How To Reboot The Fantastic Four

With the most recent Fantastic Four picture shaping up as one of the all-time superhero bombs, I’ve been thinking about how I’d reboot the franchise, were I suddenly granted power over time, space, and dimension (or at least a Hollywood studio!). Drawing upon the elements I outlined in my Core of the Four blog post, and fortified by a re-read of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run of the Fantastic Four, I’ve cooked up a scheme that’s just crazy enough to work! Fear not, Fantastic Fans — we may have hit bottom, but that only means there’s nowhere to go but up!

Get A Grip, Reed!

Just for fun, here’s how I’d re-re-re-introduce the Fantastic Four to today’s film audiences!

(This particular bit of fanboy fantasizing assumes that the Fantastic Four reverts to Marvel Studios from Fox.)

Marvel Studios

First, I’d introduce the characters as a subplot in an already-scheduled Marvel movie. Take any upcoming Marvel film that might plausibly have a scene set in outer space — Avengers 3 or 4, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or maybe the Inhumans. Somewhere in the Solar System, our film heroes discover an old space capsule …

… Incredibly, it’s the Baxter-1, a privately-funded spacecraft that blasted off for space in 1961! Contact with the craft was lost shortly after launch, and she — and her crew of four intrepid adventurers — were thought lost forever!

Fantastic Four by Alex Ross

Discovery of the Baxter-1 is a worldwide sensation … it’s like Amelia Earhart has been found! Even more sensationalistic is that the crew is alive, in a state of suspended animation! And what a crew they are …

Super-genius Reed Richards (Jon Hamm), a celebrity-scientist that shared the stage with Albert Einstein and popularized science for a generation of impressionable school kids!

Jon Hamm is Reed Richards

Susan Storm (Emma Watson), America’s sweetheart, cover-girl for innumerable glamour magazines, spokeswoman for a score of progressive international charities, best friends with both Jackie Onassis AND Marilyn Monroe!

Emma Watson is Sue Storm

Johnny Storm (Josh Hutcherson), the original teen heart-throb … he was bigger than Elvis when he went into space, and his disappearance haunted a generation more than the death of James Dean!

Josh Hutcherson is Johnny Storm

Ben Grimm (Michael Shannon), ace pilot, who flew wingtip-to-wingtip with Chuck Yeager and was fast-tracked for the Gemini Space Program before he gambled his career on Reed Richard’s experimental wildcat space launch!

Michael Shannon is Ben Grimm

Suddenly, after more than half a century, these Fantastic Four are back … and they haven’t aged a day. All they can remember is launching into space, being knocked off course by a strange bombardment of cosmic rays, and then … nothing, until they are recovered in the present day.

The four instantly become the biggest celebrities on the planet … and the story really explodes when they manifest strange super-powers!

Fans of course can fill in the rest … and the stage is set for the Fantastic Four to headline another blockbuster film, but THIS time they’ll be free to actually be the Fantastic Four!

The Fantastic Four By Jack Kirby!

What I like about this idea is that it inserts the Fantastic Four into the contemporary Marvel Universe while retaining much of the charm of the original comics. Our heroes get to be celebrities — which is critical to the FF experience — in a way only this kind of return-from-the-past story can permit in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that already has an Avengers full of heroes that largely have public identities. With Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue hailing from 1961, the movie can enjoy some of the man out of time/fish out of water humor and humanity that worked so well in Marvel’s Captain America and Thor pictures. And by being the very same personalities that we remember from the comics — personalities very much part and parcel of the early 1960s — our heroes can retain the optimism, heroism, spirit of adventure, and very deep flaws inherent in their original conception.

For our enemy, of course, there is only one choice — Doctor Doom (Ian McShane … who would also make a great Mole Man)!

