Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. First there was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Then there was John Byrne. And now we’re at the third great era (era) of Fantastic Four with Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. Before we get into the actual comics, this week’s post takes a look at just what these two brought to the table.
Waid gained notice for his work on the fanzine Amazing Heroes, which led to an editorial job at DC Comics, but he left editorial after a short while to write full-time. His work on The Flash earned him huge acclaim during the early ‘90s comics boom, then he went to Marvel for an also acclaimed run on Captain America, and then he and Alex Ross collaborated on the blockbuster miniseries Kingdom Come for DC. This is only skimming the surface, as Waid’s work also included Legion of Superheroes, JLA, Superman: Birthright, Brave and the Bold, Amazing Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, and indie comics like Irredeemable, Empire, and Ruse. Seriously, his Wikipedia bibliography is a mile long. Basically, if you’ve ever read superhero comics, you’ve likely read Mark Waid. In interviews, Waid has said he likes working on legacy series because all the world-building has been done, so he can come in and focus more on the characters.
Running parallel to Waid’s story, we have artist Mike Wieringo. After studying fashion design in college, Wieringo got his first job at DC Comics, where he first crossed paths with Waid on The Flash. Together, they co-created fan-favorite character Impulse. He didn’t become a big name in comics, though, until Tellos an epic fantasy series of his own creation, published through Image. It was in Tellos that Wieringo established his signature style, so fans could instantly spot Wieringo art whenever they saw it. In interviews, Wieringo stated that he preferred bright and colorful comics to the dark n’ gritty ones, and that he preferred to “keep things fun.” In 2007, Wieringo tragically died of an aortic dissection. He was 44.
When Waid was in talks with Marvel about taking over Fantastic Four, he wrote a document he called his “Fantastic Four manifesto,” about how to approach the FF. This was published in the hardcover reprint of vol. 1 of Waid and Wieringo’s Fantastic Four. Waid’s thoughts on the characters deserve a close look.
Waid begins by talking about the FF’s huge popularity during the 1960s, attributing it to how the series promised readers something new and exciting every month. In the years that followed, Waid argues that writers have been to beholden to honoring (and repeating) those 60s comics, and that such reverence has made the characters stale and predictable. He then argues that the reason the characters have endured over the decades is that they have integrity. He states several times in the manifesto that there is nothing wrong with these characters, and that the series merely needs to reestablish that integrity, rather than go through the motions with referencing the 60s originals.
Waid begins with Sue when he breaks down each character. He says that Sue has a tough, edgy side to her personality, but that part of her was often pushed to the side, because she more or less had to raise her little brother. He says her love of Reed is partly because he’s the swashbuckling scientist-adventurer she always wanted to be. He describes Sue as a “hot soccer mom” and that some part of her should always be unknowable.
As for Reed, Waid emphases making him cool again, and not just the brain who explains science stuff to other Marvel heroes. He says to stop thinking of Reed as the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, but instead think of him as pulp hero Doc Savage. He also throws in a reference to Buckaroo Banzai for all the REAL nerds among us. Emphasizing Reed as an adventurer, Waid says Reed’s inventions are not to fill a need, but are mere byproducts of his adventuring.
But, Waid also states in the manifesto that things like the FF’s costumes, skyscraper home, and their celebrity fame all come from Reed overcompensating. He’s the one who’s done all this for his team because he knows the accident that gave their powers was his fault.
Waid then addresses Johnny, describing his impulsive nature, but also his smarts. Johnny can work on cars and figure out engines, and Waid says he “understands systems.” Waid says the way to get character development from Johnny is to give him some responsibilities, something he’ll do pretty quick in the comic. Waid then only writes one paragraph about Ben, saying Ben doesn’t need a lot of work, except maybe to make him a little less predictable. For Franklin, Waid only writes “Next!”
Then there’s a long section about Dr. Doom. He calls Doom the most insecure man in the Marvel Universe, and that all of Doom’s pompous regal nature only comes from him believing that’s how the regal are supposed to act. Waid writes, “Despite his rep, Doom doesn’t really, genuinely, at heart believe he is the rightful ruler of humanity; it’s the opposite. He believes that by becoming ruler, he will be instantly validated, that it will prove he is the best and smartest man alive, and all his doubts and insecurities will vanish.”
Finally, Waid writes about restructuring comics in the style of prestige television, citing The West Wing in particular. He says that individual episodes might have a beginning, middle, and end, but the subplots continue from episode to episode. This, Waid argues, gives the series a sense of forward momentum, something he says can and should be applied to Fantastic Four.
I’m skipping a lot during this summary, as it’s packed with interesting thoughts and comments about Fantastic Four. I don’t know if it’s ever been reprinted outside of the hardcovers, but hopefully Marvel will dig it up sometime and put it online, because I think it’s essential reading for FF fans, not to mention any filmmakers who might be developing a FF movie. (Cough! COUGH!) And it’s something I plan to refer back to in future blog posts. So come back next week and let’s get our Waid and Wieringo freak on.
Next: A week in the life.
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Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!