Marvel Hits Refresh Button on Fantastic Four


PHILADELPHIA - It's a familiar tale: Science genius, smart girlfriend, her hot-shot brother, and a football-player-turned-accomplished-pilot travel to space, get bombarded by cosmic rays and come back a foursome with fantastic powers.

But it's a story born of the early 1960s when phones were on hooks, faces were in books and tweets were coming from the robin down on Jaybird Street.

Marvel Comics is updating the origin of the Fantastic Four this week in a sleeker tale dubbed "Season One" with a more contemporary vibe, while sticking to the roots of Reed Richards, Sue Storm, brother Johnny, and Ben Grimm, otherwise known for the past 51 years as Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing.

Think tablet PCs instead of room-sized computing machines.

The revision is part of Marvel's push to add modern touches to its characters. Marvel also is bringing a modern spin to the origins of its other classic characters this year in similar "Season One" editions, including Daredevil, Spider-Man and the X-Men.

"The aim is definitely to continue to keep these characters relevant in an ever-changing world, but also to tell a new story set within this time frame, not merely recount or retell comics that other people have previously done," said Tom Breevort, who edits the publisher's Fantastic Four line of books.

"We tweaked elements where it made sense. Everybody in the `Season One' books has a cell phone, for example, but we tried to maintain the spirit of the seminal stories that these tales are built upon," he said.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, a playwright and TV writer whose credits include "Glee" along with several stories for Marvel, said "Fantastic Four: Season One" isn't a reboot of the classic origin, penned by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby.

"It's more of a ... refresh," he said. "The world's changed over the last 50 years. How we tell comic stories, how we absorb them, so let's update a great concept by setting it in the present. By giving it a contemporary sensibility."

Artist David Marquez likened it to reintroducing classic stories to modern audiences.

"The storytelling techniques we use as creators and the expectations of readers have changed since the FF's origins were first told. And because of this, it can be hard for people who didn't grow up accustomed to the Silver Age style to find these stories as exciting and inspiring as those of us who did," said Marquez, whose first published comic work, "Syndrome," came out in 2010.

Aguirre-Sacasa said the idea is to make the characters more relevant to a reader who navigates social media, consumes information and is fluent in not just pop culture, but entertainment of all stripes.

"Another example, and it's just a little thing, but the Fantastic Four - after their ill-fated debut battling the Mole Man - are Internet sensations," he said. "And Johnny, annoyingly, is burning up Twitter. Again, it's little details like that, which don't alter the fundamental DNA of the Fantastic Four, but blow the cobwebs off a story that's decades old. And have a slightly more pop flavor."

Ultimately, however, no matter the year - be it 1961 or 2012 - the objective is creating a fresh and invigorating story with characters that have been a bedrock for Marvel.

"This was my first big project at Marvel, and it gave me a chance to draw characters I have been in love with since I first started reading comics as a kid," Marquez said. "I really had to up my game to show everyone at Marvel that I could do justice to Roberto's script, not to mention the high bar set by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby."

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