Fantastic Four: The Visible Woman
Writer David Pepose brings Sue Storm to the forefront of Marvel’s First Family in today’s ‘Fantastic Four’ #47, an issue set in the midst of ‘Judgment Day’!
While the Marvel Universe faces Celestial evaluation as part of the A.X.E.: JUDGMENT DAY event, writer David Pepose found himself with the task of tracking a quartet of major players through the chaos. Beginning in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018) #47, the SAVAGE AVENGERS scribe teams with artist Juann Cabal to focus on Sue Storm, AKA the Invisible Woman amidst a hostage crisis in the Baxter Building, plus keep tabs on the remainder of her famous family.
We spoke to Pepose about the ins and outs of his brief run with Marvel’s flag bearers, including the pressure to follow writer Dan Slott, selecting the right villain, and why Reed Richards and Sue Storm have the best romance in comics.
For those who are unfamiliar with your work, can you give us a quick introduction?
DAVID PEPOSE: I’m the ongoing writer of SAVAGE AVENGERS as well as MOON KNIGHT: BLACK, WHITE & BLOOD, and now I’m writing a two-part FANTASTIC FOUR story tying into the A.X.E. JUDGMENT DAY event. I’m excited to chat about it!
How did you land this assignment of not only tying into a big event, but also being the first writer to follow Dan Slott on FANTASTIC FOUR?
DAVID PEPOSE: I’ve been working with my editor, Tom Brevoort, for a little over a year now on SAVAGE AVENGERS. I’ve had so much fun with Tom and Annalise Bissa and Martin Biro, they’ve been such great resources for me to bounce storytelling ideas off. So it was really nice when Tom reached out to me about the chance to write two issues of FANTASTIC FOUR. The answer was “of course.” It’s Marvel’s First Family.
I actually have a long history with Dan Slott. He taught an Intro to Comic Writing class I took in college. He had just started on MIGHTY AVENGERS back then. Being able to take the baton from Dan, even for only two issues, is such an immense honor. This is somebody who taught me so much about the craft not only of storytelling in general, but of writing comics in particular. It’s a huge honor.
Tell us a little bit about your personal history with the Fantastic Four as a reader and a fan.
DAVID PEPOSE: I’m a huge Fantastic Four fan. They’re the prototype for everything that became the Marvel Universe. It all starts with the Fantastic Four. There are so many great runs with these characters. There’s Dan’s run. Obviously there’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s FF was really the Rosetta Stone for this book. The heights of storytelling they pulled off is something I’m always trying to chase.
But the first FF stories that really stood out to me—I grew up in the 90s, so the Human Torch was on the run and it was the original Fantastic Four vs the new Fantastic Four [by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan] where Wolverine slashes the Thing’s face. I remember reading that as a six or seven-year-old and it blew my mind. I remember reading “This Man, This Monster” from FANTASTIC FOUR #51 as a kid and that also blew my mind.
What’s so fun about the Fantastic Four as characters and what’s cool for me to write with them is that while they have iconic powers and abilities, it’s really that there’s such personality behind all of them. And yet I think there’s a wide room for interpretation for what all that means. For example, getting to tackle Sue Storm and not just saying she’s the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four, but to really get to prove it. Johnny Storm is in a perpetual state of arrested development, but you find ways to show him rising to the occasion when needed. Ben Grimm is the bedrock of not just the Fantastic Four, but the Marvel Universe as a whole—you’d be hard pressed to find a better Marvel character. And then down to Mister Fantastic, who I think is a litmus test or a Rorschach test down to who’s reading him and who’s writing him.
My story arc is Sue-centric, but Reed is the narrator. He’s exploring what’s going on during JUDGMENT DAY, but it always comes down to Sue. At the end of the day, Reed’s greatest super-power is not his mind or his body, it’s the cosmic love story he shares with Sue. That’s the thing that motivates and inspires him to reach for the stars and beyond.
Why choose Sue to be the focus of this story you’re doing? What do you have to say about the character?
