To many fans, the Fantastic Four have always been the first family of the Marvel Universe. But that family was torn asunder in January of this year with the death of the Human Torch in "Fantastic Four" #587, by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting. Suddenly, the Fantastic Four were no more.
From its ashes, however, a new team and family was formed when the three surviving members welcomed the Amazing Spider-Man and several superpowered and highly talented youngsters to form the Future Foundation. Comic Book Resources spoke with Hickman about the current "War of the Four Cities" arc which finds the team -- and several of their deadly enemies -- embroiled in a war between four remote and technologically powerful cities.
The four titular domains are located underground, underwater, on the dark side of the moon and within the Negative Zone. Hickman introduced them and their unique inhabitants in the 2010 "Prime Elements" arc of "Fantastic Four," which ran through issues #575-#578. The instigators of the war were first seen in Hickman's debut "Fantastic Four" arc, "Solve Everything," which ran through issues #570-#573. It introduced a council made up of alternate-reality versions of Reed Richards that were ruthlessly trying to eliminate all the problems of the Multiverse. Most of their number were eliminated in a attack by the enormous armored aliens known as the Celestials.
However, Hickman revealed in "FF" #3 that four of these Reeds escaped the Celestials by traveling to the main Marvel reality of Earth 616. Orchestrating a war between the four cities is all part of the Reeds' master plan to return home. Each of the Reeds hail from their own distinct reality, and in issues #4-#5 they began to implement their plan.
"Gray Reed -- the one with the Infinity Gauntlet -- is clearly the leader," Hickman told CBR News. "He's the only one of the Triumvirate that ran the Council of Reeds who survived the attack of the Mad Celestials. The bald, Professor Xavier-style Reed was killed when Dire Wraith Inhumans devoured his mind in issue #3. There's also the plain Reed, the guy with the goggles who was damaged when the Celestials tore his mind apart. He's kind of coping Reed, the dude with issues who overcompensates. The other guy is the aggressive Reed. He's always pushing for a dramatic resolution; he’ll probably get it."
To help defeat his three rogue interdimensional counterparts, the Earth 616 Reed Richards has enlisted the aid of fellow geniuses who have sought to defeat him for decades on the comics page -- archenemies Dr. Doom, the Wizard, Diablo and the Mad Thinker. The current storyline marks the first time Hickman has written that latter two classic FF foes.
"I have plans coming up with all of those guys, and I'm certainly enjoying writing all these characters," Hickman remarked. "Diablo is a cool villain. And the Mad Thinker is great. He's a lot of fun to write."
Hickman may be enjoying working with the villains, but his protagonists are having a difficult time with it, especially the Thing. In issue #4, the Thing broke from the Future Foundation and left the Baxter Building. In "FF" #5, readers learned that Ben Grimm was still very troubled by the death of the Human Torch.
"When Ben skirts in issue #5, he becomes involved in 'Fear Itself,'" Hickman explained. "We will see Ben again at some point in 'FF,' but for the next little bit, it's not the place for him -- it's become something he doesn't like. It's full of guys like Doom and Diablo. And who wants to hang out with the Mad Thinker?"
In the wake of Ben's departure, the "War of the Four Cities" has escalated. Issue #5 saw one of the renegade Reeds using the Mole Man and his monstrous forces to assault the ancient Atlantean city known as the Peak. The attack did not go unnoticed. On the final page of "FF" #5, a flying citadel perched itself above the Reeds' current hideout, the subterranean Forever City of the High Evolutionary. The renegade Reeds first believed the massive UFO to be the home of the Inhumans currently parked on the dark side of the moon. They were half right, as it was actually Attilan, the mobile city of Black Bolt's branch of the Inhumans, returning from space. Surprisingly, it appeared the presumed-dead Black Bolt was once again in charge.
"Issues #6-#7 are kind of an interlude for everything that's been going on," Hickman stated. "We find out if this is indeed Black Bolt leading the Inhumans, and what happened to him. It's two issues with art by Greg Tocchini. I'm just so proud of them. They are two of my favorite issues I've written in a while for 'FF.' Very cool things inside those pages."
Of course, Black Bolt's Inhumans contingent has been away from Earth for quite some time. At the end of "Secret Invasion" they took Attilan into space where they conquered the empire of their creators, the Kree. After that, they became major players in Marvel's cosmic storylines like "War of Kings," "Realm of Kings" and "The Thanos Imperative." In "FF" #6-#7, Hickman will address what the Inhumans have been doing since their last appearance in Marvel's cosmic titles.
