Oct 8, 2017

DC Already Has a Fantastic Four

DC announced today that it's new series, The Terrifics, would feature Tom Strong of America's Best Comics. I was already interested in the series, because I like the creative team of Jeff Lemire, Ivan Reis, and Evan "Doc" Shaner, but this puts it over the top for me, because I do love Tom Strong.

I'm also interested, as I tend to be, from a branding perspective. A lineup of Mr. Terrific, Phantom Girl, Metamorpho, and the legendary Plastic Man boasts a very strong comparison, if not a one-to-one comparison, with Marvel's first family, the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four are not currently being published by Marvel, so this seems to be a very basic creative decision based on marketing needs: if Marvel won't fill this void in the market, then why not DC? Here's what interests me though...

DC Already Has a Fantastic Four
by Duy

The Fantastic Four is a fascinating study in creation, because it even feels like patchwork. As the first superhero comic of the Marvel Age, it very pretty clearly drew on four things:

  • Marvel's superhero history (back when it was known as Timely), utilizing an updated version of the Human Torch
  • Pre-FF monster comics being published by Marvel (back when it was known as Atlas), most evident in The Thing and the fact that the cover of their first issue is a big giant monster

  • Stan Lee's desire to do a team with "real problems", to stick out in stark contrast to DC's Justice League, where, really, it was a bunch of generic cardboard guys who could all be interchangeable, resulting in a family dynamic
  • The Challengers of the Unknown

The Challengers of the Unknown was created by Jack Kirby in 1957, four years before he would team up with Stan Lee to create the FF. The lineup consisted of Ace Morgan, Red Ryan, Rocky Davis, and Prof Haley, with June Robbins as an honorary Challenger. Surviving a plane crash, the Challs realized they were living on borrowed time and decided to make the most of it, going on adventure after adventure. Their whole gimmick was the constant discovery of new threats and places.

And that's, really, what Kirby and Lee's Fantastic Four had that subsequent and especially more modern runs on Fantastic Four don't. Staying on the book for over 100 issues, Kirby and Lee, especially in the middle of the run (around the 40-60 mark) just had such momentum and introduced concepts and characters that would still be used today, such as the Black Panther and Wakanda, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, and the Inhumans. And the most impressive part was, they were doing the same exact thing in Thor at the time. Most creators, both of today and of yesteryear, would have been hard-pressed to create as much as they did in one title. They had two.

What set apart the Fantastic Four from the Challengers, though, aside from the powers, is that true family dynamic. And perhaps that's why DC is going with this lineup to fill the void the Fantastic Four left in the market. These characters have personalities that could easily clash (Metamorpho and Plastic Man in the same room alone would drive the former insane), and it practically writes itself.

In today's day and age when creators have the option to retain the rights to their own creations by working for publishers other than DC or Marvel, new heroes, villains, concepts, and places are becoming rarer among the Big Two, and this has severely neutered the Fantastic Four increasingly over the decades. DC may already have an equivalent of the Fantastic Four in the Challs, but you can't actually revive those guys without running into the same problem. By taking four disparate characters instead, they can focus on the group dynamics, and maybe, since they're not actually the Fantastic Four, that'll be good enough.

Also, as a side note, if anyone objects to Tom Strong being used in the DC Universe and says Alan Moore would hate this, I just want to point out that in 2003, Alan Moore said, in The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore, "I guess if any writer wanted to take over one of these books from me, that might be a way of furthering their career, so good luck to them if they think so."

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