Ian McShane is Doctor Doom

But this time Doom isn’t an internet rage case or some guy with a skin condition or whatever dumbass nonsense Hollywood has foisted upon Doctor Doom in his past screen appearances. Nope, he’s Doctor Freaking Doom, the reclusive and terrifying dictator of the rogue state of Latveria, a frightening nuclear power every bit as mysterious and unpredictable as North Korea.

so lonely

(and yes, Doom is lonely, too!)

Doom has ruled Latveria with an iron hand for over half a century … no one has seen the face beneath Doom’s mask, which must be impossibly ancient by now (unless the dark rumors that Doom has used bizarre science and dark sorcery to retain his youth are to be believed). The return of the Fantastic Four puts Doctor Doom back in the limelight, resurrecting long-dormant conspiracy theories about a secret link between Doom and Reed Richards, that Doom might somehow have been involved in Reed’s mysterious space project, and may even have been responsible for its failure.

And so our Marvel Cinematic Universe is immeasurably enriched by reinstating the Fantastic Four as Marvel’s First Family, with their greatest foe ready to battle them — immediately a part of the larger story but also reasonably partitioned off into their own unique story, coming to terms with their superpowers and with a world that has advanced by immeasurable leaps and bounds in the subjective hours that they have been away.

huzzah for the FF

Our heroes have plenty of external threats to battle — Doctor Doom! Mole Man! Galactus! But more importantly, they have key internal threats to wrestle with, too …

How does Reed Richards’ genius translate to this brave new world, where his “cutting edge” inventions are bulky and outdated next to the cell phones carried by school kids? Can the old dog learn new tricks?

Man Out Of Time!

How will the fame-hungry Johnny Storm cope in a world that has moved past wholesome teen pop idols in favor of reality TV stars and YouTube celebrities? Can the teen idol reinvent himself for a new generation?

Johnny Movie Star

How will Sue Storm evolve as a person in a world that expects women will do more than wear designer gowns and smile sweetly for the camera? Can America’s Sweetheart overcome her insecurities and prejudices to master the opportunities that would never have been open to her in the era of her birth?

Poor Sue!

How does Ben Grimm fit into the world now that he is a rock-skinned monster, no longer qualified for a space program that has lost its vision and sense of generational imperative? Can an aviation hero from the Cold War adopt to a new era where black and white have been replaced by shades of grey?

This Man This Monster

I don’t know about you … but I’d be first in line to see a Marvel Studios movie about that Fantastic Four. Heck, I’d even shell out for a 3D showing!

What do you think? Would you green light yet another Fantastic Four movie based on this take, or has the FF become so toxic that a John Carter reboot looks like a better idea by comparison? Sound off, True Believers, in the comments section, below!

Marvel Unlimited Updated Review!

It’s been three-and-a-half years since I reviewed Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. I’ve been meaning to post an update for some time, and as I’ve been on vacation these past few weeks — and using the service a lot in my downtime — now seems the ideal time!

(For the TL:DR-types in the audience — I still enthusiastically endorse this service! For those wanting a bit more detail, I offer brief and updated impressions below!)

Marvel Unlimited

First off, the service has a new name — it is now simply Marvel Unlimited, which is snappier, but no less deceptive, as the service is still limited, though considerably improved over my original review.

Technology & Interface

The single greatest improvement in the service was a rebuild that dispensed with Flash and went cross-platform. That’s right, now I can use Marvel Unlimited on my tablet, which dispenses with about a third of my original criticism. Marvel Unlimited’s “smart panel” system isn’t quite so sharp as Comixology’s, but I find single-page mode on an iPad serves me just fine, given that I can pinch/zoom in on anything I want to see in greater detail. The service has been of great value in capturing images for use here at Longbox Graveyard (and the absence of a similar service accounts for much of the relatively paucity of DC Comics features here at my blog … it takes a lot more effort and expense to read DC product in electronic form).

The updated app came with some under-the-hood improvements, too, resulting in faster search and (generally) better stability. The physical search process also seems improved, though some of this might be down to my familiarity with the system, or just lowered expectations. My sense is that Marvel has been cleaning up their search metadata behind-the-scenes, but I haven’t run any benchmark tests, so you are on your own if a routine search turns up twelve separate entries for Don Heck (horrors!).

wow

Heck, no!

