Tuesday Q&A

Tuesday Q&A: Jonathan Hickman

Marvel's first team gains a new writer, who gives us the goods on the Fantastic Four's family dynamic!

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By Kevin Mahadeo

For writer Jonathan Hickman, family comes first. So when the Write Stuff penman takes over creative duties on Marvel's First Family with this week's FANTASTIC FOUR #570, expect things to get personal.

FANTASTIC FOUR #570 cover by Alan Davis
"Everything else I've done has been a cool story or just plot-driven, but just because of where I'm at family-wise, I really, really identify with [FANTASTIC FOUR]," admits Hickman. "It pretty much starts and ends there. I've got lots of cool plans and we've got some very cool stories coming up. But as far how Sue and Reed and Johnny and Ben and Val and Franklin interact, a lot of that stuff is being drawn on from life experiences."

Hickman's ability to dissect character and delve into their inner workings makes him the psychological equivalent of Mister Fantastic himself, so it wasn't much of a stretch for the scientific scribe to join the FF creative team. Along with artist Dale Eaglesham, Hickman plans to create a rock solid foundation stronger than the Thing's stony hide. Marvel.com spoke with Hickman about coming onto the title as well his views on the Fantastic family and his thoughts on good parenting in the Marvel U.

 

Marvel.com: How'd you prepare yourself for this gig? Did you go back and read a lot of old FANTASTIC FOUR issues to refresh yourself on the mythos?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah, I did a ton of research. Growing up, I was never really a Fantastic Four fan. I really pretty much had to read everything. And because I read everything in a condensed period of time, it was a really different way to do research. It wasn't [influenced] by nostalgia or fondness of reading old John Byrne stuff from when I was a kid. I pretty much just picked up on the stuff that worked really well and blew past the stuff that wasn't as good and research-wise, it was an excellent was to get into the history of the FF.

Marvel.com: You mentioned you tried to pick up what worked for the team. What do you think makes the team so dynamic and makes them an interesting part of the Marvel U?

Jonathan Hickman: It's really changed over time. If you look at the early FF stuff, it's very Ben-centric. With Byrne, Sue grew as a character and it wasn't until fairly recently that Reed started dominating the book front to back. So, depending on who your favorite character is, there really is a generation of books for you to choose from. I think part of the difficulty and part of the goal of being on the book is trying to make it more of a cohesive family book, not elevate one character. I think the book needed balance for a long time between characters. We have a plan and we're going to execute it and we feel good about it. We'll see what people think.

FANTASTIC FOUR #571 cover by Alan Davis
Marvel.com: So it sounds like you want to treat the book as a more ensemble cast rather than a main character with a support group.

Jonathan Hickman: There's no arguing that the FF has been a Reed book for the past three or four years just because of everything that's been going on in the Marvel Universe. I mean, Reed's been [heavily involved in everything] from Civil War to Secret Invasion. The trick is that you don't want to diminish Reed to make it all equal. You have to elevate everyone and that's just what we're trying to do.

Marvel.com: Well, I want to hit on all those characters. For Reed, many people write him as the man of science, but how do you see him?

Jonathan Hickman: Reed is a father and a friend and a husband and then a scientist and probably then a super hero. I think one of the problems is that if those are the five components that make up Reed, I think it gets out of order and they have to be realigned. If the Fantastic Four is a super-organism, Reed would be the super ego.

Marvel.com: How about Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman?

Jonathan Hickman: She's the real strength of the team, like most families are built around mothers. I think that she is in many way the trickiest characters to write. And that's certainly proven to be true so far for me. But I think I've gotten a firm grasp of her and it all flows from mother/wife/team support stuff. But she's also an individual and we have to scratch that itch as well. I don't want to give away what the story for Sue is going to be while I'm writing the book. It's tough to talk about what we have planned for without saying that, but I'll try and be specific while still being obtuse. Sue is easily, if you look at the history of the FF, the character who has been most interpreted differently in the most variable number of ways. There's a reason for that: a bunch of guys writing a girl and sometimes they don't get the character or they overcompensate in trying to get their hands around her. That's all I want to say about Sue right now.

