The future can be a scary place, especially if you live in the Marvel Universe which is full of unknown possibilities and elements that can intimidate even the toughest super powered champion. The Fantastic Four are the Marvel Universe's premier team of explorers, though, regularly stepping into and embracing the unknown. So when the Heroic Age arrives this spring, they'll be welcoming the new era with open arms. CBR News spoke with "Fantastic Four" writer Jonathan Hickman about his plans for Marvel's First Family during the Heroic Age, kicking off in May with "Fantastic Four" #579.
Currently, Hickman's FF is in the midst of a current storyline titled "Prime Elements," which features artwork by Dale Eaglesham. It's a saga that finds the foursome exploring both new and familiar locales.
"'Prime Elements' is a way to reintroduce a lot of the golden oldies of the FF," Hickman told CBR News. "Since the Fantastic Four have the best rogues gallery in Marvel Comics, everyone likes to use those characters, and they certainly have. Doom, Galactus, Namor, events like 'War of Kings' and 'Annihilation' have seen prominent use of most of the A-List periphery characters, and bringing them immediately back into FF would lack the impact I would want them to have. So this (Prime Elements) is a way to reintroduce elements of Annihilus and Namor and other various and sundry rogues in a deliberate way that enriches those characters and the world around them. We're adding to the tapestry, so that when we do bring them back it's not just big, it's also new and, maybe, if we're lucky, a bit special."
In "Fantastic Four" #579, the writer kicks off a series of stories that will add and expand upon the team's purpose as a part of the new Heroic Age. In the issue, Reed Richards decides to take the future of discovery into his own hands, creating what he calls "The Future Foundation." "When you tick off the list of the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe, Reed's always around or at the top, so, of course, he's plugged into the upper-echelon of Earth's scientific community," Hickman said. "In this issue, he makes some pretty broad and long-lasting decisions about how he feels that community has been serving humanity. And in making these decisions, he chooses to do something very progressive."
Recently, a number of Reed's larger decisions, such as his work on the U.S. Government's Initiative program and his work with the secret Illuminati of the Marvel Universe, have blown up in his face. They've lead to consequences like the superhero "Civil War," the Skrull Empire's "Secret Invasion" of the Marvel Universe, and Norman Osborn's rise to power. Reed Richards has learned from his mistakes, though.
"This isn't Reed being proactive in the same ways that we saw in 'Civil War' and the 'New Avengers: The Illuminati' miniseries," Hickman explained. "He's a sane and reasonable man. He evolves. He adapts. This is a much different thing, an ideological shift. It's about the future, so it's aptly named. It's about investing in the things that are important."
"If you believe in things like mission statements, this would probably be my manifesto for the book. It's an issue that I've been looking forward to writing since I started. I know that it's labeled as our first Heroic Age issue, and it is, it's the first issue that will hit under that banner, but in many ways, what we're doing at Marvel with the Heroic Age is thematic," Hickman continued. "It's about the kinds of stories that we're trying to tell, and I like to think we've been doing that since issue #570 [Hickman's first issue of "Fantastic Four"]. I like to think that 'Fantastic Four' is the embodiment of what we're doing in the Heroic Age. Look around the world. Look at the news every day. We don't need any help to realize that good people are hurting and that people who don't do things the right way appear to be in ascendancy. It's a good time for the Fantastic Four. I think it resonates and is important and relevant."
Readers of issue #579 will find an comic packed with characters and story. "[There is] lots of extremely cool stuff in the issue. It's a 'getting the band together' story. We haven't seen Franklin and Val in a little while, and they're in it big. We revisit the places that we saw in 'Prime Elements.' We revisit Nu-World. We revisit some people we saw at Franklin's birthday party. It's a big issue with a big cast, and there are a lot of places to stop on the way to the end of it. I'm very happy with it. So far, it's my favorite issue that I've written."
It's also an issue about the relationship between parents and children and the direction of society, which means there won't be a whole lot of superhero versus supervillain action in it. The FF's upcoming adventures won't be lacking in the high adventure department, however.
"It's not really a big smash-em up, action kind of issue. In the remaining chapters of 'Prime Elements,' there's a whole lot of that. So this is kind of a quiet interlude issue before things gear right back up. #579 really starts off a series of issues that increase in tension and drama and we really ratchet things up," Hickman revealed. "He's not in issue, but #579 is a precursor to seeing Doom again in the pages of 'Fantastic Four,' which I'm excited for. We've got a very different take on how he interacts with the Fantastic Four. Like everything we're doing on the book, we try and make things nostalgic and new at the same time. Doom included."
While Dale Eaglesham is tackling the current "Prime Elements" arc, "Fantastic Four" #579 features pencils by the book's other artist, Neil Edwards. "This will be Neil's first issue back since #574, and he's very excited," Hickman stated. "He's was in New York at the Marvel artist retreat, and he came back feeling good and strong and I can't wait to see what Neil's going to do. I think he's going to bring it."
"Fantastic Four" #579 is a done-in-one issue, and throughout the Heroic Age, Hickman's tales of the Marvel U's First Family will be structured differently from most comics. "We're trying really hard not to do 'arcs' in the 'FF' anymore. There are natural storytelling conventions that are going to necessitate it, but #579 is a one-off and so is #580. Then there's a two-parter. Then a series of single issues that reach a culmination, which constitute something similar to a normal arc," Hickman explained. "We're trying to do a different kind of storytelling on the book. It's a rhythm thing. Sometimes it feels like as writers [that] we collectively write a bunch of books that aren't anything but chorus. There's no build, and we sure as hell aren't riffing. We stay in a continual state of building, but I think it's the contrast where the beautiful stuff happens. I think it's okay to do slice of life stories."
Another aspect of "Fantastic Four" in the Heroic Age is that the title characters will be regularly rubbing elbows with many characters from other Marvel titles. "One of the things that we wanted to do was make the Marvel Universe books about the Marvel Universe again. So, yeah, we're going to be seeing a lot of other heroes in 'Fantastic Four.' We've got a solid plan and lineup of characters that will show up," Hickman said. "The way I've structured everything leading up to issue #600 is, we started out kind of big and right now we sucked things in really tight. Then we'll have kind of a minor explosion halfway through. Then things calm down for a second before everything gets absolutely huge, and when things get really big with the Fantastic Four, they're Marvel Universe big. So, yeah, I think it's fair to say that plenty of people from other Marvel books are going to show up."
While there will be several new elements introduced to "Fantastic Four" when the Heroic Age begins, fans of the book need not worry - Hickman doesn't plan on changing any of the aspects of the book that fans have come to love, like the tone, dynamic, and direction of the series. If anything, those elements will be expanded and emphasized.
"There's no paradigm shift. There's no ideological change. There's no thematic departure when you're talking about the FF and the Heroic Age. It's time for an age of heroes, and this book is the perfect fit. We've got a pretty solid plan for where we are headed, and we're very excited with the book and how it's being received," the writer said. "We think we're on to something here. We've gotten a lot of good buzz, and hopefully that will correlate into selling a bunch of our trades when they hit and some more people picking up and trying the monthly."