*Spoilers for the first arc of Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run*
Like many comic book fans, none of the marketing for Fox’s new Fantastic Four film has really grabbed me. I’m not going to sit here and bash it before it even comes out, but something about it just doesn’t seem right to me. The dark costumes-that-aren’t-their-costumes-yet, the gritty, real-world atmosphere, the same story of disparaging youths coming together to fight for a common good against an insurmountable evil. It’s been done before. Plenty of times.
It’s not like the Fantastic Four have ever gotten any real love on the silver screen. The previous two entries starring these heroes were received with lukewarm feelings from both critics and fans, and the less that’s said about the unreleased 1994 film, the better. But those were at least closer in tone to the comics than what this new film is advertising. It could be that this film may take influence from the more recent and modern Ultimate Fantastic Four series produced by Marvel, but that may not be the route Fox should be going.
When fans think of the Fantastic Four, they think about the fun dynamic between the four main characters. They think about the strange adventures they go on, and the wild ideas they face. Hell, they have one of the best villains in comics in Doctor Doom, and he’s been made to look like a joke of a super-villain on screen. While many writers have excelled at using these elements in the comics, Jonathan Hickman embraced the entire history of the franchise and turned in a career-defining run on the book that is still highly regarded by fans. His first story arc, entitled “Solve Everything,” could even serve as a near perfect basis for a future Fantastic Four film due to three key elements Hickman used throughout this story arc.
- The Story of “Solve Everything”
It would be hard to talk in detail about this story arc without a brief background on the plot first. Kicking off his run with a whirlwind of ideas, Hickman began by showing Reed Richards exhausted at the idea of continuing on just being another “super-hero.” Using a machine he developed that allowed him to view alternate realities, Reed discovers “The Council,” compromised of dozens of alternate versions of himself with only one goal in mind – solve the problems of every universe, not just his own.
Learning the ways of the Council, Reed begins spending more and more time away from his family in order to pursue his goals. His wife, Sue Storm, worries the most, but Reed tells her the simple truth that he’s trying to help humanity. Studying under the three heads of the Council, Reed is shown both the good and the bad of what the Council must do in order to help everyone. After some thought, Reed agrees to become a member of their organization.
Just as his induction ceremony is about to begin, one of the members of the Council reveals he has betrayed them by allowing Mad Celestials, ancient beings looking for even more power than they already have, into their hall. Barely beating them back, Reed discovers the truth about the council – in order to help solve the problems of his universe, he would have to give up his life with his wife and family so he can devote all his time to the Council. Reed ultimately turns down the offer, electing to be with his family than with a group of people who don’t care about their own humanity.
While not perfectly structured for a film script, there are three key components Hickman uses in this story arc that could easily be used in an adaptation to film.
- Already Established Heroes
The last thing any super-hero movie needs is another origin story, so why bother with one? When Hickman started his run on Fantastic Four, there was very little focus on the origins of how all these characters got their powers. They simply were super-heroes, fighting to save the city. Fans didn’t need to see how they got their powers, and outside of a brief “previously in…” page, there was no mention of the accident in space that gave them their powers.
Granted, this clearly worked in the comics because people who were reading the book knew who the characters were. Fox Studios don’t want to hedge their bets on introducing these characters, already established and saving the day, without showing some kind of exposition to the viewer about what made these people into who they are today.
But fans of both the comics and movies in general have already begun showing signs of “origins fatigue.” No one wants to plunk down twelve dollars to see a movie that’s essentially something they’ve already seen dozens of times. On top of the fact that now the Fantastic Four’s origins will have been brought to the big screen twice.
If Fox were to adapt “Solve Everything,” they could just skip over all the origin talk and get right into the action. Even if moviegoers didn’t know the exact details of what happened, they’d be able to figure it out quickly. After all, their origin isn’t so different than most other superheroes. Cosmic rays, radioactive spiders, super-soldier serums…they’re all kind of the same when it comes down to it.
- The “Family” Dynamic
The Fantastic Four are more than just a group of super-heroes; they’re a family. Reed Richards and Sue Storm are the happy-if-sometimes-exasperated parents of Franklin and Valeria Richards, who show signs of having their own gifts. With Ben and Johnny there as the “fun-loving uncles,” the dynamic established in the comics is less of a team of people thrown together by a freak accident and more a doting and eccentric family.
While not completely present in “Solve Everything,” Hickman brought a fun family vibe to the pages of both Fantastic Four and FF, showing readers a team of heroes who were a family above everything else. While the early films had some good banter between the four leads, the family dynamic was lacking. Even this new film looks like it’s taking a page out of The Avengers and showing the origins of the team, not the family behind it.
One point from “Solve Everything” that would be interesting to explore on film is the growing rift between Reed and Sue. Reed, absorbed in his ideas about how to solve all the problems of the world, begins to neglect his wife and children in favor of discovering more and more about how to help people. Bringing this sense of a family slowly breaking apart could help separate this Fantastic Four film from other super-hero movies by mining topics not normally broached by such popcorn-fueled summer blockbusters.
- Grandiose Ideas of Science
One thing that helps makes Hickman’s writing unique to other writers is the level of detail and research into science theorems and ideas he puts into his comics. His creator-owned work shows this a great deal, but his Fantastic Four run helped to bring his science-driven work to a much larger audience and could be used to inspire and wow crowds looking for a new kind of Fantastic Four film.
In “Solve Everything,” Hickman came out of the gates with ideas that immediately made him a name to be talked about. The idea of a secret base for the Council hidden in “a place outside of both the universal structure and the space that exists between them” comes up in the very first issue alone. If you think that’s a mouthful to handle, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Dozens of different versions of Reed Richards, multiple infinity gauntlets on display (which Fox most likely wouldn’t be able to use due to rights issues with Marvel), artificially-aged clones, Celestial beings looking to conquer all of reality…all of these populate the pages of “Solve Everything.” It only gets wilder and stranger the further Hickman’s run goes on, but never does the science overtake the emotional heart behind the story; a key point, considering the characters are what drive this story.
The Fantastic Four have always had a mixed bag of success when it comes to their film adaptations. Some points throughout the earlier films have been good, while others have fallen flat compared to their comic book counterparts. The newest film seems to be taking a markedly different turn from the previous on-screen iterations, but still feels like just another super-hero film. Had Fox looked more closely at the comics, specifically Jonathan Hickman’s “Solve Everything” story arc, they could one day produce a Fantastic Four film that could have comic fans cheering.