DAVID PEPOSE: Tom [Brevoort] and I both wanted to do something with Sue. She’s the Invisible Woman—it’s easy to overlook her. At the same time she has such interesting powers that I think can be used quite offensively and even be a little frightening at times. It’s fun to watch her cut loose as the self-assured Super Hero and mom, the all-around superstar she always has been. Getting an opportunity to tackle that in these two issues has been really exciting.
As far as what I wanted to explore with Sue, it’s that she is the unsung hero of the Fantastic Four. She’s capable of so much. Like I said, the FF have their cosmic radiation powers, but what’s interesting to me both as a writer and a reader is to think about what super-powers they have as human beings. I think for Sue it really is her sense of compassion. She’s not one to be messed with, and as her family gets taken out one by one she needs to go on the offense, but I love that she never lets anybody go unseen. That is what will hopefully bring her to the finish line in this story: Sue showing how observant and empathetic she is, how when the chips are down she is ultimately the person you want to turn to the most. Watching how she interacts with all the denizens of the Baxter Building as this all goes down was really fun to flesh out.
Specifically with Sue, are there any landmark stories or runs you’re trying to refine or build on with your work?
DAVID PEPOSE: There are a few. Of course the work Mark Waid did on FANTASTIC FOUR as well as on the INVISIBLE WOMAN mini-series, which I reread in preparation for this. Again, as a 90’s kid, the 90’s version of Sue—though her costume from the period gets a bad rap—she was so assertive at the time. There are a lot of Sue stories that really stand out to me, but I think what Mark did along with what I grew up with really set the tone. Oh! And John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR. That run really made me fall in love with the whole team. Sue really stepped up and grew during that run. It stayed with me.
I love the choice you mentioned earlier with Reed narrating this issue from off-panel. How did that idea come to you?
DAVID PEPOSE: I’m proud of how we had Reed as a presence without him dominating the storyline. It’s also a way to highlight the relationship between Reed and Sue that I think readers will find satisfying.
Reed often gets a bad rap. There are so many readers out there who might mistake Reed for being cold, or mistake Reed for not caring about his family, or taking Sue for granted, and that’s something I wanted to interrogate a little bit. I wrote this ultimately as a love story. Reed knows he’s a genius, one of the smartest people in the Marvel Universe, but he also knows he wouldn’t have reached those heights without Sue to believe in him. In certain ways it is autobiographical for me. My partner reads all my scripts and without her I’m not sure I’d have a career as a professional writer. So that is a little bit of me being put into this story.
It was nice for me to get to have my cake and eat it too as far as focusing on JUDGMENT DAY, but also getting into the cosmic romance of Reed and Sue. It was also a challenge to write. Writing for Reed Richards is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. [Laughs] Writing for a super-genius means your script takes three times as long as it normally would.
How does your story fit with and contribute to the larger epic of the Judgment Day event?
DAVID PEPOSE: I worked my way backwards as far as this story was concerned. The Fantastic Four are very versed in dealing with giant alien creatures, but this event is not called “F.A.X.E.,” it’s just “A.X.E.”; I had to work my way backwards and figure out where Reed is in all this. Using the Baxter Building for a kind of bottle episode felt like a good way to justify the team’s involvement if they’re not front and center for this storyline.
When I was learning about JUDGMENT DAY and what [main series writer] Kieron Gillen was doing with it, it struck me as a very philosophical event. These are Super Hero comics—you obviously want to have action and suspense—but the way Kieron presented JUDGMENT DAY was very personal in the way that every hero has their own test to rise to the occasion with—or not. That really helped inform how I approached this story. Sue’s our focus and gets the lion’s share of the adventure, but we’re going to see what happens to all of the Fantastic Four.
On the other hand, what are the challenges of writing a book like FANTASTIC FOUR in the midst of a big event?
DAVID PEPOSE: This is my first event [as a Marvel writer]. The biggest challenge for me is not only being in an event, but also following Dan Slott’s run. While I was working on my issues, I only got so much of a sense about how Dan was wrapping things up. Sometimes it’s a real game of “20 Questions” where you’re asking your editors about the status quo. Things either are available or not in play in two more issues, and then you have to pivot your way through.