A very welcome addition is the option to search by date, which lets me set the Wayback Machine for (say) 1978 and see all the comics on offer for that year. I LOVE this feature, as it lets me dive directly into eras of interest, and even kinda-sorta read books in the order they came out, should I wish to experience a past year on a month-to-month basis. This is an indispensable feature — the kind that makes me wonder how I ever went without it. Well done!

The “Must Reads” search workaround I mentioned in my previous review is no longer available (at least on tablet, which is the only place I use this service now) — in its place is a “Library” option, which is supposed to let you download up to twelve comics at a time to read offline, a theoretically useful feature for plane or car trips.

I say, “theoretically,” because I can’t get the bloody thing to work.

Sad Trombone

Kind of damning to read instructions about how I can read comics offline on the same screen that chastises me for not having an internet connection, no? This may well be down to user error. Or maybe it just flat out doesn’t work.

Otherwise, the experience has improved in every way. Upon completing an issue, the option is available to jump directly to the next issue in line, a very welcome feature for long series re-reads. The ability to rate books or try to share them with friends is gone, and un-missed.

Spotlight

The front-end has nice new features like spotlight sections, with the most recently-released content displayed front-and-center (and alerts about new content rolling onto the system can also be pushed to you via email updates).

Which brings me to …

Content

Content is still king on this app — everything I lauded in my original review of the service is still here, plus seemingly every new book Marvel has published since, with the significant caveat that the system lags approximately six months behind print. You can think of Marvel Unlimited as the home video release of theatrical movies … and just as with the movies, if you can wean yourself of seeing everything when it comes out day-and-date, you can enjoy a lot of content for a fraction of the price.

For your humble narrator — stuck as I am in the year of 1978 — being “only” six month behind the times is so far into the future that it gives me a nosebleed! In other words, I’m fine with it, even for new books. Like many readers, I am looking forward to Marvel’s Even-Newer-And-This-Time-We-Mean-It relaunch … but I will be enjoying it in the Spring, instead of the Fall!

WE REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME!

very much looking forward to this … eventually

Archival gaps have been slower to close. Marvel’s Star Wars books recently appeared on the service, but frustrating omissions from decades past remain (I am still flummoxed that Marvel’s monster books from the 70s are so few and far between). Very occasionally I will get notice that new issues of an old book have been filled in, but mostly I’ve adjusted my expectations and use the service for reading newer issues.

Here Comes Daredevil!

new-old Daredevil, recently added to Marvel Unlimited

Marvel Unlimited helped me come to terms with my conflicted feelings about Brian Michael Bendis by reading his work in long digital binges (where he shines) — I even bit the bullet and detoured into Battle of the Atom when it interrupted my long 40-issue read of Uncanny X-Men. It would have been nice if those Battle of the Atom issues were threaded one to the next, so I didn’t have to search up each title in order and by hand … but you can’t have everything!

your checklist mocks me

my kingdom for an interactive checklist!

The Future

In a lot of ways, my Marvel Unlimited service has been like a gym membership. There have been times when I’ve used it religiously, and then long gaps when I forgotten I’ve paid for the damn thing. If my credit card had aged out and the service had failed to renew, I might not have missed it … until the time came that I wanted to look as some specific issue of such-and-so, when Marvel Unlimited proves itself very much indispensable. I suppose I could cancel out my sub and pop in-and-out with trail memberships from disposable email addresses, but that is a churlish way to treat this service. There is good content here, and I’m happy to pay for it (and I will keep a candle burring in the window in hopes of DC offering a similar platform someday). I might even double-down and get a retina-display iPad specifically for Marvel Unlimited … or better yet, wait on the super-sized tablets Apple supposedly has in the pipeline, which strike me as possibly the best way yet to read digital comics.

