Three To Read: FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)

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Looking forward to an upcoming comic book movie? Want to know what to read in preparation for the film? 24 Panels has you covered! In Three to Read, we will recommend three comic book collections for you to help you get ready for an upcoming film: a book that directly inspires a given film, a book that provides “secondary” inspiration, and a third that offers a different take on a film’s premise or idea.

In this installment, Dave recommends three works related to director Josh Trank’s reboot of the Fantastic Four.

After a long and problematic production, Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot is finally ready to hit cinema screens next week. Given the half-hearted campaign Fox has put together to sell the film though, it seems the studio couldn’t be happier to see the last of it. As the Fox panel at San Diego Comic-Con indicates, Fox has turned their attention fully towards getting people excited for their 2016 releases of Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit, leaving Fantastic Four to feel like an afterthought rather than a major release.

Still, there are those interested in Fantastic Four, even if it is more out of morbid curiosity than actual desire to see the film. While Lord knows what audiences are going to see come August 7th, those wanting to dive into the source material of the film still have some time to get caught up. So just what should you be reading in preparation for Fan4stic?

The Primary Source

Ultimate Fantastic Four Volumes 1 and 3

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Alright, so I am technically cheating by listing two trade paperback collections in this category, but if one really does want to see where Trank and company are drawing most of the material for their film from, then volumes one and three of Ultimate Fantastic Four are what you need to read.

Part of the now defunct Ultimate Marvel line of comics, Ultimate Fantastic Four is a complete reworking of the original comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, turning the space age adventurers-turned-superheroes into a group of teenage prodigies working for a government sponsored think tank.  Volume one, written by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, presents a new version of the characters’ origins which involves inter-dimensional travel rather than exposure to cosmic radiation, while volume three, written by Warren Ellis, is about an exploratory mission into the N-Zone dimension.

Elements from both of these comic book arcs can be found in the latest trailers for the new film in greatly reworked forms: rather than an inter-dimensional travel experiment gone wrong, the Fantastic Four’s abilities seem to stem from an exploratory mission into what is likely the N-Zone, while the role General Ross plays in the comics has been filled by Harvey Elder (Tim Blake Nelson), the future Mole Man. Then there is Dr. Franklin Storm (the great Reg E. Cathey), who in the film seems to head the program which results in the creation of the Fantastic Four, much like his Ultimate Comics counterpart.

While I still question the wisdom in using the Ultimate incarnation of the Fantastic Four as a basis for a film (listen to the latest episode of the podcast for more info), these comics do provide at least an understanding as to where Trank and crew started from. Taken as works in-and-of-themselves, readers should keep their expectations in check. Volume one goes through the motions of the origin story while mistakenly trying to ground the concept in the “real world”; volume three does succeed at telling a big, bold science fiction adventure story, but is bogged down by the tone and world building mistakes made in volume one.

Of course, if you do intend to read Ultimate Fantastic Four, you might be wondering about why I didn’t mention volume two…

The Secondary Inspiration

Ultimate Fantastic Four Volume 2

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I debated listing this volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four as part of the previous section, but decided against it for one simple reason: I have no clue as to just what we will be getting with Trank’s take on Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell).

Yes, we know that Toby Kebbell’s “Victor Domashev” — which is a name change from Victor VanDamme as Doom is called in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics, which itself is a change from the classic name of Victor Von Doom — is part of the inter-dimensional experiment which  gives the titular characters their powers, much like in the Ultimate comics. We also can tell that Kebbell’s Doom is radically altered in terms of his physiology, much like his Ultimate counterpart (though they seem to have dropped the idea of him having goat legs). Beyond these basic ideas, nothing suggests that Doom’s plans in the film involve him creating a shanty town of brainwashed citizens, as is his scheme in volume two of Ultimate Fantastic Four. No, I am not kidding; that really is the plot of the comic.

Still, chances are at least some of the ideas from this TPB collection will have some influence upon the finished film, so while you are checking these books out of your local library, you might as well pick this one up while you are at it.

The Alternate Spin

Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four

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Before the property was rebooted as part of the Ultimate Marvel line of comics, Jim Lee and Brandon Choi took a stab at rebooting Marvel’s First Family as part of Heroes Reborn, which saw Marvel licence out four of its lesser selling properties to their competitors at Image Comics. While Heroes Reborn is remembered mainly as a bad experiment where style reigned over substance, Lee and Choi’s Fantastic Four managed to easily come out as the best of the titles which comprised the line by being… well, passable. The comic is vintage 90’s cheese, and as long as you can roll with that, you might be able to have a fun time with these comics.

As with Ultimate Fantastic Four, this comic dives right back into origins of the FF, with the group’s ill-fated trip into the stars being a joint venture between the government and the corporation run by the Storm family. For the most part, Lee and Choi’s update is mainly cosmetic in nature, though a few changes – such as Johnny Storm running casinos in Vegas – are just odd.

While the TPB collection of these comics seems to be out of print, they are available through Comixology, which the above link will take you to. However, I would advise against purchasing the TPB version of the comics: while it contains all twelve issues, several issues are parts of crossover stories which are not republished in full in the trade, meaning you will be getting a few incomplete stories. Best to stick with the first three issues and to decide if you want to carry on reading from there.

Fantastic Four hits theatres August 7, 2015.

Dave

Dave is the co-host of 24 Panels Per Second.

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