Why the Fantastic Four matter more today than ever
I’ve seen the argument going around that the Fantastic Four’s core concept is antiquated and no longer relevant, but I take issue with that. I genuinely think that a film that conveys what it is that makes the Fantastic Four so wonderful and inspiring would be successful. I genuinely think they’re exactly the sort of superhero team the world needs much more of right now.
The Fantastic Four, first and foremost, are not about protecting the world from evil in the present, one threat at a time (although they do when necessary), like conventional superhero teams. They’re more visionary than that. They’re all about looking towards the future. Yes, their main focus is exploration and discovery, but, crucially, it is all in service of the betterment of humanity. They symbolize hope for a better tomorrow. That is what they have dedicated their lives to. There’s an optimism, an earnest, utopian idealism, at the heart of Fantastic Four comics that captures the imagination and is so very important.
I’ve seen the Fantastic Four compared to Star Trek, and I think it’s fair to say that there is a broad similarity in the liberal vision of humanity’s future, of what the world can and should become, that they articulate. Like Star Trek’s Federation, instead of fearing contact with other species, the FF eagerly go out and explore the universe, greet alien races, exchange ideas, and collaborate with them to their mutual advantage. They battle injustice wheresoever they find it, embrace change and diversity, celebrate rationality, science, and their transformative potentialities, and honestly believe that humanity can become better than it is. But I’d also say that there’s one key difference between the two – unlike Star Trek, Fantastic Four isn’t about what it’s like to live in a utopia. It’s about how you go about building one. More precisely, it’s about how difficult it is to do so.
The Fantastic Four are very flawed human beings who were given powers and abilities that exceed those of your average human and very nobly decided to use those powers to make the world a better place to live. But it’s not easy. They’re challenged constantly by humanity’s petty fear of change, of that which is new, foreign, and other – which is oftentimes directed at them personally – and by their own fears, doubts, flaws, and near-constant personal tragedies. But no matter how difficult things get, no matter how dark, they never give up, or at least not for long. And they always, always do what is right in the end, even if they sometimes struggle to figure out what that is.
And that’s why it’s so important (to me, at least) that the Fantastic Four are the origin and the heart of the Marvel universe. It is built on the hope that our tomorrows will be better than our yesterdays.
To quote Jonathan Hickman, the Fantastic Four, “a perfect family in an imperfect world[, …] represent the hope of what COULD BE.”
Call me a hopeless idealist if you must, but what’s so old-fashioned or irrelevant about that? On the contrary, I think that Lee/Kirby’s original concept is so strong, such genius, that it hardly needs to change at all. The heart of what the FF is – what they should be – can never and will never age.