I can push it towards the cartoony without him looking entirely ridiculous.
Nrama: On that note, you’ve got your own Marvel legacy – how do you feel about the success of Kate Bishop who you co-created, or seeing the Black Order, whose first appearance you drew, coming to the big screen?
Cheung: I am surprised and pleased by Kate's continued longevity in the Marvel Universe. I think it's down to all the amazing creators along the years who have helped form her into a character that readers enjoy and can relate to, and I hope she continues to stay prominent for many years to come.
As far as Corvus Glaive of the Black Order goes, I never thought he'd wind up in the big screen, so it was quite a pleasant shock when it was revealed that he would be in Avengers: Infinity War. The movie interpretation looks fantastic though, and I can't wait to see him in motion on the big screen!
Nrama: When it comes to Marvel 2-In-One, is there anyone Chip has included in the script that you’re particularly excited to draw? Is there a personal favorite you haven’t drawn yet that you’re hoping to include?
Cheung: Chip provided a great first script. It had a bit of everything, and flowed so well, that it was a joy to draw. I never really need a reason to revisit those iconic Jack Kirby issues, but Chip's script gave me plenty of reasons nonetheless. While I didn’t tackle anyone that I haven't had experience with in issue #1, I do get to visit the Mole Man in issue #2, and that winds up being a lot of fun - and way more work than I had initially imagined! But I always relish a challenge, even if it's just trying to come up with 'Kirbyesque' machinery! Hopefully all the research will be apparent in my pages, and I look forward to continuing with it as more classic FF villains pop up!
Nrama: Has Chip being an artist as well as a writer informed the working relationship the two of you have?
Cheung: Chip has been very helpful in providing me with a very visual script. Of course, being an artist himself helps in that regard, so there's been little that has needed clarification from him. I'm always slightly apprehensive though, whenever I work with a writer who is also an experienced artist, because I know they have their own mental interpretations of the pages as they write the script. I never want to fall short of that, whether it be on a pacing issue, or a detail or focus on. Thankfully, it's less of a problem now than it was in the past, as I feel more comfortable with my voice on the page. I hope that when the readers pick up the book, they'll be able to see how well our collaborative efforts have combined.
Nrama: You're doing at least two-issues of Marvel 2-In-One to kick things off, and staying on covers for a while. Will you be returning to these characters soon?
Cheung: I'm only scheduled for a short run on the book currently, but I may return for another arc. It's been a blast working on these pages, so I'd welcome the opportunity to do more with Chip - if not on this book, then perhaps another. He's been a delight to collaborate with!
Nrama: Without being too spoiler-y, what’s on your drawing board right now?
Cheung: I'm actually working on a promo piece because I just wrapped up the second issue of Marvel 2-in-One, and am waiting on a script for my third issue. The second issue was a blast to work on though, with lots of fun, and some surprising characters involved. Those who follow me on social media will have seen hints of what's to come, though there are still more surprises to be revealed!
Nrama: The Fantastic Four have been sorely missed by many Marvel fans. What can you tell the FF fans who are turning to Marvel 2-In-One for updates on their favorite long lost super-family?
Cheung: Well, the whole first story arc deals with the FF and their missing members, who Ben and Johnny come together to reunite with. While I can't say what happens (primarily because I don't know, and haven't been privy to those top secret Marvel editorial meetings), we do see glimpses of them from the past. So even though Reed and Sue aren't central characters within the book, they are never far from the narrative either. I'm sure there are lots of fun twists and turns planned though, to keep all the readers enthralled, so I look forward to seeing where Chip leads us all!