With the event structure, the biggest challenge was justifying Reed’s place in everything and where he was. In an event focusing on the Avengers, X-Men, and Eternals, what is Marvel’s First Family up to that feels satisfying to those characters without taking up too much undo spotlight from the marquee characters of the event?
Was Oubliette Midas as the villain of the arc part of the deal before you came on or was that your idea?
DAVID PEPOSE: That was really a joint effort. Oubliette Midas was the last piece of the puzzle. I talked with my editors about doing “Die Hard in the Baxter Building,” cutting the FF off from the rest of the Marvel Universe and seeing what they do during this hostage situation. I kept pitching villains and either they weren’t available or just none felt right. I have to give credit where credit is due that Tom Brevoort was the one who said “What about Oubliette Midas? She hasn’t been used in a minute.” As soon as I got that email, that was it. I felt the story click.
There’s also such a rich dynamic to Oubliette, especially for a character who has not been in that many comics. Going back to MARVEL BOY by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones, then she popped up in Jason Aaron’s run on THOR, and was recently in AMERICA (2017), but not much beyond that. She’s got so much personality for a character who has not been in a ton of comics.
I really responded to the issues she had with her father, who perished during ORIGINAL SIN. Those are the scars that last with you. When you don’t have closure, what do you do to try to get it? In this case, Oubliette acknowledges that the clock is running out as far as JUDGMENT DAY is concerned, so she’s going to make a pit stop at the Baxter Building before calling it quits on the human race.
She’s such a fun character to write. She’s so theatrical and over the top, so malevolent. She’s a pure Grant Morrison villain and I love Grant Morrison villains. But I didn’t realize until I started writing how great a foil she was to Sue. They really are two sides of the same coin. One is bolstered by her family ties and the other is fighting in spite of all that. It becomes a war of philosophies and ideals between the two of them. Watching Oubliette put Sue through her paces is a real treat. Oubliette really made this story and I’m looking forward to readers getting to see our approach to her.
You struck gold with Juann Cabal as your artist on this project. Talk to me a little bit about how that collaboration worked.
DAVID PEPOSE: I can’t say enough great things about working with Juann. He’s fantastic. I was a big fan of his work on ALL-NEW WOLVERINE (2015) and BLACK PANTHER (2021). I couldn’t be happier. Juann is not just an amazing artist, but an amazing collaborator. By that I mean I will often come to a script with a fairly firm idea of what I have in mind, and Juann, more than anybody else I have ever worked with, will take the ball and run with it. He’ll throw in some extra twist that makes the original idea much better. There are a number of places in this two-parter where I had an idea for choreography and Juann made a change that made it much better.
I love the expressiveness he gives these characters as well. There’s a real cleanness to Juann’s line work that makes this story very accessible to a reader visually. Every time he turns in a page I am blown away by how thoughtful and deliberate he is with this process. He comes with ideas about colors, about where the lettering might go, with all sorts of fun layout tricks that as a writer I never would have thought of. I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with him. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat. He’s the real deal and he’s making every page look like gold.
To wrap things up, what are you excited about for readers to come across in these issues of FANTASTIC FOUR?
DAVID PEPOSE: I’m really excited for people to see the action side of this. We have 40 pages to tell a complete story and that can be a rarity in today’s business. But I’m also excited for people to see the emotional payoff. I think that’s where the Fantastic Four really excels, is that yeah, they’re astronauts, but they’re regular people at the end of the day. They’re people with everyday human emotions told at a grand scale. What happens to Ben Grimm when his back is against the wall? What happens when Johnny Storm is isolated and can’t help his family? What happens to Reed Richards when he has to wrestle the greatest challenge of his life? And what happens to Sue when she has to step up without her family around to help?
Watching the emotional payoffs was the most fun for me as a writer. I really hope that readers take away from this that, yeah it’s crazy and fun and high concept, but it’s a human story. I’m really excited for readers to get to see the humanity beneath the celestial carnage that is JUDGMENT DAY.
David Pepose’s journey with Marvel’s First Family begins in FANTASTIC FOUR #47, on sale in print and digital comic shops now!
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