Fantastic Farewell: Dan Slott Breaks Down His 'Fantastic Four' Bucket List
Ahead of his final issue on ‘Fantastic Four,’ Dan Slott reflects on updating the team’s origin, creating the right villain, and more.
On August 24, writer Dan Slott will bring his FANTASTIC FOUR run to a close with issue #46. As he gears up to say goodbye, he took some time to chat about his four-year run with the team and why he shot for the moon with every swing he took.
“To be honest, if you look at our first year of FF, that was my bucket list. Someday, somebody was going to wake up and tell them to take me off the book. There’s always that imposter syndrome; there’s always that fear that tomorrow this might be gone,” he said of the run. “So I had my bucket list of stories that I wanted to do to get them out of my system, and then we could move on, then I would be unburdened.”
MARVEL.COM: You made a lot of significant changes to Johnny Storm, The Human Torch, during your tenure, including giving him a soulmate. What was the impetus for that?
DAN SLOTT: It’s weird, we call it the illusion of change. Every writer on FANTASTIC FOUR starts Johnny Storm as an immature kid. Then, by the end of someone’s run, he has matured. He’s become somebody Reed and Sue can look up to: you’re a good man, Johnny Storm. Then the next writer comes on and immediately the clock gets reset. In the first issue of the next writer, he’s back on the couch in his underwear eating sugary cereal with the kids, then he’s off on some hot date. That’s Johnny.
When I looked at the bigger picture, everybody was getting married and having kids except Johnny. Everybody is going to have their own family unit and Johnny is still going to be this bachelor. How does that make him feel, when everyone else is moving on with their life?
I had this idea of Johnny getting into another Crystal situation, but with an alien from another world. After wanting this so badly, after seeing all his friends and family marry and move on, we curse him with this literal ball and chain that he can’t take off. But we’d actually have the person be perfect for him, and have it be a Black person because, dear God, FANTASTIC FOUR is the whitest book ever. I created an alien race where everybody is Black or Asian or Black and Asian because, dear God. That was important to me. That’s where Sky came from.
MARVEL.COM: Besides bringing in Sky, “Point of Origin” added an aspect to the FF’s formation, but also introduced a new world, new characters, and new concepts, like you said. How crucial is that spirit of invention to FF?
DAN SLOTT: One of the things about the Marvel Universe is that it’s the world outside your window. The FF’s original origin was them going to the moon, the whole space race. That was what was going on when the comics came out, the idea that we needed to get to the moon first. But that motivation had to change the same way Frank Castle couldn’t have been in Vietnam because he’d be ancient. The FF couldn’t be going to the moon; they had to be going somewhere else or that’s silly.
The idea was that whatever Reed Richards built faster than light propulsion for would be a planet, but we’ve never gone to that planet. We’ve never seen that planet. What if the FF decided that in the same way some people vacation on an old-fashioned ship or go to a renaissance fair or rebuild a classic car? What if they rebuilt the original rocket? It was their first mission and it was the one big mission they failed. What if they get nostalgic? They built the old rocket. The kids don’t want to get into it because it’s like a jalopy.
We were going to go to that planet and discover a secret. That became Sky’s planet. It gave weight to that character. You were the first mission. It also answered the question of why Johnny was on that flight. He was Sue’s kid brother. Did he pass NASA training? That was a weird thing, but it worked because of how Sky’s people did soul bonding. He looked into the sky and had to get on that rocket, something was driving him. I really liked that.
Doing those stories was really fun too, because one of the hardest things to do with an iconic property like Fantastic Four, something that has been around for 60 years, is to look at things with fresh eyes, to turn over a rock and go, “Did anyone look at this?” We got to name the ship. It’s the “Marvel One.” It ushers in the Marvel Age.
One of the things we got to do is that all planes and rockets have black boxes. I love that we got to do that. The ship never got destroyed. In FANTASTIC FOUR #1, you see that it’s crumpled and beat up as they step out and get their powers. I had the idea that the ship should be in the Smithsonian. Then, one of the stations in the museum is that you can play the black box, which Ben does and immediately it triggers all these traumatic memories, because he can hear his voice saying all the Stan Lee-written lines from FANTASTIC FOUR #1. “Hands too heavy! Can’t move!” “I’m burning up!”