Marvel.com: You mentioned Reed as the super ego of the team, so I imagine Johnny Storm has got to be the id, the childlike impulsiveness of the team.

FANTASTIC FOUR #572 cover by Alan Davis
Jonathan Hickman: [Laughs] Yeah. Johnny would be id. Ben would be ego. I was talking to Dan Slott the other day and he said that every writer constantly strives to have [Johnny] evolve on their run, where at the beginning of the run he's infantile and by the end he's grown up and he's actually achieved something. Then the next writer comes on and he's immediately a kid again. [Laughs] Nobody buys the progress of the character. So, yeah. Either he's trapped in that behavior forever or there's a story out there to be told where he becomes something else. I'm not too sure which way we're going to with Johnny, but he's a lot of fun to write.

Marvel.com: Ben Grimm has been a longtime favorite for a lot of fans. He originally had a very mopey persona because of this tragic story, but he's definitely evolved into the ego-as you put it-of the team. Very level headed and almost like the common man. What are your thoughts on him?

Jonathan Hickman: One of [editor] Tom [Brevoort's] first notes to me when I got the job was that the Fantastic Four was always more popular when Ben was the center of the team as this Rocky Balboa kind of guy. He found a way to overcome just by guts and determination. I think there's something to that.

Marvel.com: These last two character often get overlooked, but they're right there on the cover to your first issue: Franklin and Valeria. Will they be playing a role during your run?

Jonathan Hickman: Children have a fantastic way of humanizing anyone through their [relationships]. You either treat your children [well] or you treat them poorly and that's pretty much an indictment of who you are as a person regardless of how much good or bad you do. It's one of those things that's just a glaring example of what you're really about. And I think they're super cool characters. I'm a big fan of Franklin. He's about the same age as my boy and I steal a lot of material from my kid for Franklin. He's a little mischievous and extremely willful and adventurous. Val's one of my favorites because she's as smart as Reed and she's a toddler, which is a fascinating dichotomy. I love those characters and they'll be in [the book] a lot. There will be certain situations that will be impossible to have them in because you can't have a Fantastic Four adventure where the world is going to end and then stick the kids in the middle of it. That's just bad parenting.

Marvel.com: Are they going to have those sibling moments where they argue about who is smarter than whom?

Jonathan Hickman: Well, Val's clearly way smarter than Franklin. Franklin, if he ever recovers his powers, will be more powerful certainly. But they're brother and sister, so of course they're going to fight and get in trouble.

Marvel.com: What can you say about villains you have planned for your run? Who can fans expect to see?

FANTASTIC FOUR #573 cover by Alan Davis
Jonathan Hickman: We'll have everybody pretty much. Let me look at my flowchart here on the wall...

Marvel.com: [Laughs] You have a flowchart tacked to your wall about your FF run?

Jonathan Hickman: Yeah. It goes to issue #500. We'll see if I don't get fired before then. [Laughs] We'll have some Doom, we'll have some Namor, we'll have some Galactus, I won't say this one because it will give something away, we got some Inhumans, we got Mole Man. I don't want to list more because that's a cool reveal. It's a very, very brisk pace story we're going. We're moving at light speed. The Fantastic Four is supposed to be about adventure and big ideas and not ponderous, long-winded issues about the environment with Mole Man. We're not going to do that. We're going to do big stuff, but we're going to go fast and exciting.

Marvel.com: Do you have a favorite villain?

Jonathan Hickman: Well, Doom. Love Doom. And Namor. The ego. I like that about Namor and Doom. The ego is just fun. I like that people have trouble figuring out if Doom is petty or he's just regal. I think it's interesting that he fluctuates between the two. I like that the people of his country love him but that everyone else hates him. I like that. And I really like that he's the anti-Reed. I really, really get a kick out of that. We're going to do a really cool story where we flashback to Reed and Ben and Victor in college. It's going to be a lot fun.

 

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