|Fantastic Four #1 cover by Leonard Kirk|
By Ryan Haupt
Marvel’s First Family gets new creative team as part of All-New Marvel NOW! this February when James Robinson and Leonard Kirk launch FANTASTIC FOUR anew.
We spoke with writer Robinson about his plans to put our favorite family of cosmic explorers through the wringer, and how a hidden nemesis will try to engineer the “Fall of the Fantastic Four!”
Marvel.com: So all I really know about your arc going into this interview is you’re going to destroy the Fantastic Four.
James Robinson: I think it was Grant Morrison that said a gentleman writer comes on a book, duly messes everything up for the characters, but then puts it back together again at the end the way he left it. So absolutely I intend to put the team through hell and obviously they survive because it’s super heroes but the way they do it—and this is something unique to the Fantastic Four—is that they triumph through their familial bonds. They love each other. That’s the family they are, as opposed to being just a team like other heroes. That’s definitely an aspect that I’m going to be playing up, what all four of them mean to each other. The ever-growing group around them too; obviously you have Franklin and Valeria, but then you also have the Future Foundation and Dragon Man, and then beyond that even you have Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's FF: Scott Lang, Darla Deering, Medusa and She-Hulk. I’m not sure about Medusa but apart from her you’ll see all of these characters and they will be a part of the story I have planned.
Marvel.com: So it’s not just going to be the original team, you’re keeping the whole extended family as a part of it?
|Fantastic Four #1 variant cover by Alex Ross|
James Robinson: Well, yeah. Although I should stress that I do want to focus on the main team to get things started. However, one of the things I hate is when a writer comes on a book and refuses to acknowledge anything that happened before and ignores or gets rid of the prior continuity. I think FANTASTIC FOUR has had a tremendous run of amazingly talented writers and artists. It’s almost insane how good. You had Matt Fraction and Mike Allred, you had Jonathan Hickman’s epic run. You also had Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, and Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo; [Walt] Simonson, [John] Byrne, [Steve] Englehart, [Gerry] Conway, Roy Thomas, of course then back to [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby. I know I’m missing a load of people but they’re the ones that spring to mind from the immediate past. Mine and Leonard's storyline is a pretty big epic, that picks up on and ties into the story arcs and runs from all those writer/artists all the way back to Lee and Kirby. Think of it like a series that will take the Fantastic Four into the future with an exciting new storyline and new interactions with different things and characters and danger and drama. It will also not forget what’s come before and the work that’s been done by all the amazing writers and artists that have come before.
Marvel.com: You’re also known as a writer who goes really deep into the continuity. You must be frustrated that there is no Golden Age Fantastic Four.
James Robinson: That’s true but if you look at it more closely, you can get a bit more philosophical about it. When I started working at Marvel, after my time at DC and my work with their Golden Age characters, someone asked me about how much I liked the Golden Age Marvel characters. And when I was growing up, at least before the Thomas/Robbins Invaders comic came out, there really wasn’t a lot [of] Golden Age reference to be found at Marvel. Whereas, at DC, there were backups and reprints, 100 pages of Golden Age reprints. There were appearances by the Justice Society in the modern day comic books. At Marvel, there really wasn’t a lot of that. There was only FANTASY MASTERPIECES, which was a thicker sized comic that came out in the sixties and seventies. I found second hand copies and what not, and they had all the old appearances of the All-Winners Squad and old appearances of Marvel's Golden Age and Atlas era characters. That was really it. But my point is, back then in the 1970’s, the Golden Age was only like 30 years before that. So if you look at it now where the Fantastic Four has passed its 50th year as a comic, it almost feels like those original stories have their own epic, old school feel to them now, in a way that 20 years after publication, they maybe didn’t have.
Marvel.com: That makes a lot of sense. I remember reading an interview about your ALL-NEW INVADERS run where you’re going to be writing a bit of the original Human Torch. How is to be writing both of the Human Torch characters in the Marvel Universe at the same time?