It also gave Reed and Johnny something to do. You always want to find interesting match-ups. You don’t usually see Ben and Sue or Reed and Johnny, and whenever you can get either of those sets, I think it yields good stories. Johnny loves fixing up old cars and Reed loves fixing up any tech. It was fun to have them be the two guys in the garage, working on the old rocket ship together and purposely not using their powers. Everything had to be old school. That was fun. I thought that arc was really fun.
MARVEL.COM: One of the challenging things about FF is that these guys have faced and defeated Galactus. How do you come up with threats worthy of them, particularly some of the new characters you introduced?
DAN SLOTT: What I liked most about The Griever, the first threat in this volume, is that you can read a Marvel Handbook and gain some understanding of something, but there are things you shouldn’t comprehend, that shouldn’t make sense. If there are secrets in the Marvel Universe, I, Johnny Reader, shouldn’t know them. Doctor Strange should know them. Reed Richards should know them. Yet we know that The In-Betweener has class 10 strength and how much he can bench – it’s silly.
On some level, that’s how Reed Richards looks at the universe, that he knows all the math and science. Is he friends with Doctor Strange? Yeah. He accepts that magic is out there. But there’s part of him that doesn’t know how to wrap his head around it. That’s the kind of threat you throw at Reed.
You take a character on the level of Eon or Infinity or Eternity. You take a character that is one of these embodiments of the universe. Reed doesn’t know how to deal with that. He’s been in the Infinity War, he’s seen them standing over there in the corner, but to him, they’re just as strange as The Tooth Fairy or The Easter Bunny. And he’s Reed Richards. That’s the frustrating thing. It’s equally frustrating for Val. How do you deal with these concepts?
That was something fun to throw their way. If you tell me it’s a Celestial, I think Reed could wrap his head around that. But you tell me this is the universal embodiment of destruction or time, he doesn’t understand how to talk to them, that he could have them over for cosmic tea – it’s very strange. The Griever was fun on that level.
The Cormorant was clearly something we’d been building to for forever. The Alpha/Omega Armor was something I’d seeded through almost everything I’d ever written that wasn’t Spider-Man. All these pieces that had to come together.
Also, since “The Reckoning War” was going to be based largely on Watcher continuity made the FF perfect for what it was going to be. There are worlds where, if I had kept writing Hank Pym in MIGHTY AVENGERS, I might have done “Reckoning War” over there. I don’t think I would have done it in SILVER SURFER, even though that seems like a logical place. [Artist] Mike [Allred] and I had such a vibe going on in SILVER SURFER that it would have been odd to do a Marvel event story. That wasn’t what we were doing.
MARVEL.COM: With all the new stuff you’re doing – new villains, new allies, new twists on the origin – how much pull is there to also do your own take on a Hulk/Thing fight or a Galactus story? What is the push and pull and the balance there?
DAN SLOTT: To be honest, if you look at our first year of FF, that was my bucket list. Someday, somebody was going to wake up and tell them to take me off the book. [Laughs] There’s always that imposter syndrome; there’s always that fear that tomorrow this might be gone.
Let me put it this way: I remember reading an interview with [J. Michael Straczynski] when he was leaving SPIDER-MAN. He had done his time, he had done everything he wanted to do, and now he was getting ready to leave. He was out the door. He was giving his goodbye interviews and somebody asked if there was anything he wanted to do that he hadn’t done. He realized for the first time in this interview that he had never done an Electro story. Well, he mentioned a character – I think it was Electro – but he hadn’t done a story with them. You could feel the hurt. You could feel the pain through the page. I was like, “I don’t want to be like that.”
