On History: How Dumb Is the FF Origin, Really?

By | Tuesday, August 05, 2014 2 comments
You know the basic origin of the Fantastic Four, right? The four heroes go up in a rocket, get zapped with cosmic rays and gain fantastic powers. Pretty straight-forward, right?

Except it's insanely stupid.

Corey Blake recently asked Twitter why Mr. Fantastic thought it was a good idea to bring along his girlfriend and her kid brother for this ride. It reminded me that Marv Wolfman and Len Wein have been known to do a good take-down of how absurd the whole FF origin really is. I had a transcript of that on my old FFPlaza website and, since nothing similar seems to be online, I'd run it here for today's history segment. Writer Jay Zilber conducted the interview I'm excerpted this from, originally published in The Fantastic Four Chronicles, with Len and Marv in December of 1981. I'm picking up as Wolfman is talking about the FF prose novel he wrote in 1979...
MW: My own personal feeling on it was that, when I wrote the Fantastic Four book -- which, I'm always quick to say, had to be written really fast for deadline purposes -- was basically to write an action/adventure story. I didn't think in terms of it being a comic book. I knew that I had to describe things that you would otherwise see in the artwork, but I treated it as just writing a story. I didn't see it as just trying to make a comic book come to life, or come to prose; I just saw it as writing a prose story featuring comic book characters.

Certain things had to give way. For instance, in my first draft, I spent three chapters doing the origin of the Fantastic Four, as Ben Grimm is explaining it. But when you really analyze the origin of the Fantastic Four, it's dumb! It's incredibly dumb! I can go through it, and probably have you on the floor laughing!

JZ: Go through it, then!

MW: Okay. First of all, you have this absolutely brilliant scientist who decides he's going to beat the Russians on his own. Now, he goes to the spaceport on the edge of town -- there's always spaceports at the edge of small towns like Littleville, or wherever they were in the first story...

LW: ...Central City. The Flash wasn't around then, apparently.

MW: Naturally, he tells his girlfriend that he's going to steal a spaceship, even though he was one of the scientists who designed it. He invites his girlfriend, his girlfriend's kid brother, and this big lummox of a pilot. Now that's understood that he had to invite Ben to fly it. Why he invited the girl and the kid on a mission that would technically cause them to be considered spies and traitors, for stealing a rocket ship...?

LW: If they survived!

Yes, if they survived! Now, he's a master scientist, but it's Ben Grimm who says, "Hey, you know this thing doesn't have shielding and the cosmic rays are gonna get us." But he says, "Don't worry about it, we're going to fly it up anyway." So, getting past guards -- if you remember the shot, they're running past these two guards to the spaceport; every space-port has those two guards...

LW: ...they're the famous "stuffed guards." They stand at the gate to frighten you away, but they're not real people.

MW: Okay, so they somehow get past these two guards in this very well-secured area, and they get into the spaceship. Now, of course, spaceships do not require set-up, priming, using outside computers, any technicians whatsoever -- right inside the spaceship, they can blow it up!

Well, in 1961, they used to be able to shake a lot of seltzer at the bottom of the ship...

MW: So they shoot off into space, and Ben says, "You know, we have these cosmic rays," again. This is the second time he mentions it. Reed says, "No problem," as the cosmic rays start shooting at him. Why he built a spaceship that would not be shielded against cosmic rays, I don't know. But, okay, this is only the most intelligent person on Earth, as the story goes.

They land. It crashes. Somehow, they survive. Nobody comes to rescue them, nobody has spotted them during this entire time.

Let me see if I can get the order they discovered their powers correctly. Sue turns invisible. Okay, we understand she can turn invisible. Later on, of course, we learn she has to think about it, but there she must have been thinking about turning invisible. Johnny flames on and flies. Now, the first thing I would do if I had suddenly ignited would not be to fly. I would not ordinarily say, "Well, I ought to jump upwards," and attempt to fly.

LW: You'd roll around on the ground trying to put the flame out!

MW: And Ben becomes the monster. Now, the first thing he thinks of -- not yet even knowing what his powers are -- is to lift up a tree and attack Reed Richards. A normal human being would naturally think, "Well, I can lift up a tree!" But of course, Ben lifts up a tree. And of course, Reed stretches.

None of this works! So I took three chapters from my first draft, in which I described all of this in more detail than I've just done now, and knocked it down to one paragraph wherein Ben says something to the effect of, "We went up in space, got hit by cosmic rays, and landed." That was the whole origin, because I was in hysterics as I wrote this stuff, realizing it was really dumb!
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Coby Criste said...

incredible, thanks for posting that!

i think the Ultimate origin story is a little bit better, but not much. at least they expand on the whole elemental thing there.

in the 90s cartoon they kinda have a reason for getting their powers, like Johnny is on fire and the Thing has to lift up something heavy and Reed has to reach really far, or something. it kinda makes sense there, in a cartoony way.

Jumpnett said...

I didn't know you did FFPlaza. I still have that site book marked; used to visit it all the time.