James Robinson: I should contradict you there. Or, not contradict you, but correct you. I won’t be using the Torch a little bit; I'm going to make him a major character. I’m going to be using all of the characters, obviously. The core group will be Captain America, Namor, the Winter Solider, and Jim Hammond, the Human Torch. And for anyone that reads this and worries that they’re not going to see Spitfire, Union Jack, Blazing Skull, or whoever, you will get to see these characters. I just want to refocus on this core group first; but having said that, Captain America has his own book. Namor has always been a well-defined character. Winter Soldier is obviously coming back into the spotlight, being one of the main aspects of the new Captain America movie.
The one less developed core member of the Invaders is the original Human Torch. I’m really going to focus on Jim Hammond and making him into a great Marvel hero. He is the first Marvel super hero after all and the fact that he’s always been blown up or deactivated, killed off or depowered is a shocking way to treat him. [Laughs] You should add that I say that I said that with a chuckle of humor. I’m always fearful whenever I do these interviews, that when there’s a little bit of sarcasm or humor in what you say, it can come across as arrogant or angry. But anyway, I’m trying to turn him into this great hero and I’m already having a lot of fun doing it. For instance yesterday I was at the gym and I had this brainwave. I think when you go to the gym and exercise, all the blood that’s being pumped into your brain really kind of gets it going and I had this amazing twist that no one will see coming for him that I’m going to put in Invaders down the line.
But getting back to your question which is, how is it writing two Torches; they’re very different. The obvious difference is that Johnny has a very well designed character and he’s a lot of fun to write, especially the interactions with him and Ben. I’ve already gotten into that with the issues that I’ve written so far. And also the fact that he’s this huge celebrity. One of the things that will be quite a part of the series, as I said somewhere, Johnny Storm has gone from being this kid, this brash kid with fire powers, to Justin Timberlake times a hundred. He’s a rock star, he’s a superhero, he’s handsome. He’s everything a guy could want to be. So obviously, I’m going to try to take as much of that away from him as I can. And so his journey—and it really is the fall and rise of Johnny Storm—is definitely one of the subtexts of the whole arc, which makes him a very different character to write than the Jim Hammond Human Torch. I’m giving Hammond more of a personality than he's been given in the past but he still has some of those iconic heroic moments. I have a plan at a way, with ALL-NEW INVADERS and FANTASTIC FOUR, to do the very, very, very, softest type of crossover between the two books; nothing that’s going to be a big thing, just a very minor reference in two books that you’ll see tying together.
Marvel.com: A character in ALL-NEW INVADERS that has such a strong history with the Fantastic Four would be Namor. I’m curious if he’s going to play a role in your story at all, especially since your story is about some divisiveness between the team and Namor has been a huge source of divisiveness between Reed and Sue.
James Robinson: Well I’m trying to get as many of those iconic characters into this arc as I can. So, yes. You will see the King of Atlantis at some point.
Marvel.com: Excellent. You’ve spoken a little bit about Johnny Storm and I think your interpretation is really spot on because you could really see how he would be one of the biggest superstars in the Marvel Universe. What has been your experience writing some of the other characters on the team?
James Robinson: So far, I’ve been enjoying all of it. One of the things I should say is that because there [have] been so many great writers on the book prior to me, and it goes back obviously to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but then you have Roy Thomas, Englehart, [Marv] Wolfman, Gerry Conway, John Byrne obviously, Walt Simonson; all of those guys and the present guys that I mentioned prior. The four main characters have been so well defined. It’s really easy to fall into how they speak and how they are if you’ve been aware of the team for any length of time. So obviously, it’s thrilling. The first time you get to write “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” is pretty exciting. It’s like you’re a kid again. But the way that Reed Richards, even as he’s fighting criminals or menaces or alien invaders, he’s working out in the laboratory in his head how to defeat them using the sciences, which he’s a master of. He sort of explains along the way, can’t help himself. That’s sort of fun.
One of the things I like most, and possibly I’m doing other writers a disservice, but I was really aware of it when I was reading comics when I was younger was how Sue Storm really evolved during John Byrne’s run, from the Invisible Girl to this character where her invisibility was now a force power and made her strong and a stronger character. So having her using those powers and showing how strong she can be and everything else is also very exciting.
