The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

The Future: Act 1 of a New Fantastic Four


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What must happen next

Let's extrapolate: what would happen if the Fantastic Four was a big story again? That is, if events once again had consequences?

Continuity becomes chaotic after issue 321. For most issues it almost looks like a different team. But what would happen if they remembered the past? If those events mattered? The trends are obvious. The answer is clear:

  1. Johnny and Alicia would separate.
    They both married "on the rebound" - Johnny from Frankie and Alicia was despairing that Ben would ever resolve his problems. Note that in Marvel Time their romance only took a few months at most. It lacks any depth, and their wedding was suitably low key and full of doubt. Johnny has to constantly tell himself that he loves Alicia, but we have seen what he is like when in love (with Crustal, and even to a small extent with Frankie) and this is not it. Alicia does not feel secure with Johnny, and any "drifting apart" from Ben was a symptom of Ben's internal chaos. She has shown plenty of times that Ben is what she wants (e.g. in Moench's run).
  2. Ben and Sharon will always be friends
    The basis of Ben and Sharon being together was their unstable mental health. Sharon hated men, and Ben had never had a healthy relationship since gaining his powers. They were lost and confused and their healthy relationship has healed them. But there was no long term bond, no history, so shared goals. So they will part but remain good friends. (Englehart's solution was to make the original team just the core of an extending family: in FF331 he made her very secure at the middle of the team. In contrast, the Franklinverse solution - to have Sharon lose her mind and wander the countryside as a monster - betrays Franklin's own sad psychological state... or a horrible sexism among editors)
  3. Ben and Alicia plan to marry
    In FF303 we are reminded that Ben will always be in love with Alicia. They have long planned to marry, but were only held back by Ben's lack of confidence. He has now resolved those issues (through deep thinking on Battleworld and in FF296 and 303, becoming leader, having a healthy relationship with Sharon). In FF328 we see that Ben and Alicia make a great team! Ben is an old fashioned guy and she is a modern woman, and together they solve mysteries!
  4. Johnny and Crystal want each other
    Johnny and Crystal are soul mates. Even when telling himself that he loves Alicia, Johnny admits that he loves Crystal. Unlike before, Johnny is now mature and able to commit. They will be together, as we saw in FF Annual 1998.
  5. Johnny will lead the team
    A major theme of the Fantastic Four is that only Johnny Storm actually wants to be a superhero. He is restricted when in the shadow of the others: he is more confident and creative when working away from Reed, and Alicia has taught him mature responsibility. So he is a natural leader. Johnny
  6. Ben will become an emeritus member
    Ben's long term goal is to settle down with Alicia, as in Liddleville, but for real. He will still help the FF when needed, and have other adventures, but Alicia will be his top priority.
  7. Reed will get to know his son
    Once the limits of Franklin's power are understood, Franklin will take his place on the Fantastic Four, and Reed will focus on Sue and on his discoveries. Reed will explore ever deeper and further: any story featuring Reed will be exciting because there's always something new. Like Ben, he will be available if the Fantastic Four need the help that only he can provide.
  8. Sue will follow her dream to be a private investigator
    Sue would make the perfect detective: see FF158 and her interest in keys (FF225). This will allow her to move, James Bond style, amid the highest of society as she always wanted. She will work alone, with backup from the team back at base.
  9. Reed would spend some time in Otherplace as Doom, with Sue
    Reed and Sue need to raise Valeria. See the page on Valeria von Doom for details. They would probably commute back and forth, treating Otherplace as their him in the country.
  10. Sharon will become far more interesting
    In the Franklinverse Sharon began working for Doctor Doom. I think this is because Sharon was so close to Ben: when the team was replaced by the Cone Team she noticed. And the Clone Team probably never went away. Meanwhile, Doom is maturing as a character. He may even be Reed. (The "evil Dooms" we see are the advanced Doombots.) We should see some very interesting developments.
  11. Teen Franklin...
    will hop between home and work, using Lockjaw. With Crystal around, Luna would be the other teenage members of the team. Obviously this presupposes that time moves forwards, as it did in the 1960s.
The book evolve from merely superheros genre to be a cross genre book:

Steve Englehart confirms it

happy endings

In FF332, Steve Englehart created a dream sequence that summarized all of his plans for the next year: what he would have done if continuity had not ended. He had been forced to return Reed and Sue, so did not confuse matters by making them leave again, but he confirmed that Ben and Alicia would end up together, leaving Johnny free to be with Crystal. This leaves everything ready for Stan Lee's "Last Fantastic Four Story."

