Marvel Comics’ first family, the Fantastic Four, will see their story told in an evocative and timeless new way with the upcoming prestige series Fantastic Four: Life Story.
Writer Mark Russell and artist Sean Izaakse revisit the Richards family story as a great movie adaptation – taking the main elements and characters, and shaping them in a new stylistic way to bring out the main themes and perhaps a new resonance to the classic narrative.
Like the previous Spider-Man: Life Story, Fantastic Four: Life Story follows the family over time – specifically, with each issue set in a decade. For this series of six numbers, that means the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s.
With The Fantastic Four: Life Story # 1 going on sale May 19, we spoke with Russell about this holistic take on this Cold War era super-team and he told us how everything centers around how a family grows together and separated after surviving a freak accident that brought them together not only by my blood but by trauma.
Newsarama: Mark, what made you want to write the Fantastic Four – and do it in this Life Story structure?
Marc Russell: One of the things I love about the Fantastic Four is that it’s all about the relationships of its characters, rather than their powers. But a key ingredient in any relationship is time. “Time” being another word for the stakes.
So being able to show them age in real time, letting their relationships evolve significantly over six issues, gives their story an extra dimension, I think.
Nrama: You have a very diverse body of work, so where does Fantastic Four: Life Story sound like you in what you want to do with tone, perspective, and characterization?
Russel: It’s a little different from most of my work because it’s not overtly satirical.
Fantastic Four: Life Story is primarily about how trauma creates a family of its survivors. How our family is not necessarily the people we choose; in fact, sometimes we can’t stand being with them, but they are still a family just because they understand us better than others. So this story is more about how these characters grow up together and go their separate ways after surviving a freak accident that kept them all together for the rest of their lives.
It’s probably more of a touching story than people would expect.
Nrama: This six-issue series tells their story, with each issue set in roughly a different decade – from the ’60s. Some have classified the FF has a flashback and of the ’60s. How do you think this decade-by-decade structure will work to modernize them, so to speak, with each issue?
Russel: No one who wrote the Fantastic Four in the ’60s thought, “Okay, this is a Fantastic Four story set in the’ 60s.” Or the 70s, 80s, etc. They didn’t consciously put the characters in their place in the story because it wasn’t in the story yet. So doing a project like this allows me to do it more intentionally.
It allows me to look back in hindsight at what events and attitudes were significant for those decades, how they affected what followed and let the Fantastic Four inhabit the world of that time.
The first half of the series can be seen as how the world in these changing times has affected the Fantastic Four. The second half is more about how the Fantastic Four changed the world.
Nrama: Marvel says it will present their story in a “radical new way.” Do you think what you are doing is radical – and if so, can you give an example?
Russel: What I do never strikes me as radical. This still seems to be the world’s natural approach to a problem that I don’t quite understand.
I think part of my charm, for those who find me charming, is that I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m still relatively new to comics, so I never sit down thinking, “I could make my way through this superhero comic in my sleep.” So, for better or for worse, I have to think carefully about what I’m trying to build and how to do it using the tools given to me. The result may not always be good, but it is usually new.
If you make a habit of doing plans that take you away from what you know you can do, it keeps you cool. Innovation is just another word for trying something you’re not quite ready for.
Nrama: How do you approach the central idea of the FF family in the difficulties and unique situations?
Russel: For me, it’s a family story based on survival. They face the fallout from a disaster that simultaneously derailed their lives and made them some of the most famous people on the planet. It’s like they survived a plane crash and became The Beatles on the same day. So whether we like it or not, they have no one to turn to but one another to make sense of their unique tragedy.
Nrama: That being said, what can you say about being able to show them in cool storylines and with the use of their powers? You have Sean Izaakse drawing everything you put in this script, so you’re loaded for the show.
Russel: They were very lucky to all get powers that complement each other instead of just becoming four human torches. But having these complementary powers gives you the chance to put them in situations where you never know who will have to pull through.
Invisibility might seem like the short straw when it comes to powers, but there are situations where it’s immeasurably more valuable than other powers. Plus, it allows you to get into your opponent’s head in a way that other powers don’t. Sue could be in the room, using her invisibility, or she could be somewhere else, doing something completely different.
Thus, their complementary powers exponentially increase the number of situations someone will find themselves in.
Nrama: It has many facets, but what is the big goal that you are aiming for with this?
Russel: I want people to feel like they’ve read a book, not just about the characters they love, but a generational story about a family and how they helped each other survive.
Read it best Fantastic Four stories of all time.