So is the relationship. One of the things I’m trying to do with Reed and Sue, is often when I see them having problems, it tends to be sort of like they’re not in love anymore and they have to fall in love again. I feel like they’ve been through enough where even if they go through problems, they’re in love. There’s a fine line to walk in terms of bringing tension and it not being them going down the path of divorce again or separation. That’s a fine line that I’m finding I have to walk already. But showing their love for each other and their children is a lot of fun to write and obviously picking up from where Matt Fraction and the writers that are finishing up for him, Karl Kesel and Mike Allred’s brother Lee. How they’re finishing, I’m picking up from that in terms of the children and the Future Foundation. It’s all very exciting and getting to try and do justice for Marvel’s first family is obviously an exciting honor.
Marvel.com: Getting back to the evolution of Sue Storm a little bit, you mentioned that other writers really played with her powers. I remember writers, Ed Brubaker notably, saying that she is the most powerful of the Fantastic Four. Is that something you agree with or is it a little more flexible than that?
James Robinson: I think it depends on the story. I would say that she is equally as powerful in her own way. She has much more diversity and range in her power. If she used her power force to try and attack someone physically, could she attack harder than the Thing? I don't know about that. If she had to propel herself through the air, could she fly as high or as fast as Johnny Storm? Again, I don't think so. But I think in terms of the level of power she has combined with the versatility of those powers, yeah she very well could be the strongest member. She certainly can stand alongside any of them in terms of her contribution towards any kind of conflict.
Marvel.com: It’s oft been said that Reed Richards is the smartest man in the Marvel Universe. You’ve written very smart characters before, but is it different writing someone who is supposed to be so head and shoulders above everyone else around him?
James Robinson: Well, yes. One of the things that makes intelligent people seem even more intelligent is their confidence in the ability and choices that they make while they are going about the things they have to do. Does that make sense? If you undermine that man’s confidence, you can cripple him, and that may be an obstacle that Reed will have to overcome in the coming months.
Marvel.com: So if he suddenly thinks that he’s not so smart, that’s a huge affront to the character?
James Robinson: It’s a huge disadvantage that they have to get over. You can always tell someone they’re great but they have to believe it themselves.
Marvel.com: The member of the team that we haven’t really talked about yet is Ben Grimm. One of my favorite issues from Jonathan Hickman’s run was when we saw Ben’s evolution through the ages. Do you remember that issue?
James Robinson: I do remember that issue. I read all of the Hickman ones when they came out.
Marvel.com: Does the fact that that character’s future was written so deftly affect the way that you want to write his present or is that not really something you worry about?
James Robinson: You can’t. In comic books especially, if you adhere too much to how characters will be in the future, it can straightjacket you. If everybody was completely obsessed with Old Man Logan or Future Imperfect, or for that matter, you have the Thing’s future in the Hickman run and you have an old Invisible Woman in the Millar run; you have these things that sometimes butt heads with each other and conflict with each other. When you consider there’s Kang and Immortus and all these other elements in time, you have to just write the story you want to tell. But having said that, the story that I’m doing is set in the present. I’m not touching time travel, I want to be upfront about that now. I think between Jonathan Hickman's run, and all the time travel in the Matt Fraction run too, we’ve had enough of that for now and I want to focus on Ben Grimm in the here and now, which will involve the reigniting of the romance with Alicia Masters and also his trial for murder.
Marvel.com: Besides Doctor Doom, it doesn’t seem like the Fantastic Four have quite the rogues’ gallery as some other super hero teams. Have you played with that at all or are your conflicts coming from within?
James Robinson: I would beg to differ on that point, actually.
Marvel.com: If anyone’s going to beg to differ on that, it’s you because you have such an extensive knowledge that of course you’re going to know all the cool characters I’ve forgotten about over the years.
James Robinson: One of the things that’s happened over the years when you look at a lot of the Marvel characters, and this isn’t a criticism, just an observation, as characters are drawn into conflict with the Avengers or this character or that character, they stop being a particular character’s villains and just become a villain in the Marvel Universe. For instance, I was just reading some of Dan Slott’s Spider-Man, which of course is excellent, and he has that one where the Sinister Six is fighting the Intelligencia, where you have the Red Ghost and the Mad Thinker. Now they're there in a Spider-Man comic, yet they are both definitely Fantastic Four villains. And you know, the Wizard, and all these other characters. One of the things you’re going to be seeing from the person who is pulling the strings of the Fantastic Four’s downfall, is basically going to be sending different combinations/versions of the Frightful Four at the FF. It’s my way of basically bringing in every single Fantastic Four villain I can find as well as stealing some villains from other heroes that haven’t been used lately. You’ll be surprised, if you think about, how many villains were Fantastic Four villains originally, and I will hopefully remind people of that.