Note that Englehart creates a new tragic figure in Sharon, the she-Thing. If readers want tragedy and depth, they got it. But without the need for a sliding timescale and endless reboots.

Stan Lee confirms it

TLFFS

After Englehart's run there is only one story with any claim to continuity: only one story that takes the themes from the first 27 years and moves them decisively forwards: The Last Fantastic Four Story (TLFFS), written by the man who started it all - Stan Lee.

When TLFFS begins, the FF have received a request to help out at a top secret government high technology facility. No doubt the government would have specifically asked for Reed Richards and the original team in these circumstances: this also explains why it's the core team for this one mission.

Note that TLFFS does not actually mention Crystal - Stan Lee is always the perfect company man, and Marvel had at the time consigned that storyline to history. But it is easy to read between the lines. The last in-continuity reference showed Crystal on the moon (FF Annual 21) and the last in-continuity story had a similar moon image to the end of TLFFS. 

to the moon

If the FF332 dream is canon (and it should be) then it resolves the situation, and Crystal probably went back to the moon for a few weeks to let Johnny and Alicia's divorce go through with the minimum of pain. Then TLFFS ends with the team heading for Crystal's home on the moon.


Criticisms:

aa


Alan Davis confirms it

Fantastic Four:
        The End

"FF: The End" is a highly praised title by Alan Davis. It shows the only way the FF can possibly "end":

As David Brothers observed: "Ben Grimm retired to Mars [remember Reed on Mars in the 1998 annual? -Chris] with Alicia Masters, his longtime girlfriend, and they have a handful of kids. Ben can turn from monster to man and back again, as well. Johnny Storm goes by John now, and heís a big shot hero in his own right. Heís extremely well-respected, to the point where heís the top dog in the Avengers. [...] Itís been run into the ground, but the FF are a family, right? Whatís the most important thing to a family? Each other. What is the most important thing to parents? Their children. My expectations were pretty much completely subverted. FF: The End isnít about a space battle. Itís about Susan Richards having the drive to get her children back, with a time travel twist. Itís about Reed being forced to look beyond his logic and science and trust his wife. Itís about Ben and John reconciling with each other and their team."

Eventually there will be sixteen members of the team, including Ben's children and the seven children that Johnny and Crystal will have.

How far in the future?
Davis places the story in the distant future, but that is a minor detail and easily explained (if needed) by the FF's time machine. Davis also hints at Galactus' relationship with the team, a topic discussed elsewhere on this site and confirmed by the climax to Hickman's run (Galactus serves Franklin). Finally, Davis also shows that the concern that real time means old heroes is nonsense: he dismisses that by just mentioning that Reed has found a way to slow aging, and he shows that a semi-retired Reed and Sue would still be around, they would just put their family first.



Sue and Reed will not retire: they will live their dream

Sue and Reed can never fully leave: they are family.

Reed and Sue can never fully retire: too many dangers arise. but they have to get out of the way in day to day matters so the younger generation can thrive. That is how families work. Without that move they are just playing at families, they are not a real family. Real families constantly grow, age, expand, move up the ladder of time.

Retiring was a big mistake

When Reed and Sue "retired" in 1988 they were shown living in a small house. This was not shown by Englehart, but was in an pin-up picture and in a backup story in another comic. This was a fatal flaw, and showed no understanding of the characters. It is true that Reed and Sue chose a small house when they tried to leave in Byrne's run, but that was when they were afraid and desperate, and it had catastrophic results.

Where would Reed and Sue retire to?
The comics clearly imply what kind of house they would "retire" to. The team live the American Dream, and so their house would reflect that. Issue 134 shows where Sue goes when she wants to get away: her friend's ranch, where she can ride horses. Reed, meanwhile, cannot be happy unless he can tinker. A massive laboratory complex would ruin any ranch, so would naturally be built underground. Again this is foreshadowed in the same issue, 134, where we see a darker version of Reed: a high tech genius who neglects his son and lives under the surface.

