Superheroes are a dime a dozen and have been for several years. And while many of those heroes have gone on to form elite super teams, there is still primarily one superhero family. Since the 1960’s, the Fantastic Four has been not only the First Family of Marvel, but also the First Family of comics in general. Unlike other teams, the Fantastic Four have endured constant challenges and come through all of them as a family. They still have their quirks. Johnny’s still a showboat, Reed is still too wrapped up in his work, and so on and so forth. But Marvel’s First Family has always remained united.
As of 2007, though, that looks to no longer be the case.
Marvel’s website has leaked the cover image of the March issue of Fantastic Four. It contains the superhero team’s four members. But there’s something noticeably different. The classic team that has been through over 40 years of adventures has changed. Reed and Sue are no longer there. The cover still contains The Thing and the Human Torch, but in place of Reed and Sue are another comic book power couple, the recently-married Black Panther and Storm.
Rob Allstetter’s Comics Continuum (www.comicscontinuum.com) talked to Dwayne McDuffie, who will be helming the series as of the March issue, over the weekened. McDuffie revealed that the massive Civil War event will have caused this change, but assures readers that “the book will always be about the family, even when the family’s having difficulties.” McDuffie could not reveal any more information, but this cryptic statement has set off a round of speculation.
The obvious question becomes, what has become of Reed and Sue Richards? Currently, the couple has split over the ongoing Civil War conflict. Reed has constructed the Negative Zone prison for un-registered superheroes and is still under the employ of Tony Stark, while Sue has run away to join Captain America’s resistance. Neither appears on the cover of the upcoming March issue, which could imply that something will happen to them in the final two issues of Civil War. Marvel could roll the dice and kill the characters off, but the backlash that would ensue among long-time fans may not be worth the gamble. Could something go wrong with the Negative Zone prison, resulting in either one become entrapped within its confines? Will either one go underground as the series ends, leading to a long-term disappearance? The last option seems to be the most plausible, as it’s an easy plot device to execute and McDuffie could easily bring the characters back if this new incarnation of the Fantastic Four tanks among fans.
The next question is, how did Black Panther and Storm come into this particular fold? The first commonality that fans may notice is that the four heroes on this cover are all anti-registration. Johnny Storm joined Captain America’s resistance while Black Panther and Storm rejected the Superhuman Registration Act in last month’s Black Panther #22 by formally rejecting Tony Stark and forming a global league against registration at the behest of Namor. The Thing has remained neutral and is currently an ex-patriot in France, but it’s conceivable that he could come back to action on the anti-registration side. Long-time readers will also recall that Black Panther made his debut in a Fantastic Four title, so his joining the team could be more of a respect issue.
The burning question is, how will readers receive the new incarnation of Marvel’s First Family? The answer mostly depends on how Civil War ends. But preliminary reactions indicate that fans are wary of what’s ahead. Although the wedding issue was a commercial success, Black Panther’s own title has lost steam for several months. Panther and Storm are rapidly becoming non-factors in the Marvel 616 Universe and anchoring them to the Fantastic Four could drag that name down, as well. However, there’s also a sense of optimism over McDuffie taking the reigns of the Fantastic Four. McDuffie is an acclaimed writer, whose television credits include “Static Shock” and “Justice League Unlimited” and comic credits include this year’s “Beyond,” probably the best mini-series no one has read this year.
But no matter how well the fans ultimately greet the new Fantastic Four, the buzz is undeniable. Readers of Civil War were already curious over the team’s future after watching Reed and Sue’s relationship dissolve before their eyes. Now they know for sure that a huge shake-up is coming. Civil War should be credited for reviving what was a stagnant series. Whether this gamble of changing the Fantastic Four’s roster will pay off remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure. March will be a huge month for Marvel’s First Family.