Since their first appearance in 1961, the Fantastic Four have consistently proven that four heads are better than three. But thanks to writer Jonathan Hickman and illustrator Steve Epting, Marvel's first family is going to have to readjust their lives and methods after the death of one of their core team members in "Three," the September-launching story-arc that's described as the "next big thing" of the Marvel Universe. CBR News participated in a conference call with Hickman and Vice President Executive Editor Tom Brevoort to learn more about "Three" and the future of the "Fantastic Four."
"Three" begins in "Fantastic Four" #583, marking the midpoint of the master plan that Hickman first approached Marvel with when taking the reins on the series. "When I first came up with the book, I laid out a pretty extensive year plan," said the writer. "This is the midpoint of that. We felt like everything we were building and constructing, there was a rhyme and reason to all of it. It wasn't a shock value thing we were doing just to make a point...this all works to a purpose."
Indeed, Hickman's designs stretch pretty far into the future of the "Fantastic Four," with characters like Namor, Galactus and Doctor Doom all factoring into the writer's master plan. Given how far down the road he's already looked, Hickman was asked if the story for "Three" was able to evolve as he was going on.
"I think we had it," he said. "Where we're at, if you've been following the book, you know that we've only done two multi-part stories since I've been on the book. This is the first big 'Fantastic Four' story I'm actually telling. Five or six issues where everything I've built up to this point crash together."
Brevoort acknowledged that there seems to be two camps of "Fantastic Four" readers: those who love it and those who are perplexed by how the story is laid out, thanks in part to Hickman's long-form thinking. "When he says that he has a master plan, there is legitimately a master plan," said the editor. "There are notebooks and diagrams…it's like a one-man Al Qaeda of storytelling."
The editor believes that "Three" will serve as a jumping on point for new "Fantastic Four" readers in addition to paying off longtime fans who have paid attention since Hickman first joined the book. For the character themselves, "Three" promises to bring "the worst week in the lives of the Fantastic Four, where this house of cards one by one begins to fall upon these individual characters, such that at the end of the day where we had four of them, we're only going to have three of them."
The impact of "Three" is so great that Brevoort believes it will be very difficult to publish a book called "Fantastic Four" with only three characters. "You can interpret that in a number of ways," Brevoort said, "and probably every way that you interpret that would be correct."
But even as "Three" promises to "shock, surprise, possibly outrage and cause a certain amount of shirt tearing" in the fan community, Brevoort teased that the story-arc is just the first of many major changes that will have "Fantastic Four" readers dropping their jaws in the months to come. He likened these changes to the resurrection of Bucky and the introduction of the Young Avengers — ideas that, on paper, should never have worked, but ultimately became critically successful.
"Everything you think we would never do will get done, and hopefully in a way that you'll find acceptable, enjoyable and enthralling in the same manner that many people, myself included, would have argued in the way that you never want to bring Bucky back," said Brevoort. "We're going to do things that at first blush you'll say, 'That's terrible. Why are you doing that? It'll never work.' Hopefully, if we're as smart as we think we are, you'll be reading it and going, 'Actually, that's pretty good.' Or you'll tell us that it stinks."
Looking beyond the story, "Fantastic Four" #583 marks the arrival of "Captain America" artist Steve Epting. Although he's currently best known for his work in the grittier and more grounded Ed Brubaker-penned series, Hickman and Brevoort pointed out that Epting has plenty of experience drawing the more fantastic side of the Marvel Universe thanks to his work on "Avengers" and "X-Factor" in the 1990s, among other titles. "He's completely at home doing 'Fantastic Four,'" claimed Brevoort, who added that this kind of book "scratches different itches" than "Captain America" does.
Moving onto press questions, Hickman stated that fathers would continue to be a "very prominent" theme going forward.
Regarding cynicism and skepticism from the fan community that the events of "Three" will have a lasting effect on the Fantastic Four, Brevoort said that the easiest way to convince people that it's happening "is to actually do it." He added: "Not everything that can be done has been done. As long as there's new territory to investigate and new trails to blaze … then the proof will be in the pudding and the satisfaction will be there for the readers who are on board."
Hickman said that he wouldn't be killing off one of the members of the "Fantastic Four" if he didn't think there was a meaningful reason to go through with it. "It's certainly going to happen and it certainly has a point," he said. "It's going to change things and I think it's going to work towards the betterment of the book."
As for how the events of "Three" will be felt throughout the rest of the Marvel Universe, Hickman said: "I think that coming out of 'Three,' you'll see a 'Fantastic Four' that's much more integrated into the 616, a 'Fantastic Four' that has a greater universal wide purpose."
"Any one of the core members of the Fantastic Four have connections and relationships and adventures that are spread out in other titles within the Marvel Universe," said Brevoort. "As we kick over the dominoes at the end of 'Three,' whichever particular cast member is no longer there, that change and that absence and transformation of the family will have a direct relation to other titles in the line."
Brevoort identified "New Avengers" as one title where the events of "Three" will definitely be felt, even if that means that the Thing isn't the Fantastic Four member to die — perhaps he's simply effected by the death, to the degree that he may have left Marvel's first family altogether. Additionally, Hickman's "S.H.I.E.L.D." will have strong ties to the stories being told in "Fantastic Four."
It's not just the core four FF members that will be effected by "Three," as Reed and Sue's children Franklin and Valeria will also have important roles in the story. In particular, Valeria has "a very big part" in issue #583 where she makes an important discovery in the Baxter Building. Additionally, in issue #584, the Future Foundation will believe that they've found the key to why Ben Grimm always appears as the Thing.
As for why Hickman is the right writer to be tackling "Fantastic Four" and the upcoming story of "Three," Brevoort said that Hickman's initial lack of knowledge about "Fantastic Four" going into the series plays a big role. Although he was fully caught up on the title's history before working on the series, Hickman didn't approach the material as a nostalgic fan, but rather as a writer who could see the concepts from an objective standpoint. In fact, both Brevoort and Hickman believe they haven't had many flat-out disagreements about the story direction of "Fantastic Four," outside of a few minor back-and-forth exchanges. Hickman credited that to his approach to storytelling — an approach that accounts for the Internet.
"A lot of people say that people on the Internet are stupid, and I don't believe that at all, but even if they were, the collective intelligence of all the dumb people on the Internet is so great that it trumps any single storyteller," he said. "If you don't come to a book with a serious plan that has a structural point, and by that I mean that your story isn't built on reveals but unfolds organically as it progresses, if you don't come to a reader with that nowadays, I think you're not really telling a story for this day and age of collective intelligence. I'm rambling a bit, but my point is that the kinds of stories I'd like to tell and are relevant nowadays are wholly dependent on having a concrete long-term plan."
Before the call's conclusion, Hickman was asked about Dr. Doom's role in "Three." The villain will be reintroduced into the Fantastic Four's world in issue #583, which implies what his role is going forward in the series. "Coming out of all the craziness in 'Three,' it's time for Doom," said the writer. "It's midnight!"
Finally, Brevoort was asked a very direct question: is there going to be a book called "Fantastic Four" at this same time next year? In response, Brevoort offered a surprisingly direct answer: "No. No, there won't."
"Fantastic Four" #583, written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Steve Epting, arrives in stores on September 22, 2010.