Sue and Reed's        natural habitat

Why underground?
Only by combining the idyllic ranch and underground labs can Reed and Sue both be happy.  Perhaps we could argue that Reed could instead use a "bigger inside than outside" type lab (as in Simonson's run), but that is a technical solution that's vulnerable to damage. A physical series of hidden caverns is more robust. It is also reassuring to Sue: her husband would tend to be physically nearby rather than on another planet or other dimension

There is good reason for advanced races to move underground: it protects your privacy and also protects you from attack: you can see an armada or asteroid coming, but danger from radiation comes too quickly to see: a natural gamma burst from a nearby dying star will wipe out everything on the surface of a planet, possibly without warning without s that periodically kill everything on the surface. The Deviants created their machines underground for good reasons.

Psychological symbolism
Going underground symbolizes the mother earth, stability, the inner self: it's where you find yourself. For more about this, see the notes to issue 1, especially regarding Ben's skin and the symbolism of space versus the ground under our feet.

Story symbolism
The big 28 year Fantastic Four story was largely about him becoming grounded: realizing that everything he needs is right here, with Sue and Franklin. So it is highly symbolic if he moves his focus from outer space to the round under his feet. Going underground it is also the intelligent way: for all Reed's intelligence he could be extremely dim.  He spent all his time looking into empty space for aliens, and trying to perfect a subspace portal on his own. yet if issue 1 taught him anything it should have been that aliens are already watching us: the powers were no accident (see the notes to issue 1 and 319, and the page on the cosmic). Reed was wasting his time. He saw in issue 1 that advanced technology was right under his feet! And in act 5 he learned that this technology included (unsurprisingly in hindsight) working teleportation devices. Reed could have saved himself years of grief if he had listened to the Mole Man in the first place, become his friend, and uses his technology. All the benign advanced races you could want are already here and ready to talk, and Reed never even bothered to listen. Now, after act 5, he can learn from his mistakes and become part of the advanced universe.

For all these years Reed tried to reinvent the wheel when he had whole races of advanced beings willing to help him if he only became their friend (Inhumans, underground cities, etc.). He had functioning star gates under his feet and never even looked!

star gate
(A "stargate" from the TV series of the same name)

In the next generation Reed can begin using those star gates in earnest, and when he finds somebody, let Sue do the talking!

Reed's natural home: Project Pegasus

At times of the greatest inner crisis we see that Reed must go into the inner world:
into the inner world
Project Pegasus

Pegasus would be the perfect workplace for Reed:


Reed's cave: Reed is like Batman

The idea of a super genius with a high tech cave might sound familiar...

the batcave

A lot of comic book writers find it hard to make Reed Richards interesting. It may be because they have forgotten that Reed is basically Batman.


Mr Fantastic
Batman
Son of a billionaire
Son of a billionaire
extremely intelligent
extremely intelligent
wealthy capitalist
wealthy capitalist
heavy use of technology more than super powers
heavy use of technology, not super powers
superb physical specimen
superb physical specimen
Obsessively driven, due to childhood experience (his mother died when he was seven, and his father was science mad and left to become a warlord)
Traumatized by early loss of parents
(Parents shot in front of him when he was 8)
Butler became surrogate father (Peacock, FF272)
Butler became surrogate father, Alfred Pennyworth
needs to always be in control
needs to always be in control
skilled at martial arts (see FF17)
skilled at martial arts
obsessive bordering on mental illness
obsessive bordering on mental illness
has trophy room (FF268)
has trophy room
mind can get very dark (see notes to FF250 for example)
mind can get very dark
classic enemies rely on illusion (e.g. Miracle Man, Invincible Man, Maximus, even Doom and the Mole Man at times)
classic enemies rely on illusion
principle enemy once classified insane (Doom, FF200)
principle enemy generally insane (Joker)
originally darker, treated as light and silly on TV in the 60s
originally darker, treated as light and silly on TV in the 60s

Reed doesn't use a secret identity or rely on fear, and he spends more time on science than on exercise, but otherwise they're a good match.