So I had my bucket list of stories that I wanted to do to get them out of my system, and then we could move on, then I would be unburdened. I wanted to do a story dealing with the fact that Sue had named Ben “The Thing.” She called him that name in disgust and he bore that as his name. There’s something tragic about that. I wanted to do the story of Sue coming to terms with that. It’s why she becomes a matchmaker and sets him up with Alicia. That story was in the wedding issue – I really wanted to do that.
I really wanted to marry Ben and Alicia. I really wanted to do a story where Doctor Doom has them all in a death trap and Sue saves them by making Doom’s mask invisible in front of the world. I’ve wanted to do that since I was a kid.
Galactus always lands in New York – whenever Galactus comes to eat the Earth, he lands in New York. I always wanted to do a story where Galactus lands in Latveria. He is going to eat the world from Latveria, and Doom says, “If Richards can do it, I can do it.” He won’t let any heroes cross the border. He wants to beat Galactus by himself, and the FF have to break into Latveria in order to stop Galactus. I always wanted to do that story.
Every time I’d gotten close to a Hulk/Thing fight, there had to be a twist to it. One time, Hulk was a robot. I never got to do a real Hulk/Thing story. Having it be on the honeymoon with the gag that [Jonathan] Hickman had set up, where he could become Ben Grimm once every couple of months for a day or a week, having that as the countdown – “I’ve got to defeat The Hulk before I turn back into Ben Grimm or he’ll kill everybody I love!” – that was great. I loved the hell out of that.
I got to do so much. I got to do Doom and Reed dueling in both a swordfight and in chess. [Laughs] I had my wishlist of all these things I wanted to do. Doing a flashback story where Johnny leaves the FF because he’s a hothead and thinks he can do it on his own, and at the same time, Bobby Drake runs away from the X-Men and ends up joining the FF, which ticks off the Torch. I wanted to do that story forever.
In my mind, “Point of Origin” was going to be a 60th anniversary story, but it set up too many pieces, so we had to do it sooner. We got to the 60th anniversary and I pitched this weird story where they fought all four versions of Kang but all in different time periods. At the end, you had to make a new Fantastic Four from all the FFs across their history. Lee/[Jack] Kirby Sue, Ben with the helmet, Johnny from Hickman’s run, modern day Reed – it was fun doing all that nonsense for the 60th.
It was fun to do stories with just the kids! It was fun doing Franklin and Val having to get the driver’s license. I have a nephew who is now a fully grown, capable, responsible adult, but when he was told it was his last Halloween as a little kid, he made multiple disguises and kept doing a circuit of his neighborhood over and over. He’d come back home and dump the candy into a giant trash bag, then go back out with an empty bag and a new costume. There were members of my family who thought this was horrible and others who thought he was a genius. [Laughs]
The FF is a family and I thought I had to use that. I have two alien kids and one’s a Skrull? They’re doing that! They’re doing my nephew’s gag. Having them do the Halloween story – I loved that. I loved that so much.
In a perfect world where I could write much faster, I would have done two FF books a month, one with the Grimms on Yancy Street and then the Richards family in the Baxter Building.
MARVEL.COM: All that said, is there anything big you had planned that you didn’t get to?
DAN SLOTT: It’s frustrating, because I was getting ready to turn a big spotlight on Sue, do some Sue stuff. Even I recognize that I clearly had my favorites, and my favorites were Thing and Alicia. It’s impossible to look at my run and not see that I really liked Thing and Alicia. But I also really like Doom, and I also really like Reed, and I was having all this fun with Johnny and Sky. As we were wrapping up, I was ready to move on to the Sue stuff, and then all of a sudden I was in JMS in that interview – no!
I was going to have Sue train with the Hand! She was going to learn to increase the volume of her force fields so they could block out sound. She’s been able to block Klaw’s powers before, so the possibility is there. Not only would she be invisible, you wouldn’t be able to hear her and she would have all this ninja Hand training. Aww, I was gonna do some cool stuff with her. It’s good to leave stuff on the table.
FANTASTIC FOUR #46, which will conclude Dan Slott's run on Marvel's First Family, releases on Wednesday, August 24th. Stay tuned to learn more about his process and his storytelling decisions as we continue to reflect on his run throughout the week!
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