When the new Fantastic Four #1 debuts in November, Marvel’s First Family will move in a direction inspired by… Guy Fieri?
“I pitched it as something like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” said Ryan North, the incoming Fantastic Four writer. “There’s this guy showing up, a big personality, and he’s making something better when he’s leaving.”
“The main thing I had in my head was this image of the Fantastic Four rolling into town where nobody knew them, and there was a weird problem with the town,” said North. “They would fix it and they would roll on to the next town.” It’s a straightforward, down-to-earth concept, and a big shift for a franchise that has spent most of its recent history operating on a more cosmic scale.
North, an Eisner Award winner for his inventive work on comics like Adventure Time and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, is no stranger to big ideas. His book, How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler, highlights how passionate he is about science, technology, anthropology, and more, making him an inspired choice to take comics’ preeminent explorers into the future.
“Something I’ve kept in mind is that I never want the book to feel like it is revisiting the greatest hits,” said North. “We’ve had those stories before; we want to do something new that feels fresh and feels like we haven’t seen it before. And so one of the ways I’ve been trying to get into that is by having them be very grounded. They’ve lost their money. They’ve lost their fame. They’ve lost a lot of their tech. They’ve lost their popularity.”
With this new status quo, North embraces the opportunity to bring in new readers with a new issue 1. “I wanted a book that could be accessible to someone going in completely cold and knowing nothing of the FF, but would also respect the history.” North said. “I wanted to tell more stand-alone stories. That came from Squirrel Girl, where between these arcs we do these one-off stories that had a beginning, middle, end, and were self-contained.”
Issue 1 is a time-loop story with Ben Grimm and his wife, Alicia Masters-Grimm. Issue 2 brings Reed Richards and Sue Storm to a town full of Doombots, and issue 3 shifts the focus to Johnny Storm, who has to move into his own apartment after losing access to funds. But don’t worry, the team will be back together soon enough, and this first look at Alex Ross’ cover for issue 4 reveals the Fantastic Four united against an assortment of classic Marvel monsters.
For readers wondering where the Fantastic Four’s kids fit into the new series, North is hesitant to say too much for story reasons but assures that they are still in the picture: “I promise I am not killing off the kids.” But for the start of the series, North wants to reduce the book’s ensemble and narrow the focus on the core five characters.
“Reed’s obviously the smart one, and I feel like for a lot of the Fantastic Four history, especially in the ’60s, that got portrayed as the correct one,” North said. “But you can be smart and be a complete idiot. Anyone who’s smart and honest will tell you that. So I like the idea of Reed as someone who has the book learning, but relies on Sue and the other members of his family to handle the more interpersonal aspects of it for him.
“I see Sue as the most powerful member of the team. [...] It’s at a level that is far beyond what the others can do. She’s also the one who is the best at talking to people. She’s the one who you could drop into a room in which she knows no one, and she could come out with some friends on their side.”
To North, there’s more to Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm than being the irresponsible member of the group. “I see him at a place where he’s not a teenager anymore and he’s happy with who he is. He’s there to have fun. He’s there to have a good time. He doesn’t have a lot of money to go around and the only thing he has left with the unstable particles that make things fireproof are the trunks. So when he flames on he burns his clothes, and when he flames off he is just a ripped, shirtless guy in underpants. And Johnny is completely cool with that.”
This time around, the Four are really five. Ben Grimm and longtime flame Alicia Masters tied the knot in 2018, and as Ben’s partner for life, North wanted to give her equal footing on the team, whether or not she had superpowers, and her own perspective. “Alicia is an artist. She’s someone who cares about ideas and concepts and art and beauty and truth. Ben is much more grounded in dealing with the world: ‘Truth and beauty are important, but what are we getting for dinner?’ sort of thing. [...] He’s got a shyness to him under there. He’s got a big, huge heart. Really wants to help people, really wants the best for everyone he meets. He’s so sincere and almost guileless; he’s not going to sugarcoat for you. He’s not going to try to manipulate you to get what he wants. He’s just going to tell you the truth as he sees it and do what he thinks is right.”
Fantastic Four partners North with artist Iban Coello and colorist Jesus Aburtov, who previously worked together on Venom. “It’s been a very collaborative experience, which is what I love,” said North. “Iban has been throwing ideas my way: What if we combine these panels? Here’s where we could turn this into a splash. Not just rendering what’s in the script, but taking the script as a starting point for doing something better with it. In particular, his action scenes have been really cool, to the level of me saying, ‘Damn, we’ve got to put some more action stuff in this script because I want to see what Iban does with it.”
The admiration is mutual, and Coello appreciates how North pushes him outside of his comfort zone. “Ryan is a great writer with a lot of great ideas that force me to learn a new way to tell a story.” Coello said. “I’m learning a lot from him!” These exclusive preview pages from Fantastic Four #2 and #3 showcase how Coello leans into the dynamic visual elements of each hero’s powers, whether it’s Reed’s elastic appendages or Johnny’s roaring flames. Drawing the Human Torch is Coello’s favorite thing about working on the series, and he supercharges Johnny’s powers to make them pop even more on the page.
While circumstances for Marvel’s First Family might be dire, the creative team is committed to the core tenets of the Fantastic Four. “We still have the same optimism that’s baked into them,” said North. “That science and reason will save us. That we can, with enough smarts and compassion, do anything.”