"If you read 'War of Kings' and all of those cosmic books, this will be a rewarding reading experience," Hickman explained. "I see our job as every day we're either building myth or tearing it down. I take that seriously, and in the FF, I'm always trying to build more myth as opposed to deconstructing it. A lot of the events in these two issues are born out of all the cosmic stuff that happened."
In "FF" #8-#9, regular artist Steve Epting returns to help Hickman bring the storyline to a close. "Issue #9 is the end of the 'War of the Four Cities,' but something happens that leads us directly into new, more perilous and dangerous times," Hickman said. "It's bad for Reed. It's bad for Doom. It's bad for Nathaniel. It's bad for the kids. Bad, bad news."
The FF will also be involved in some major upcoming storylines outside their book. As Hickman mentioned, the Thing became embroiled in the events of "Fear Itself" when he touched a mysterious magical hammer and was transformed into one of the Worthy, the avatars of the malevolent Fear God known as the Serpent. The Future Foundation will also be on hand to help their teammate Spider-Man deal with the chaos of the upcoming Spidey event storyline, "Spider-Island." It's currently unclear what the fallout of either event will be, but Hickman plans to address any pertinent happenings in the pages of "FF."
"The portions that need to be reflected because of those storylines will certainly be featured," Hickman stated. "The bits that do not or have some type of internal resolution will not because we have this other huge thing going on in 'FF' and real estate is extremely precious. For example, Ben Grimm, who is featured heavily in 'Fear Itself,' is on two teams: the FF and the Avengers. There are some things that might be better served over there, and it does us no good for to rehash, and possibly weaken, a story beat when we could be delivering something new. Again, we want to make these things seem more important, not less."
While tie-ins can lead to some complications with scheduling and fitting things into a story, Hickman is enjoying the fact that the FF are becoming major players in storylines across the Marvel Universe. The connections between the team and other books will continue, especially in writer Dan Slott's "Amazing Spider-Man."
"My editor, Tom Brevoort, and I were on the phone the other day talking about how we're getting a kick out of the FF showing up in other people's books, " Hickman remarked. "How long has it been since the FF showing up was a big deal? And I've said that if Spider-Man was going to be part of a team, it makes sense that it's the Fantastic Four. Their connection goes back to the very beginning, so I think it's very natural. It's unique stuff to write, and Peter Parker is in an interesting place as a character, and generally where he is in Dan's book. There are lots more Spider-Man/FF connections coming up in the next year. Dan and I have some cool things planned. If you follow both of these books, you're going to get a real kick out of where we're headed."
For Hickman, collaborating with other writers like Slott is just part of the fun of writing "FF." The scribe is also enjoying the chance to work with a number of very talented artists like the previously mentioned Steve Epting and Greg Tocchini, as well as Barry Kitson, who drew "FF" #4-#5.
"Barry has been doing a fantastic job, and he's back on with issues #10-11," Hick man enthused. "We're already getting pages in for those. He's having a ball drawing it, and people have been really nice to him in regards to the work he's done on the book. He's in a feedback situation where it's not only good that he's working and good that we make money, but he's also enjoying it and getting the appreciation of the reader. That's the sweet spot of being a creator. And, well, Steve Epting...what can I say? It's always a pleasure to work with Steve. He's amazing, and we've got lots of big stuff coming up."
Hickman and Epting's big plans don't just revolve around the four main characters of "FF." The creators also have several ideas for the book's younger cast of characters like Franklin and Valeria Richards, and Alex Power.
"All of this is constructed with these perfect stories on infinite pages in the back of your head that you never know if you'll get to or not," Hickman said. "Stories like Alex going home for a very special Power Pack Christmas. A modern retelling of the Three Musketeers with Franklin, Artie and Leech, lots of great Val stories. There's all this great Kristoff stuff I want to do with Doom, and my god, Bentley, the clone of the Wizard, is just a lot of fun to write. I've got so much stuff with him that it could be its own book. And, hey, it looks like nobody hates the book, so maybe we'll get to do a bit more of that.
"I really appreciate everybody sticking with us while we restarted everything," Hickman continued. "People are getting on board with the book, and feedback remains strong. I'm really thankful for the gig, and I hope everybody keeps digging it. It's July right now, and the next year of 'FF' is absolutely unreal. It is unbelievable the things we have coming up."