In 1961, the legendary creative team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the world to the first family of Marvel Comics, the “Fantastic Four.” Since then, the FF's adventures have been chronicled by a multitude of diverse and talented creators. In a few months the acclaimed creative team of Mark Millar and Brian Hitch will end their run on “Fantastic Four,” but Marvel already has two equally talented creators lined up and ready for their chance to take the FF on even more fantastic adventures. CBR News spoke with writer Jonathan Hickman [“Secret Warriors”] and artist Dale Eaglesham [DC Comics “JSA”] about their plans for “Fantastic Four” when they take over the series this summer.
While he still may be a new voice at Marvel, Jonathan Hickman is already a critically acclaimed and highly talented creator of independent comics. That talent was clearly on display in his first script for Marvel, “Secret Warriors” #1, because it was the strength of that script that earned Hickman the ongoing “Fantastic Four” assignment. “I remember, I was writing 'Secret Warriors” #2 and I got a random e-mail from Editor Tom Brevoort saying, 'Hey, I'm not promising you anything but Millar and Hitch are coming off FF sometime next year, and I think you could bring a lot to the book. Would you be interested?'” Hickman told CBR News. “The specific reasons Tom wanted me to do it was because he thought I had a unique voice and I was a long range planner. He wanted to see what I would come up with, so I prepared a pitch document for him and it was pretty well received. When I was writing that document, I knew I was onto something. I just kind of got it. Now I feel very excited about doing it.”
Upon receiving the “Fantastic Four” assignment, Hickman, who had not read much Fantastic Four up to that point, decided that in order to get a better feel for the characters, he needed to do some research. The writer quickly devoured the past 2-3 years worth of “Fantastic Four” stories and several volumes in the “Essential Fantastic Four” and “Fantastic Four: Visionaries” series. “I've read more FF in the last two-three months then I had in my entire life, and in reading that much in such a compressed time, one of the things that became pretty clear to me was that the 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' title has had a big impact on the regular 'Fantastic Four' series,” the writer said. “'Fantastic Four' is about fantastic adventures and the family, but when 'Ultimate FF' was launched and Warren Ellis took over the book, it kind of turned into a science explorers type book. And I've noticed the propensity for a number of writers to try and turn 'Fantastic Four' into sort of an 'I've figured out this very cool scientific story!' type of book. And I think the series has lost a little bit of it's heart.
“To me, 'Fantastic Four' is obviously about the family structure, but more importantly it's about wild, chaotic, fantastic ideas, as opposed to how things work in a functional world,” Hickman continued. “The physics of something isn't the heart of the book. That's not what I think we need to get back too.”
Readers wanting to get an early glimpse of what Hickman has planned for “Fantastic Four” should pick up his “Dark Reign: Fantastic Four” mini-series with artist Sean Chen, which beings in March. “I got offered the 'Dark Reign: FF' gig after we knew I was going to be doing FF. So 'Dark Reign: FF' really works as a preamble or lead in to my first issue,” Hickman explained. “You don't have to pick up that series to get my first issue of 'Fantastic Four.' I'll be very clear and explain things, but if you get that series, you'll get a pretty good idea of where we're headed.
“And what you ought to expect out of me when it comes to 'Fantastic Four' stories is the old stuff with a new twist on it,” Hickman continued. “Not a reimagining, because that's a terrible word for this, but kind of a distilling of everything down to it's essence and then a spinning of it off into a new direction. In that new direction we're still going to have a semblance of all things that you're familiar with but we're going to be doing it in a totally different way. It's a from the ground up kind of rebirth, at least that's the way I envision it.”
Hickman hasn't yet had the chance to write his first “Fantastic Four” script, but he does know what the first story arc on the book will be about. “It's going to be a Reed-centric story, and I'm so excited to write it. I'm as excited to write it as I was 'Secret Warriors,' and I think the first issue of that was pretty much a slam dunk.”
Hickman also has a plan in place for the structure of the stories he wants to tell. “It's my assertion that if you're going to tell a story about character and human elements, that you can't do it in a plot driven, dramatic arc,” the writer remarked. “So we're going to tell shorter arcs that are rapidly developing, all encompassing, massive and huge like the big opera the FF is. Then we're going to do one or two issue stories that are going to be a little more family centric and involve pure character development.
“In my opinion the way you do this kind of stuff is you have the characterization that develops in the smaller one or two part stories and then comes to fruition in the middle of the conflict of a huge arc,” Hickman said. “So we're going to try that and I think we're going to be successful. We'll see what the reaction is but I think it's going to be pretty positive.”
Another important part of any “Fantastic Four” story are the antagonists, and Hickman has been doing some thinking about the members of the FF's rogues' gallery. “I do think we need some new villains but obviously they have some amazing ones. Doom is in Norman Osborn's Cabal and Millar and Hitch are getting ready to do their 'Masters of Doom' story in FF' So he's going to be off the table for a bit in the way that I want to use him, but that's okay,” Hickman explained. “Doom is maybe the coolest villain in the Marvel Universe, but I also love the Mole Man. I think he's a fascinating character that's been a little underused. And obviously Namor is off the shelf, not that I think he's a villain but he is a great character. Also I think I'd like to play around with some of the characters and elements from 'Annihilation' at some point, especially with the Negative Zone. I think there's a lot to do there.”
