By Jim Beard
Superheroes do not travel on foot alone! Sometimes they must fly! And for those members of Marvel's First Family, the Fantastic Four, that cannot fly, there is…the Fantasticar! Marvel readers who yearn to see all of the FF's many way-cool comic book gadgets and devices appear on-screen in the Fantastic Four movies will be thrilled when the high-flying Fantasticar makes its film debut on June 15 in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer!
"For fans, the car can be as important as the characters," said Fantastic Four producer Avi Arad to USA Today, when the first pics of the FF's famous vehicle went public. In fact, the team's gear is so important to the fans, so integral with their imaginations, over the years they've even influenced it's evolution in the comic books.
The first Fantasticar was unveiled in the earliest days of the FF's title. Fantastic Four #3 not only gave the team their initial vehicle, it also showered them with their first costumes and their incredible Baxter Building headquarters (complete with cut-away view, of which readers were urged to "save for future reference"!). The Fantasticar Mark 1 was quickly dubbed the "flying bathtub" by fans for its peculiar shape, and the "air-powered" car became a staple of the Fantastic Four's arsenal. Able to split into four separate pieces, each able to be flown by individual members of the team, the first Fantasticar could carry roughly 1200 pounds at up to 60 mph for almost 200 miles. Each component on its own was capable of speeds up to 30 mph and approximately 100 miles. Later it was shown to have safety belts and restraining devices for complex aerial maneuvers. Fans also clamored for a better look at the Car's intricate control panel and they were granted their request with an Invisible Girl pin-up page in FF #10.
Eventually the "flying bathtub" reportedly became something of an eyesore to many readers, and the Fantastic Four rolled out a brand-spankin'-new Fantasticar in FF #12. Unlike the Mark 1, which was the brainchild of team leader and all-around egghead Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, the new Fantasticar was designed by the youngest FF'er, Johnny Storm the Human Torch. As Johnny himself tells a visiting U.S. Army general, "Top speed's a secret…but it's faster than you'd suspect! As for her cruising range, we've extended it to better than three thousand miles--enough to take us clear across the U.S.A.!"
The Mk 2 also included four separate sections that could "disengage and fly separately" according to The Thing, hastily adding that that particular bonus was his idea. Reed experimented with a new power drive for the Fantasticar in FF #16, and with only a few other minor modifications and adjustments, the team contentedly continued to use the Mark 2 for several years to come. Mr. Fantastic, obsessively prone to mechanically fiddling and tweaking in his spare time, eventually engineered a version of the Mark 2 that was fully enclosed and more powerful. This increased the Car's airspeed from 550 mph to 1,000, elevated its ceiling from 30,000 feet to 40,000, and extended its range from approximately 1,000 miles to an amazing 1,500. With this Mark 3 version, the Fantastic Four were now cooking with gas.
When America's First Family of Superheroes found themselves in the so-called "Franklinverse," an alternate reality crafted by the Richards' supremely-powerful son Franklin in Fantastic Four Vol. 2, #1, Reed assembled a Fantasticar that highly resembled the Mk 3 in both looks and performance.
Despite the incredible, perhaps even fantastic, powers of this super-heroic foursome, they have had a wide variety of vehicles available to them for every type of use or mission under the sun. Above and beyond the Fantasticars, the team has also operated their Sky-Cycles, Pogo-Planes, Reducta-Craft, Negative Zone Explorers, Negapods, timesleds, and even an intercontinental ballistic missle that Reed Richards modified to include passengers and VTOL capabilities (!). That's not even mentioning the cornucopia of space-faring vessels the FF have possessed, including starships, flying saucers, space cruisers, wormhole shuttles, and a Skrull spaceship disguised as a wooden water tower! Only in a book like Fantastic Four would an aficionado of fantastical literature find such a wealth of personal conveyances the likes of these.
And before we forget, a moment of reflection for that loneliest and most forgotten of all Fantastic Four vehicles, the Fantasticopter. Inaugurated and flown in FF#3, and seen only briefly thereafter, it was swiftly mothballed in favor of the much more flexible and dependable Fantasticars.
In this June's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the team's on-screen Fantasticar will owe more to the Mark 2 and 3 comic versions than the much-maligned but still classic "flying bathtub" 'car. The film's vehicle is a sleek flying auto for which conceptual artist Tim Flattery looked to manta rays and stingrays for visual inspiration. "We wanted something that looked like it could glide as easily as [rays] do," he told USA Today last November. This Fantasticar is reputed to be powered by a "proton accelerator," and can both hover and fly at speeds up to 500 mph. Most excitedly for the FF's multitude of fans, the filmic Fantasticar can separate into four components just like its comic book brethren.
The talented actors who portray the famous four were all reportedly enamored by the vehicle and can't wait to see what the movie's creative special effects artists achieve with it through the magic of filmmaking.
And who knows? Maybe somewhere in the background we'll catch a glimpse of a prototype Fantasticar that look suspiciously like a…flying bathtub.