Marvel.com: Excellent. I would expect nothing less from a James Robinson book than to remind me of things that have happened but haven’t been dealt with in a modern way so I’m looking forward to that very much. Do you have a favorite, as far as a writing a character goes, of the four? Or is that like choosing between your children?
James Robinson: Honestly, to be fair, it’s a little early. I’m not that many issues into the book and at the moment I’m just having fun using all of the different characters. So any moment, there will be one character and I’ll just enjoy something that happens with one character or another.
I even had a moment with one character earlier where I was writing Bentley 23, the Wizard’s "son"/clone, and I was chuckling because he’s talks like this pompous little brainy villain but he’s just a little kid and he’s funny. At the moment I’m just enjoying all the characters. And I’m sure as other characters come to the fore, I’ll get to have some fun with them too. Down the line, not that far off but I haven’t written it yet, I thought I’d bring Wyatt Wingfoot who is one of Johnny’s best friends along with Spider-Man. Now Wyatt has always been portrayed as this nice, likeable guy. I’d like to give him a little bit more of an edge to his personality so hopefully If I do that I can make him a favorite character too for readers.
|Fantastic Four #1 preview art by Leonard Kirk|
Marvel.com: Is this the first time you’ve worked with Leonard Kirk?
James Robinson: It isn’t the first time that we’ve worked together. This is my second Fantastic Four interview and I feel bad because the first one I did, I didn’t make any mention of Leonard’s amazing artwork. I did a series called, “Face the Face” which was the return of Two-Face after the One Year Later thing they did a year after 52 [at DC]. When I brought back Two-Face, it was eight issues, four of them in Detective Comics and four of them in Batman, every other week. The Detective Comics were all done by Leonard and it was so much fun to work with him. I really had a blast working with him. I saw him at a convention and I said I’d like to work with him again and he was like, “Well, I’m with Marvel now.” And I said, “I guess I’m at DC.” Like I said before, it felt like we were the Montagues and Capulets. Now we’re both at Marvel and we’re doing this book together.
The other thing I should also say is that his artwork on this is superb and he’s inked by Karl, one of the best inkers in the business. So between them, it’s sensational work. So anyone that thinks they know what they’re getting from Leonard has no idea.
Marvel.com: What’s your favorite thing that you threw at him and he got to draw and you got to see that you’re really excited about?
James Robinson: The first thing you see the Fantastic Four fighting, as a sort of introduction to them, although you'll discover even that ties into the bigger story, is the FF fighting Fin Fang Foom, who is doing his best impression of Godzilla and is destroying Manhattan. The first time you see that is a double page spread and I was not disappointed by what Leonard drew at all. It was fantastic. And then of course Karl came in and did an amazing job inking. And I should also add that Karl, who has a lot of opinions and is a very forthright fellow, was very quick to point out that he believed Leonard does one of the best Things that he’s ever seen in comics. So I should say that.
Marvel.com: I literally came into this conversation knowing that you planned to split the team up and now everything you’ve said has made me more excited and I’m really looking forward to it.
James Robinson: I didn’t say I was going to split the team up but I did say I was going to bring the team down.
Marvel.com: The solicit made it seem like you’d be breaking the team apart. Maybe the solicit is leading me down the wrong path.
James Robinson: Yes and no. Solicitations are always such a knifewalk because you have to say enough to excite readers, but readers, especially on the forums, love to rush to prejudgment like no one’s business. They’ll be angry just because you said something slightly not right. They’ll get furious because they’ve imagined something that’s possibly not going to happen anyway. Yes, the team will be brought down. Yes, the team is going to move in separate directions due to circumstances. But they’re still going to be this family that stays together in other ways.
FANTASTIC FOUR by James Robinson and Leonard Kirk launches as part of All-New Marvel NOW! in February