A Conversation with a Non-Comic Book Reader about the Fantastic Three
“They killed the Human Torch.”
“Yeah, but what’s up with that?”
“Do you want the long answer?”
“That’s why I’m asking.”
“Okay. You have to remember I’ve taken enough creative writing and drama courses that I come at this from the writer’s perspective.”
“Well, the Fantastic Four are a unit. They’re not only a team, they’re a family. As a team and a family, they have certain inter-personal dynamics. For a writer, it’s interesting to ask, ‘How do those relationships change when you remove one member of team?’ It’s exciting to explore those changed dynamics.
“The first time they did this was in the ’60s. The writer took Sue Storm off the team. She was pregnant and she went on maternity leave, because that’s what you do when you’re pregnant. She didn’t leave the family or the title, but she was replaced on the team by Crystal. So you get to see how the team is different when the fourth member isn’t Reed’s wife or fiancée but a potential love interest for Johnny. Eventually, Sue is done with her pregnancy leave and she comes back to the team and Crystal leaves again.
“The second time they did this was in the ‘80s.”
“Who left this time?”
“The Thing. He was tired of being over-shadowed by Reed. He’s not technically part of the family and he thought he could do better on his own. He even had his own comic book at the time. So they replaced him with She-Hulk.”
“Oh, I remember that.”
“Exactly. So you get to see how the team is different without the Thing. They’re maybe more of a superhero team but less of a family.
“They killed Reed Richards?”
“Yes. You know, the person used to just leave the team but that’s not good enough anymore. Now they have to kill them. So they killed Reed Richards and replaced him with Ant-Man.”
“That’s a whole ‘nother story.”
“Is he like Spider-Man but with the proportional strength of an ant?”
“Uh, no. He’s more like an Aquaman for insects, except that he can also shrink down to their size.”
“Yeah, he was one of the founding members of the Avengers--”
“Yeah, Marvel didn’t have that many heroes yet. But the Ant-Man who joined the Fantastic Four was actually the second Ant-Man. He was also bit of scientist. Reed had been both the team scientist and the team leader. Now, you can hire a new scientist but that doesn’t necessarily make him the team leader. Guess who became the team leader.”
“That makes sense.”
“Right. So you get to see how the team is different when Sue is the leader instead of Reed. You learn new things about Sue and see skills you didn’t know she had. But eventually the writers explored that angle and, because this is comic books, they brought Reed back.
“So now it’s the Human Torch’s turn. I actually wrote something a couple of years ago that this is a story they should tell. Every other member of the team has had a significant absence. It would be cool to see what the team is like without Johnny. What is Sue like when she doesn’t have to worry about her younger brother? What is Ben like when he can’t define himself by his rivalry with Johnny?”
“What happens to the team when the Human Torch isn’t the one rushing off into trouble?”
“But he’ll be back in five years?”