The Fantastic Four will still be together every day

If Reed and Sue settle at Project Pegasus, and Ben settles with Alicia while Johnny head a new team, does this mean splitting up the team? Not really. Wherever Crystal is, Lockjaw will not be far behind, so any of the extended family is only a heartbeat away.

In particular, Franklin will want to grow up with other children, and will want to have fun with his uncle Johnny. Probably every second issue would involve Reed and Sue in some way, in the same way that a wild 20-something who loves his parents will keep turning up at their house when he needs something. But he does not want them living at his house telling him what to do.

never far away

As we saw in Waid's run, giant Skype things mean the family will always be close. They can still have breakfast together, even if living in separate houses. They just need to be far enough away to let Johnny and Ben be in charge, to be themselves.

Note also that Franklin routinely stays with Crystal: The team made of Johnny, Crystal, Franklin and Luna already exists, waiting.

Can the story work with three teams?

3 teams
The next generation calls for three sub-teams: Reed/Sue, Ben/Alicia, and Johnny/Crystal/Franklin/Luna. They are all linked by Lockjaw. Can this work? Yes, not only can it work, this is how the FF is supposed to work. It's how families work: kids, parents and friends go out to separate adventures and come back to safety and love. It's exactly how the FF worked in its golden era:

"Beginning with issue #54, Lee and Kirby transformed Fantastic Four into a triangulated saga whose prongs were Reed, Sue and Ben in New York, the Inhumans in the Great Refuge, and Johnny and Wyatt residing wherever Lockjaw, the inter-dimensional bulldog led them. Johnny and Wyattís journey into the vast unknown became the unifying element between the residents of the Baxter Building and the inhabitants of the Great Refuge."  (Mark Alexander, "Lee & Kirby: The Wonder Years")

Why Johnny and Crystal matter

Crystal and
        Johnny


The Fantastic Four represent the four elements: earth (Ben), Air (Sue), Fire (Johnny) and water (Reed). Crystal represents all four. She shows up when everything is in harmony.

Act 3, the happiest and most exciting period in the history of the FF, was when Crystal was around: it began when Johnny saw Crystal for the first time, and ended when Crystal left. New readers may not realize the importance of Crystal: all they have seen is the fourth act with all its problems, and the Franklinverse with its lack of direction. But this is not the natural state of the Fantastic Four: their natural state, as we saw in Act 3, is fun and excitement! At its heart was the romance between Crystal and Johnny, two of literature's greatest lovers.

Crystal's importance cannot be overstated. If you had to choose a title to represent the Marvel Universe at its greatest, you have to choose the Fantastic Four (for the origin, Galactus, This Man This Monster, The Power and The Pride, etc). And if you have to choose two people who represent the Fantastic Four, the two who actually want to be members, it's not Reed and Sue, it's Crystal and Johnny! Put simply, Crystal and Johnny represent the core of Marvel.

John Kricfalusi (creator of Ren & Stimpy) understands: "A couple years ago Stussy put out a bunch of shirts featuring Marvel superheroes. Stussy's art director Adam Jay Weissman cooked up the idea and asked some non-Marvel artists to do their interpretations of their favorite characters. I picked Crystal and Johnny Storm." - John Kricfalusi

What happens to Franklin?

Franklin as a
        member of the team

Johnny plans to
        let Franklin join

Franklin has always wanted to be a member of the Fantastic Four, and Reed and Johnny both promised. Once Reed has taken the time to understand Franklin's powers, by making Franklin his top priority, Franklin will join the team.

He may be young, but he's the most powerful member, and can defend himself even when unconscious. He has already saved the team plenty of times, so they need him!

The Franklinverse is a result of Franklin's insecurities, and hence his fear of growing up. Now that Reed and Sue put him first, he can finally grow up.


Franklin should have been Harry Potter

Superhero kids are seldom well written. They could be. There are plenty of real novels about kids that are fun and interesting to read. Take Harry Potter for example.

