Talking With Mark Russell About ‘Fantastic Four: Life Story’ #1

by Olly MacNamee

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four. And as part of the celebrations Marvel have invited Mark Russell to give his take on Marvel’s First Family in Fantastic Four: Life Story #1. A mini-series that will imagine the FF’s history in real time and reflecting real life historical moments from across six decades. I’m a big fan of Russell’s writing, as anyone who’s a regular visitor to this site can attest, so I was determined to catch up with him once again ahead of this week’s debut of the first issue. He discusses his goals for this series, what makes the FF the most enduring family in comics, and much more.

Olly MacNamee: Writing the Fantastic Four for the forthcoming Fantastic Four: Life Story must be something of a career goal for any writer? So, you must be thrilled to be tackling such a revered group of characters, especially as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations. But, what does the FF mean to you, personally?   

Mark Russell: To me, they’re like the Beatles of comics. Four people, all very different personalities, thrown together in a sort of superpowered family. Plus, Ben Grimm is one of the most fun characters in comics to write. I guess that makes him the Ringo of the bunch.

OM: It’s a pretty big project to take on, I imagine. After all, you’re re-evaluating six decades of the world’s greatest comic. Is there a through line you’re pursuing, or specific themes, with this mini-series for readers to look out for? 

MR: The themes of the story are about your family being the people who stick by you through adversity. About how relationships are what get us through the never-ending parade of crises that is life. But on a less aww-shucks earnest note, I wanted this to be less devoted to the plotlines of past Fantastic Four runs (largely because people have already read those) and more about the characters themselves. More about what they want out of life and how they help (and hinder) each other from getting it.

OM:  I hear tell that this version will not only reflect real-life historical events, but your FF will age too? It must be somewhat liberating to be able to write a take on these classic characters without being hampered by strict continuity? What do you feel you’re bring to this iteration of Marvel’s First Family thats’ maybe different?

MR: Nobody wrote the Fantastic Four in the 1960s or 70s thinking “this is about the Fantastic Four in the 1960s”. They weren’t writing about characters enmeshed in history. They were writing about characters living in the present as they experienced it. So one advantage I have is that I can look back with hindsight and place them at the center of historical events knowing how critical they are to our world. I can put them in the Cold War or in social movements in a way that allows those events to have an impact on them, and for them to have an impact on our history as well.

OM:  The artwork for the first issue looks immense. It must have been a dream gig to work with Sean Izaakse, a rising star at Marvel, in my opinion?

MR: Not in your opinion, in fact. Sean is already a star and, yeah, it was enormously helpful to be able to work with an artist who gets the Fantastic Four as intimately as he does. Sean does great work, never phones a page in, and is a great partner in this series.

OM: Fantastic Four: Life Stories #1 is set in the ‘60s. An origin story and the arrival of Galactus have all been teased, but what else can fans expect from this debut issue? Or, for that matter, subsequent issues? I’m keen to see not just how The Thing ages, but also Reed Richards. I mean, with his rubbery physiology, does Reed even age? 

MR: The Thing is the only character who doesn’t visibly age as he ages on geological time. And Reed, being rubbery, can manage his wrinkles by simply folding them back into his face. But, beauty tips aside, the first issue introduces Galactus as a threat that hangs over the Earth for the rest of the series and Reed’s obsessive quest to get the Earth ready for his eventual arrival, as well as the problems his obsessiveness causes for the rest of the Four. Also, in Issue 1… Fantastic Four talk show appearances.

OM: As a child of the ‘80s, my first real run-in with the FF was under John Byrne’s captaincy. What’s your own entry point into the fantastic world of Sue, Reed, Johnny And Ben? 

MR: I think Jim Starlin’s art on the Fantastic Four was my personal entry point. Seeing them on the spinner racks of the 1970s alongside Donald Duck and Richie Rich comics.

OM: One last one. What do you feel is the endearing qualities that has made the Fantastic Four one of the most loved and recognisable super hero teams to this day? And don’t say ‘Family”!

MR: I’ve already played the family card, so I’ll leave that one on the table. For me, personally, I love how different they are from each other. The way I see it, Reed wants to save the world, Sue wants to change the world, Johnny wants to have a good time, and Ben wants the love that’s been denied to him. In short, there’s a little of each of them in all of us.

OM: Mark, as ever, it’s alway a pleasure to interview you. All the best with  Fantastic Four: Life Stories #1 and the series. I do hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of you at Marvel.

Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 is out Wednesday 19th May From Marvel Comics

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