But even with my “old” iPad, I am still a fan of Marvel Unlimited; I think it is worth a subscription, and it is certainly worth a tryout for whatever app is native to your device.

And now, if you will excuse me, I need to return to my Bendis-era Uncanny X-Men re-read. It might be 2013 in that particular series, but it’s all new to me!

The Core of the Four

Longbox Graveyard #150

These are tough times for the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. The Fantastic Four are conspicuous by their absence from Marvel’s next big reboot, and their new movie is supposed to stink (putting it in good company with the ones that have come before). While the series has enjoyed signature runs under creators like John Byrne and Jonathan Hickman, you could argue that the Fantastic Four went into decline when Jack Kirby left the book with issue #102 in 1970 (if not earlier).

The Fantastic Four

Classic heroes. Great villains. Galaxy-spanning adventures of lasting importance. A sprawling supporting cast that’s better than the headliners of many other books. And yet, today the Fantastic Four feels like a second-tier property (and maybe that’s giving them too much credit). How can Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue regain their mojo?

I’m far from an expert on this series, but on the eve of their bound-to-be-disappointing third (fourth?) film outing, I thought I’d look at key aspects of the Fantastic Four — the things that make them special, and the things I think need to be front-and-center in any interpretation of this property. I’m certain I’ll miss a few things (and overstate others), so be sure to give me your impressions, additions, and push-backs in the comments section, below.

But without further apology … here’s what I regard as the Core of the Four!

Canonical Characters

There is a special magic in the partnering of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch, and the Thing. They’re primal elementals … brains, heart, charisma, and brawn … husband, wife, brother, and best friend.

Fantastic Four Pinup

From time to time a member will leave the group, but the Fantastic Four just don’t feel like the Fantastic Four without their four founding members front-and-center. The team has had its share of membership changes and roster shake-ups, but while I like She-Hulk as much as the the next guy, for me the Fantastic Four has to center on the original four canonical characters. The book can and should have a robust supporting cast — but Ben, Reed, Johnny, and Susan have got to hold the center stage. Without these guys, you don’t have the Fantastic Four.

Not Just A World — A Whole Universe

The Fantastic Four shouldn’t feel like a part of the Marvel Universe — they ARE the Marvel Universe. Actually, they’re bigger than the Marvel Universe! Anchored by their Baxter Building HQ, the Fantastic Four enjoy the same New York City playground as most of Marvel’s other characters … but they also have the limitless reaches of outer space, strange alternate dimensions, and hidden enclaves like Attilan, Latveria, Atlantis, and Wakanda as their domain.

Fantastic Four #47

One of the great charms of this series is that it is as at home on Yancy Street as Ego the Living Planet, and everyplace in between. From month to month, a reader shouldn’t be able to guess where an adventure is going to start, or where it is going to lead. This series should have the broadest canvas in comics.

Fun

The Fantastic Four can tackle serious threats — you don’t get much more serious than Galactus trying to eat the planet! — but this is a sunlit series long on adventure and … well … fun. It is a rational world where science can solve anything (and cause a few problems along the way); it’s a trivial world where the Fantastic Four are celebrities at the heart of the world’s biggest reality show; it’s a childish world where the Thing and the Torch wreck their headquarters over some silly prank; it’s a flexible world where characters like Doctor Doom and the Impossible Man can share the same stage.

Fantastic Fun

At the core, the Fantastic Four is an unapologetic Silver Age adventure story, a kitchen sink of space gods, bank robbers, killer robots, villainous landlords, mad science, and romantic melodrama. There is angst, disappointment, and heartbreak along the way, but the Fantastic Four isn’t grim, miserable, or violent — it is the story of four optimistic souls who love each other and love having superpowers (even Ben Grimm, who over time has evolved from a wretched man trapped inside a monster into a wise old brawler who is — most of the time — comfortable in his own skin). The Fantastic Four should have fun on their adventures, and their adventures should be fun to read.