Franklin was the prototype Harry Potter: a kid neglected by his parents, with amazing powers, fated to save the universe. Chris Claremont understood this. In the 1991 "Days of Future Present" stories Claremont revealed him to be starting at his Hogwarts, Xavier's school. This was six years before Harry Potter was published. We could have seen Franklin grow up, he could have been fleshed out as a three dimensional character with his own ideas, mysteries and frustrations. We should have seen the limits to his powers (see "objections" below), in order to create real tension. We should have sen his own version of Hagrid, Ron, Hermione, etc. Readers would have cared. But instead he was treated as a one dimensional problem character, the same as always. Marvel dropped the ball.


Conclusion: new team, same dynamic

the Human Torch
        is back in town!

So it follows that Johnny will be an active superhero, with Crystal by his side. Johnny is nominally in charge, but Crystal has always shown herself to be very smart, a stabilizing influence. Where Crystal is, Luna and Lockjaw will be as well, and of course Franklin is there.

Notice something? It's a family of four superheroes with a familiar dynamic:

  1. The team leader has most experience.
  2. His fiancť/wife has felt invisible due to her culture (The Inhuman Royal Family is even more stifling than being an 1950s housewife) and needs to prove herself.
  3. The most obviously powerful member has always felt like an outcast. He's finally getting the love and respect he needs, but his split personality and repressed unconscious emotions run very deep. It won't be easy.
  4. The youngest member is often ignored, and will need to prove herself. She comes from a broken home, and was always shunted off to nannies, so you can guarantee she'll be a wild child!

Yes, that's right. It's the same dynamic as the original Fantastic Four, but more wild! Reed and Sue are naturally cautious, and always have the sensible ideas, but Johnny always solved his problems by thinking on his feet: The future will be a lot more exciting than the past.

The story of America continues

Note that the new Fantastic Four represents the new zeitgeist of America:

In general, without Reed as the super-intelligent but narrow head, the new FF will be more like the only truly great Fantastic Four movie ever made: The Incredibles,


Objections

With the Torch leading the team - where's the emotional conflict?

The original team has natural conflicts that kept them interesting.The same goes for the new team, but these are different conflicts:
  1. Johnny is not as smart as Reed, so will make more mistakes, and must think on his feet. Chaos will rule!
  2. Franklin, Crystal and Lockjaw are arguably more powerful than Johnny, and Crystal is arguably smarter, so this should be interesting.
  3. Johnny loves being the Torch, and will tend to go too far. He likes acting the big kid. So does Crystal, after her highly inhibited youth, but she pretends not to.

They will basically be the craziest, most chaotic family ever. The only rule will be that any artist who draws the new FF standing still for more than one frame will be instantly fired. That's the fun stuff, but a good drama need serious conflicts as well. These come from the following conflicts:

  1. Johnny versus the team.
    Johnny is out of his depth. Almost always. He means well but he will make mistakes. Yet the family relies on him.
  2. Johnny versus Franklin.
    Johnny is naturally light hearted and loves Franklin, but Franklin (below the surface) is very, very serious. His loyalty is to Sue, not Johnny, and he knows when Johnny messes up.
  3. Everyone versus Pietro.
    The insane ex is always around.
  4. Crystal versus neighbors.
    Crystal has a bad reputation due to her affair while mind controlled - it is totally undeserved, but mud sticks. So there is conflict with "neighbors" - the other superheroes.
  5. Human versus inhuman culture.
    Crystal has a strict Asian family rules based upbringing, but Johnny was always wild and carefree.
  6. Reed versus the team.
    Reed's bad parenting will come back to haunt him with Franklin's inevitable psychological problems. And Reed's nature is still to control.
  7. Reed and Sue versus the team.
    The "parents" will inevitably interfere, they can't help it. Their stability is needed as an anchor for the new team's chaos and mistakes. This is a family dynamic that many will understand.
  8. Luna versus the world.
    While Franklin has deep issues (while being happy on the surface as long as he is loved), Luna's belonging issues are all on the surface. She has no powers. She can of course use whatever high tech stuff is there, but she does not fit. She is the newcomer, she is half mutant and half inhuman, and does not fit in any culture. She comes from a broken home, always left with a nanny. If you think Ben Grimm had identity issues, wait until you see Luna! See the 1998 Annual for an example. Note that her name gives her the central role: the original Fantastic Four began and ended by aiming for the moon.
In short, the new Fantastic Four could be called The Home For Wild Teens!

