For its milestone 75th anniversary, Marvel’s doing it up right with the MARVEL 75TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL, out this October and featuring an all-star line-up of creators and characters.
Writer James Robinson and artist Chris Samnee join forces in the special to tackle the classic Fantastic Four origin story, yet from several fresh new perspectives.
Marvel.com: James, how did you get involved with the anniversary special?
James Robinson: Well, [Marvel Senior VP – Executive Editor] Tom Brevoort called me up and said he had an idea that he thought would be perfect for me and he basically pitched me, at first, what sounded like a retelling of the origin of the Fantastic Four. Obviously, I’m the writer of FANTASTIC FOUR at the moment so on that level it made sense that I would be the writer of this story. But I have to say what was going through my mind was, “Oh, well, we’ve kind of seen this, haven’t we? Why do we need to do the origin again?” but then he basically turned it on its head.
The Fantastic Four was the first of what is now considered the modern day Marvel Universe, their first comic book published in 1961 and it really kind of changed that world, so to speak; it was a pivotal moment really that set everything else in motion to some degree, at least symbolically, if not really. So Tom’s idea is, “Where were you when this happened?” So that’s the basis of the story and so while we see the origin was unfolding, we see what many members of the Marvel Universe were doing on that moment, or rather, on that day when things happened.
Marvel.com: Did he give you any guidance on how to approach the idea?
James Robinson: He [asked] me to tell the origin of the Fantastic Four and really slim it down to as few panels as possible; this entire story was like writing a Japanese haiku, in that every single image has to be a perfect distillation of the moment that we’ll only have a few panels to do it in and everything has to [be within] a single panel. We put the Tony Stark moment, the Dr. Donald Blake moment, they’re all one moment in time and other characters you might not expect [will] be in story. So with that as the premise, Tom let me go off and come up with which characters I wanted to show and how I wanted to do it and everything else and that was the beginnings of it.
Marvel.com: You answered just about all of my questions in that. How do you feel this story really celebrates the spirit of Marvel on its big anniversary?
James Robinson: It basically [looks at] the jumping-on point of the modern Marvel Universe when it stopped being Atlas Comics and became this new version. It shows the beginnings, the origins of all of those characters and the beginning of this tapestry of interwoven characters that Marvel is known for. I think [we’re going to do] this story in a way where it’s the Fantastic Four, but you also see all these other characters and see what they’re doing and showing that the idea of that Marvel tapestry of characters at work even before they even became heroes. It does acknowledge the origin of the Silver Age of Marvel Comics and in that regard; it is definitely part of its 75-year history.
Marvel.com: Would you call FANTASTIC FOUR #1 a timeless story?
James Robinson: Oh, yeah. It is of course, very much so. The timeless stories seem to be the simplest stories. When an origin is mired in layer upon layer of stuff, I don’t think they’re very timeless. Look at Captain America, very simple. Spider-Man, very simple. Fantastic Four: four friends or a family you could call it, elect to go into space and come back forever changed and forever bonded into a team.
That is a very simple story. You can tell that origin in a minute. You meet some guy in a bar, you can tell it to them in a minute. With the Vision, just to pick another character completely at random, you have to explain Hank Pym who creates Ultron, who creates The Vision, blah blah blah. There are characters that are much harder to explain and much harder to distill down, so in that regard I think Fantastic Four is a very timeless [story], yeah.
Marvel.com: Your story also features a great artist…
James Robinson: Of course, they were hoping to get a really big artist or an artist that can do this story justice and they got Chris Samnee, who is one of my favorite artists. [He’s] reinventing storytelling constantly and the angles he chooses, his use of shadow and light in so many ways. He’s such an inventive and talented young artist. I wanted to work with him for a very long time and I got do two pages in FANTASTIC FOUR #5 with him, but this was a chance for us to do a little bit of a bigger story.
Marvel.com: Let’s wing over now to that guy: Chris, James speaks so highly about you and wanting to work with you—what was it like for you to work with him on the FF story?
Chris Samnee: It’s been great! I’ve been a huge fan of James’s work for ages, so I was bowled over when editor Mark Paniccia asked me to do a few pages in FANTASTIC FOUR #5 a few months back. James’ scripts are really detailed and well thought out while still managing to be fresh and fun to work on.
I was kind of sad to see that job come to an end, but being given the opportunity to do a bit more of the same here on this anniversary issue with James is crazy exciting.
Marvel.com: What were your initial thoughts on approaching the art for it, being a flashback to an earlier Marvel Universe? What did you want to accomplish?
Chris Samnee: Oh, gosh. It’s pretty daunting walking in Jack Kirby’s shoes for a bit. I know the origin story has been retold dozens of times over the years by a score of amazing artists but I’m sticking with Kirby for the most part and just trying to do the best work possible. My best work. Not something derivative or a watered down copy. I’m trying to get in a Kirby headspace as much as possible, but the art will still skew pretty close to what folks might see on a regular basis from me if they follow my DAREDEVIL work.
Marvel.com: How do you quantify the importance of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 in comics history?
Chris Samnee: I’m admittedly biased since the Fantastic Four is easily my favorite team or group in comics, but I think if not for the Fantastic Four we’d still be decades behind where comics are these days. Right from issue #1, Lee and Kirby started blazing a new path for what super hero comics could be. They managed to combine high adventure, sci-fi, romance and comedy, all the while giving readers their first glimpse at what a family would be like out on the front lines of the super heroic battles.
Stay tuned to Marvel.com for more on the MARVEL 75TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL and visit marvel.com/75 today!