Hickman can't wait to start working with his artistic collaborators on “Fantastic Four.” “Dale Eaglesham has been at DC a very long time. So he's really energized and excited to be working on Marvel stuff in general and even more excited to be working on Fantastic Four,” I think the thing that's going to be really wonderful is seeing Paul Mounts color Dale's work. That's going to be huge because I think Dale's work, as good as it is, is going to shine even more when you add somebody like that to the mix.”
While Hickman earned his FF assignment through his work on “Secret Warriors,” Dale Eaglesham feels he landed the gig through the good fortune of signing with Marvel just as the previous “Fantastic Four” creative team were ending their run. “When I signed with Marvel, the book was at the top of my wish-list and nothing else was even close. However, I felt it was a pipe dream because the book was currently in the hands of a top artist,” Eaglesham said. “When I spoke to Tom Brevoort about potential projects, I was just floored when he listed the Fantastic Four. I think it just took my breath away for a second. I don't even remember what I said but I zeroed in on that one like a heat-seeking missile. I grew up reading the FF, and it holds almost mystical power for me.”
Eaglesham is still in the earliest stages of his work on “Fantastic Four” but he doesn't see the artistic style he plans to employ on the book as being jarringly different from the one used by current series artist Brian Hitch. “We both work in a traditional style, but mine will be distinct from his in that I intend to honor the Kirby look to a degree; or at the very least, I'll take inspiration from it and I'll add that to the style I've already established on 'JSA,'” the artist explained. “Aside from that, a lot will develop as the series progresses. I do feel I will take a more heroic approach with the characters though.
“I feel Reed is going to become more intimidating and forceful and less the nerdy professor. I want villains to be afraid of him physically as well as of his mind,” Eaglesham continued. “That is not to say I want to wash the humor or any goofiness out of Reed or his relationships, far from it. I want to maintain that, but add to it the imposing presence of a brilliant scientist and powerful superhero.”
As one might have guessed from the above description, when it comes to drawing, Reed Richards is Eaglesham's favorite member of the Fantastic Four, with The Thing being a close second. “My focus is on Reed and I am really looking forward to sculpting his personality, his intellectual intensity and his warm role of doting father. His powers are not ray blasts, but are very physical (and thus visually spectacular) displays,” the artist remarked. “I am going to enjoy adding a heroic stature to this almost comical power of his. This combination will be a lot of fun to explore.”
Eaglesham also has a clear vision on which qualities he'd like to capture and bring forward in the other “Fantastic Four” characters. “Johnny, the man of action, the adventurer, the risk taker and absolute
warrior -- he likes to have fun, but don't be fooled by that; he is a real Sir Lancelot. Ben, the lovable curmudgeon, is the kind of character I love to work with. Honest and direct, he gets to say what everyone else is only thinking, and he does it without any malice (unless you happen to be Dr. Doom or a zombie from the Negative Zone). He should be in politics -- imagine the fireworks!” Eaglesham said. “I intend to put a bit of steel into Reed and Sue and make them formidable superheroes, but it won't affect their warmth as people. Valeria is a strange little creature. A toddling two-year-old, but possessing incredible intelligence, the possibilities for visual incongruity are endless. I see Franklin as a quiet kid, not quite brooding, but with a shadow of inquisitive seriousness about the brow.”
It's not just the classic characters that make “Fantastic Four” such an appealing assignment for Eaglesham. The artist also loves the fact the FF's primary role in the Marvel U is exploration. “That they can go anywhere opens up the book to science fantasy, science fiction and adventure, and I am a big proponent of that in comics,” Eaglesham stated. “Not only do I thoroughly enjoy transporting readers to new and incredible realities, but I live for that kind of material.”
He's only just begun talking to Hickman about “Fantastic Four” but Eaglesham is immensely excited about working with the writer. “He seems very open to collaborating, and that is the best you can hope for. Jonathan has a definite vision for the Fantastic Four, and I am going to use every skill I have acquired in my career to realize that vision,” Eaglesham stated. “That he has a vision will make the experience of working on this title powerful and enduring.”
Both Eaglesham and Hickman are intensely aware that in working on “Fantastic Four” they're following in the footsteps of some of the comics' industry greatest creators, but the duo are determined to make their run something truly special. “It humbles me and inspires me. To add my own chapter to the history of a book that Jack Kirby co-founded and worked on, and to see that chapter placed anywhere in the vicinity of his, is an incredible honor,” Eaglesham said. “I grew up reading FF, and it inspired me to draw comics, so for me, being on this title is like meeting the real Santa Claus.”
Hickman added, “I'm just blown away that my second gig at Marvel is the FF! It's kind of ridiculous, and there are obviously some big shoes to fill. I just want everybody to know that I feel like I'm up for it. I'm excited for it and I certainly believe that we're going to turn out something very memorable.”