In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four, a comic which helped herald the Marvel Universe as we know it today. We all know the story by now, an ill advised space trip results in cosmic rays giving powers to four seemingly normal individuals leads to Marvel’s “First Family.”But somehow or another the Fantastic Four have never been able to connect with readers with the way Spider-Man or the X-Men has.
They were lacking the relatability that connected Peter Parker with teenagers and were never seen as having had the cultural impact the X-Men had. Worse yet the Fantastic Four were hardly interesting themselves compared to their arch foe, Doctor Doom. Honestly, can you name an interesting Four arc in the past 20 years that didn’t involve Doom? Baring notable arcs here and there from writers like, Mark Waid and Jeph Loeb, the question had become what makes the Fantastic Four so Fantastic?
Jon Hickman didn’t like the Fantastic Four. Before his debut issue, Hickman took on the task of going back to reading every Fantastic Four issue EVER to find out what worked and didn’t work. Through my calculations that would have taken him 9 billion years, an awfully long time, but he came to an obvious conclusion that the best FF stories don’t try to be anything but otherworldly, they go for broke.
Multiple Reed Richards and Nu-zone problems, sure why not it’s a comic, don’t think small! Hickman’s FF had more then a dead Galactus (issue #584) at its core, it has character growth. More then “comic” character growth which usually results people being bad or good, I’m referring to character growth reserved for Game of Thrones or Mad Men. Johnny Storm no longer is some hot head twenty something, he’s a boy who comes to grip with immaturity through sacrifice. Reed Richards is attempting to solve the world’s problems, because he has that power, and is realizing what the difference between having knowledge and using it means. These aren’t season arcs for Rob Stark or Don Draper, these are changes the Fantastic Four are dealing with.
Comics, like television are escapism, but escapism only works when what your escaping to has meaning, has conflicts, and ultimately has effects. In order to espace into a universe we have to believe these characters are real, or as real as characters on paper can be. Change isn’t just Magneto going from a “good” guy to a “bad” guy, or someone being on a different Avengers team(sorry Bendis), change is character after 40 years of existence finally growing. It’s emotional growth hidden beneath battles with Nu-Zone bugs and Doom Bots. It’s Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four.