The World's Greatest Comics Magazine is about to be shaken up in a major way. Recently it was announced that writer Mark Waid and artist Mike Wieringo were stepping down from the "Fantastic Four" after a long and successful run, but there was no mention of who the new creative team would be. Finally, it can be revealed - writer J. Michael Straczynski ("Amazing Spider-Man," "Supreme Power") steps in to the writer's chair on "Fantastic Four" with June's issue #527. CBR News caught up with with Straczynski to learn what his plans are for Marvel's first family.
Straczynski's opening story arc is titled "Distant Music" and the writer says he's already turned in the first script last month with the next one due soon, so he's currently five months ahead of schedule and plans on staying with the title for a while. "I'll stay until Marvel decides I suck, or I decide I suck, and then I'm gone," Straczynski told CBR News. At this point, though, no announcement has been made regarding the artistic staff on the book.
Straczynski is following a very well received run by writer Mark Waid and he plans on embracing the work Waid has done on the title already. "I told Marvel and Joe Quesada that I don't want to deconstruct what Mark did on the book, so I made sure to go back and reread the last two years worth of books to make sure I knew where all the pieces were," said Straczynski. "I want to build on his work and try to find some new directions out of that. So I don't think those two aspects are contradictory. I want to delve more deeply into Reed, someone who is maybe the smartest guy on the planet, but still is no closer to getting The Answers than he was long ago and is getting restless about that. This will give me a way to get into the more cosmic stories, while at the same time dealing with the family dynamics and the rest of the Fantastic Four coming to terms with their financial situations."
The busy writer, already handling the writing chores on "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Supreme Power" for Marvel, says there will be no changes in his assignments at the publisher when he adds "Fantastic Four" to his work load. "There's this weird notion -- and once something like this gets ingrained in the public consciousness no amount of 'here, look at the figures' will ever change it, but what the heck -- that I get busy and fall behind on stuff. But after the 9/11 situation that put all of publishing on its ear, for the last two-three years, 'Amazing Spider-Man' has been coming out like clockwork. Same for 'Supreme Power,' which has come out the same way except for one issue that was delayed for two weeks while we tweaked some stuff in the final stages of production. Anybody can check the Diamond shipping lists to confirm this. ('Rising Stars' was an anomaly caused by a legal hitch between myself and Top Cow that took a very long time to resolve, which we did.)
"But to more specifically answer your question no, there's been no need for juggling. I'm ahead on 'Amazing Spider-Man,' ahead on 'Supreme Power,' and ahead on the three other projects I'm doing for Marvel which can be discussed in more detail sometime after the first of the year. So, in total, I'm doing five different books for Marvel, timed to go off like little explosions, and all are humming along nicely.
"One of those projects is a long-term mini that will take about a year just to get the art done, and we're keeping a close lid on it because when the subject gets out, I think it'll attract a lot of attention. It's going to be very controversial, but it may be one of the best things I've done for Marvel to date. A very, very emotional, hard-hitting story."
Getting back to the story a bit, Straczynski gave a few more clues as to what his plans are for the Richards family. "In the start of the book, Reed is looking into the histories of distant worlds, and finding a certain amount of futility in evolution itself, which disturbs him, and starts him off in a new direction. At the same time, the US government comes to him with a way to work off some of the debt he and the FF in general are in, a job they want him to do that sounds reasonable at first, but ends up pulling them into a crisis that involves the very foundation of their powers, and the possible necessity of going up against their own government for a second time and if they go that route, who knows where it'll end up? (Well, I do, but nevermind....)
"I'm writing most of my stories these days in six-issue arcs, partly because they work well that way for the trades, but also because that gives me room to play. When I started on 'Amazing Spider-Man' I went for 3- or 4-issue arcs, but they always felt cramped to me, and the endings rushed."
The Fantastic Four has a colorful and eclectic mix of villains in their rogues gallery and Straczynski has a few favorites that he'd like to play around with on the title. "Obviously Doctor Doom would be first on my list," admitted Straczynski, "but I also feel that he's been over-exposed a lot lately, and the thing about bad guys of any sort is that the more you see of them, and the more you see them lose, the less effective and scary they are. So I either need to rest the character for a while, and find an interesting way to bring him in down the road, or bring him in earlier in such a way that he wins. No ifs, ands or buts about it, he wins. You judge a man by his enemies, and you can't respect Reed as much as you'd want to if you reduce Doc Doom to, well, Skeletor. (And I should know.)
"I like the interdimensional stuff a great deal, and I like the Fantastic Four's more tragic villains, like the Mole Man, but I'm still playing with those elements, and don't want to go too far down this road until I have a clearer idea of the landscape."
Fans who've followed the Fantastic Four know what makes them special. It's not just that they're a super-team with exotic powers or that Reed Richards is a brilliant scientist, rather it's the family dynamic that sets this group of heroes apart from the rest and Straczynski agrees with that assessment. "There's not much I can add to that except to note what makes them unique: the fact that they are one of the few powered groups that operates right out in the open, no secret identities, no masks, you know where they are, you can even look them up in the phone book," noted Straczynski. "That puts them in a whole different configuration with society and the world in general. They're kind of the pop stars of the spandex set, and that's worth playing with, both in terms of the good and the bad that comes with that."
The summer of 2005 will be especially big for the Fantastic Four as a feature film starring Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba is set to hit the big screen. With that in mind, you might expect that Marvel would given Straczynski very specific guidelines about the story he's crafted for the main title, but the writer that hasn't been the case. "[Marvel] said, 'What do you want to do with the book?' I told them what I had in mind, they (Joe and Tom Brevort mainly) thought it sounded great. I turned in the first issue, they said keep going. The thing about Marvel is that they understand something about me that most of the people I've worked for don't: I'm a workhorse that functions best without a saddle. Just let me go my own way, and I'll be fine. Micro-manage me, and everything dries up. I don't like to play the 'Oh, I'm an arteest' card because that is all too often an excuse for bad behavior, but I know what I'm doing, and I'm eccentric, and if I'm forced to become a square peg in a square hole, I know my own mind well enough to know that whatever the source of the small voice in my head that tells stories, it goes to sleep after a while. I need to have a fair measure of creative freedom, with the assumption that I will always do my best to service the character I'm handling. It's to [Editor-In-Chief] Joe Quesada's credit that he gives me a great deal of leeway, and trusts me to do the book right. Knowing he trusts me makes it even more imperative for me to do right by him, and by Marvel."