How to solve the age and date problem

Franklin was born in 1968, and realism demands that we admit it. So much of the early Fantastic Four is tied to the 1960s and does not work outside of that context. So how do we explain that Franklin is not in his mid 40s?

The solution is simple: realism demands that the characters admit the obvious: they know about the Franklinverse. Between 1968 and 2012, time stretched and weird stuff happened (like routine resurrections). It's no secret. So they refer to biological and calendar years separately. This is just like an adopted child referring to biological and adopted parents.

A 1960s link is not a problem: in the Internet age, readers are used to finding stuff from before they were born.

How to solve the "Franklin is too powerful" problem

Franklin may appear to be all-powerful, which removes any danger or excitement from stories. But let's clarify exactly what he can do, and see how those powers are all variations of the same thing.:

1. Dream-self and psi-powers:
Keep these as they are. Tattletale and Psi-Lord were not overly powerful. They just skirt around alternate realities without diving into them: the dream self stays in this reality, and psionic powers merely extract alternate scenarios in the mind without going there,

2. He creates brain blasts (Annihilus, Ultron, etc.):
These are just uncontrolled full strength psi-powers. Most bad guys will learn about this and find some protection. Also, these can lead to unexpected death. Let's say for example that Franklin brain blasted Namor in one of the FF's battles: an ally would be murdered, leading to global war.

3. He is a living conduit to the Negative Zone (FF Annual 1998):
The next stage in exploring alternate realities is to open a conduit via the nexus of realities, then choose one at random from the infinite possibilities. The Negative Zone is accessed from such a conduit, as explained when it was first introduced, so the neg zone can be consciously opened whereas a pocket universe cannot (see next point)l. Opening the Negative Zone is highly dangerous and of limited use.

4. He creates pocket universes.
Since all possible universes exist in the omniverse, creating an alternate universe simply means choosing one and linking to it. Once an alternate reality is chosen it cannot be controlled. Any apparent control is in stories told in the Franklinverse era (e.g. versus Abraxas) and could themselves be illusions. The only time a pocket universe was useful (in "Heroes Reborn" where it saved some lives) was when a Celestial was involved. Other realities (e.g. the Franklinverse) can at best simply slow down time, and usually result in characters forgetting their past and changing their personalities. This is a "last resort" power than can do more harm than good. Not useful in most cases.

5. He is the anti-Mephisto (Mephisto fears him)
Mephisto's power is to create a dream-like realm where normal rules do not apply, and people there are often in pain. In other words it's kind of like what Franklin does, but Franklin does not want to deliberately cause pain. Franklin can close off such worlds, so he can easily neutralize Mephisto. Mephisto will therefore try to prevent Franklin from entering his realm, or if he enters, keep him asleep (FF 277).

In short, Franklin is not a deus ex machina.

The story can work.



The last word: better writing


In the final analysis, Marvel needs better writers. Or in the case of good writers they already have, set them free: let events have consequences! Because the current writing, outside of a very narrow niche, is very bad. This is how I put it on a recent comic forum thread. (It got more upvotes than normal, so I think it touched a nerve.)

Should comics characters change? I agree with both sides. Yes, change is good. But after years of reading superhero comics I think modern superhero writers don't know to do it. They seem woefully unable to write good stories with married couples, children, older people, change, basically anything that isn't the same narrow range of twenty something singletons. It's a funny thing: other art forms have no problems with these things. The ancient gods and heroes were often married, Harry Potter was a kid, heck in the early days of Marvel even, change was possible: Reed and Sue got married, Nick Fury retired and got another job, and so on. But today's writers? I think they must lead boring lives and not read many real books. Outside of superheroes they cannot imagine anything beyond nine to five then retiring. I think their marriages must be extremely dull, as they cannot conceive of marriage as anything other than bland contentment. Modern superhero writers in the main grew up on superhero comics and seem to have very limited imaginations, and I think we have to accept that.

One day that must change.

Then comics will move forwards again.



Dear Marvel,


Please start time moving again.


Yours sincerely,

A Fan




The Great American Novel