The Fantastic Four is one of my favorite teams in comic books. That is because, essentially, they aren’t a team, they are a family. Two of them are siblings, two of them are married, two of them have been best friends for years. They bicker, they squabble, but at the end of the day, they have each other’s backs and act like heroes. It breaks my heart to see adaptations which don’t get that, which is why I’m writing this article. This is how, in my opinion, you can make a Fantastic Four movie and make it great.
The Fantastic Four made their debut in Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. The Cold War was still going strong and the Space Race was in full swing, so Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tapped into that zeitgeist and made his four protagonists astronauts. They stole an experimental spaceship, went into space, were bombarded by cosmic rays, and crashed back into the Earth, changed on different ways.
This origin could not work at all today. It’s goofy, it’s silly, and it’s very Silver Age. And it’s not like you can “update” it for the Modern Age, like you can with Iron Man’s origin (Vietnam changed to Afghanistan) or Spider-Man’s (radioactive spider changed to genetically engineered spider). Changing the origin necessitates that you focus on the origin and the origin? Doesn’t really matter. Even if you change it to interdimensional travel into the Negative Zone, focusing on the origin means that you focus half or all the movie to it and the origin is entirely boring. Everyone already knows the outcome. They get powers, the end.
The real fun of the Fantastic Four is what comes after.
The Fantastic Four is an opera. I don’t mean that it has any singing or anything. I mean that it includes incredibly larger than life drama, often exaggerated and melodramatic behavior, not just from Doctor Doom (who speaks in BOLD LETTERS), but from Ben Grimm, who regularly bemoans his lot in life in the most operatic terms.
The Fantastic Four, in fact, is one of the most operatic comic books out there — forget Spider-Man tossing away his costume, forget Captain America feeling sad about his dead sidekick, the Fantastic Four could always out melodrama them. In fact, their most famous battle is with a fifty-foot tall purple cosmic god, Galactus. Just listen to his speech:
“My journey is ended! This planet shall sustain me until it has been drained of all elemental life! So speaks Galactus!”
The Fantastic Four is a full blown opera. So don’t try to make it realistic or gritty. Make it operatic.
For a franchise with four movies, none of them have ever really gotten Doctor Doom right. In fact, the closest a movie ever got to Doom was the 1994 Roger Corman one and that was never even released (or meant to be released, if the rumors are true).
In the 2005 Fantastic Four and it’s sequel, they don’t even call him Doom. They call him “Victor” a lot, but on the whole, the movies seem to think that the name “Doctor Doom” is just too silly. And all of the movies (even the reboot) give him superpowers.
Doom in the comics doesn’t have superpowers. He doesn’t need superpowers. He is a gifted and accomplished scientist who built his own armor, as well as a sorcerer (he made Valeria, Reed Richard’s daughter, his familiar). He’s once stole the Silver Surfer’s power (and currently wields the Beyonders’ power on Battleworld), but he doesn’t need powers to be a match for any of the Fantastic Four. He can think the unthinkable.
He is, after all, Doom.
In Marvel Comics (and DC, as well), marriage seems to be somewhat of a no-no in recent years. Spider-Man’s marriage was dissolved, then Superman’s and others. Marriage, it was stated, made the characters older and less relatable.
Reed Richards and Sue Storm have been married since 1965. They’ve had a son since 1968 (and, for some reason, he’s still around eight). They’ve had a daughter since 2002. These facts have never changed or been retconned. Why? Because the one thing the Fantastic Four have always been about is family. The FF is and always shall be a family.
The Fantastic Four aren’t superheroes. They don’t fight crime or the mob or terrorists or Hydra. They are the First Family. They go on picnics into the Negative Zone and field trips into the Microverse. They may fight despots like Doom and Annihilus and Blastaar and the Mole Man, but that’s not who they are. They are a family.
After all, there’s a reason that the best Fantastic Four movie was called The Incredibles.
- The Fantastic Four Epic Collection by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The first 18 issues of the original World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. It pretty much all started with Lee and Kirby, even if some of those original adventures were goofy and a little bit sexist.
- Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Waid and Wieringo just got the FF unlike a lot of other writers and had such a celebrated run that it’s all been collected into four big “ultimate” volumes.
- Fantastic Four Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham. Hickman is another author who got the FF and understood how much it was about a family of astronauts. His first story, “Solve Everything,” was amazing and is collected here. (His run would eventually end with the tragic storyline “Three” and then result in a new book called FF about the Future Foundation).
- Fantastic Four Vol. 1: New Departures, New Arrivals by Matt Fraction, Mark Bagley, and Mike Allred. The beginning of Matt Fraction’s run on Fantastic Four and FF in a storyline that intertwined the two. Fantastic Four was good, but FF was awesome. It was just so much fun, especially with Allred’s artwork.