It’s not such a dirty word. Say it with me, now — FUN!

The Beating Heart of the Marvel Universe

The Fantastic Four are Marvel’s First Family — they can and should be at the center of everything that happens in the Marvel Universe. Over the decades, the X-Men and (more recently) the Avengers have grown into Marvel’s go-to teams when disaster threatens, but really, it is the Fantastic Four that you want when it is time to get things done. They’re the team with the unimpeachable reputation, with connections around the globe (and around the universe!), with the cutting-edge tech, and the unmatchable reserve of experience and talent for tackling any problem.

Kirby

They can be diplomats, they can be scientists, they can be explorers, and they can be a wrecking crew with equal aplomb. They’re privately funded and committed to the public good in ways that less organic super teams cannot match. The biggest events of the Marvel Universe — from dimensional rifts to alien invasions to the wedding receptions of super-spouses — really only feel big if they happen to or with the Fantastic Four. That the Fantastic Four have been pushed to the margins of the Marvel Universe is a tragedy for the title, and an even greater loss for Marvel, as it denies the larger part of the heritage that makes Marvel great. Get this book back on the schedule! Free the Fantastic Four!

That’s your core — big adventures with intimate characters. A legacy of heroism and adventure. A sense of destiny and duty. Unbreakable family bonds. Fun! Give me those things, or you’re not giving me the Fantastic Four!

Fantastic Four Go Home!

It might seem that I’m advocating for a strictly Silver Age Fantastic Four — and those hundred-odd Silver Age issues by Stan and Jack are still tops in my book — but this needn’t be the case. Sure, I’d love to see a 1960s-era Fantastic Four movie with a Mad Men visual sensibility, but there are some core elements of the original series (like the Cold War competition with “the Reds,” or the sexist portrayal of Sue Storm as a weak and superfluous member of the group) that are best forgotten.

poor Sue

The wildest excesses of the Silver Age can and should likewise be tempered for contemporary audiences. But the soul and spirit of that era should proudly remain at the heart of the Fantastic Four. This is a great property … a great series with a great heritage. All that really remains is for the Fantastic Four (and Marvel!) to recognize that greatness — and embrace it. Depict the Fantastic Four with confidence and swagger and prove they aren’t a relic of a bygone age, and that their greatest adventures are yet to come.

I’m ready to join them! How about you? Give me your own reboot ideas in the comments section, below!

Fantastic Valentine

NEXT MONTH: #151 Fantastic Four Annuals #1-3

4 Seconds

Announcing 4 Seconds!

4 Seconds

4 Seconds is a noir thriller about a petty thief who discovers she can see four seconds into the future — just enough precognition to get into trouble, but not nearly enough time to pull off the job that will save her sister’s life. Greenlit after I won an open-microphone pitch contest at San Diego Comic-Con, 4 Seconds will appear in a dynamic digital form at Thrillbent.

The creative team:

4 Seconds is coming to Thrillbent soon. Watch this space for details!

The Haunted Tank!

Another not-so-mysterious package arrived at Longbox Graveyard Secret Headquarters a couple weeks ago. I know full well what is within, but I like to fool myself sometimes.

mysterious package

And within … a book!

Ah Ha!

Not just any book … a book where I wrote a chapter! I wrote a scholarly article about the Haunted Tank because … because … well, just because.

An excerpt:

Horrors of War excerpt

It was very nice to be a part of this project, which explores the meaning and significance of supernatural war stories in literature, film, and (lucky for me!) comic-books. The creator biographies read like an alphabet soup of PhDs and MfAs and BMOCs and then there is little old me — video game designer, sometime comic book writer, and full-time master of the Longbox Graveyard!

Horrors of War

To celebrate, I had my good pal Farzad Varahramyan cook up a bit of Photoshop magic of your’s truly holding his copy of the book …

Paul O'Connor & the Haunted Tank!

Horrors of War is available on Amazon.

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