Wolfman on the FF's Origin

By | Tuesday, October 13, 2020 2 comments
Tom Brevoort recently posted some interesting theories on why Fantastic Four #1 was structured the way it was. It reminded me of just how stupid the FF's origin actually is, though. Don't get me wrong -- I love the FF! But the sequence of events doesn't really follow any cohesive logic. Marv Wolfman and Len Wein used to do an exellent takedown of the origin at comic conventions. In this interview from The Fantastic Four Chronicles (circa 1981), writer Jay Zilber captured their take on it. Here, I'm picking up the interview 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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Matt K said...

These guys would really have some fun with the key mythologies of the world's major religions. :-D

Assuming they could separate themselves from their own personal beliefs long enough first. Both had already spent a couple years writing the FF comic before either came to the realization of how dumb the origin was.

But yeah, there is DEFINITELY lots of fodder to work with there! :D