Marvel’s First Family is coming to the MCU. We don’t know when or which phase but their arrival is an inevitability. After a two-decade streak of misfires, the bar for the First Family has never been lower for Kevin Feige and his crew to top.
The first two films were done in the vein of the first wave of superhero films of the time – tonally confused and partially ashamed of its source material. Some elements they got correct but for the most part, it didn’t really capture the grandeur of Stan and Jack’s first Marvel babies. The less that can be said about the culty Roger Corman film the better. If anything, it’s the latest one that had some semblance of comic inspiration, to say the least.
Enter Josh Trank’s body-horror, Cronenberg-esque take on the First Family. Inspired by the more contemporary Ultimate Fantastic Four written by Mark Millar, the film reimagines the atomic and space-age wonder of the Silver Age comic into more modern trappings. Reed discovers a new dimension instead of flying to space. Ben Grimm isn’t a pilot but rather a bystander that Reed bafflingly invites to a top-secret government experiment. Doctor Doom goes by the last name van Damme and gains goat hooves because why not?
The Ultimate line of comics was always envisioned to be a grounded version of the otherwise wacky and fantastical world of the 616 line of comics. Which is why the MCU at its infancy took a lot of inspiration from it. Mark Millar’s paramilitaristic vision of the Avengers made a ton of sense for the universe that had the militaristic Tony Stark at its center. For the most part, this muted take on larger-than-life beings worked but for some – Trank’s Fanf4stic – it failed horribly. And because this vision of the First Family failed to resonate with audiences, it does beg the question of whether the Ultimate Fantastic Four is worth drawing inspiration from.
I’d say yes.
THE THINK TANK
One of the more grounded concepts introduced in the original Ultimate Fantastic Four run was the Baxter Building Think Tank, a government-funded research organization consisting of the planet’s brightest and youngest prodigies. The purpose of the Think Tank was to research and develop technology to be used by the United States military. Led by Franklin Storm, father to Johnny and Susan, this collective plucked a young Reed Richards from suburban obscurity to a fateful world of wonder. It’s one of the aspects that might be most applicable to the MCU as it streamlines several things.
It makes sense for Peter Parker not to have resources to create a viable working suit on his own just as it makes sense for Reed Richards to gain the funding he needs through the government. It’s also the most sensible place for him to meet the most important people in his life. Having the Think Tank be central to the family’s origin also solves the tirade against the growing number of MCU villains having a grudge against Tony Stark. Just as the Think Tank houses the best of the best in science in technology, it also has the worst of the worst.
Within the larger MCU, the Tank could serve as a source of interesting characters and villains. In the comics, Doctor Doom and Moleman got their start in this Think Tank. If the world of Tony Stark feels like an overused source of villainy and in-world tech inspiration, the Think Tank would make the perfect substitute. Nevermind the fact that Josh Trank already beat the MCU to it. It’s an idea that simply fits.
THE NEGATIVE ZONE
With the Think Tank comes Reed Richards’ greatest discovery: the Negative Zone, a parallel dimension filled with monstrosities and absurdities that have long been a staple of the Four’s rich comic history. In the Negative Zone, you can find Annihilus and his wave of ravenous insectoids, the hulking Blastaar, a superhuman prison built by Reed himself among many other things. It’s this particular setting that becomes the catalyst for the first family’s powers in the Ultimate universe. (Worth noting that the designate N-Zone was one of many designates in the Ultimate Universe – A-Zone to Z-Zone – and that a different Negative Zone was retconned in later. But who are they kidding? It’s just the same location!)
Thematically, there is something serendipitous with the adjacency of Reed’s biggest scientific discovery and the first family’s biological curse. It puts Reed at the center of the team’s bane, especially Ben Grimm’s (fans know how big of Reed’s characterization is his crippling guilt over their accident and his inability to cure the Thing); the Negative Zone doesn’t just become a visually unique battlefield but a place of meaning for the characters.
Instead of having them fly into space, a very common thing in the MCU nowadays, Reed could take his friends on an adventure into the literal unknown. You retain some of the Jack Kirby Silver Age imagery while streamlining the mythology.
BEN’S OTHER POWER
The MCU has never shied away from plucking characters away from the comic status quo and spinning them in interesting and exciting ways for the films. To this day, I still read comments that can’t get over Tony Stark building Ultron instead of Hank Pym. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver not being mutants when they were introduced in 2014 was a tough pill to swallow for some fans. Heck, I find it crazy that Pepper Potts, at one point, had powers of her own in the third Iron Man film. Some comic elements should not be touched but some can surely be played with.
In the Ultimates, they played with Ben Grimm’s entire being by not only stripping him of his iconic rock form but giving him a new set of abilities. Imagine Ben Grimm’s surprise learning that his hideous appearance was merely a cocoon to his very own Dr. Manhattan form. It was a massive change to a character that had pretty much one look for almost 60 years.
I think this could work simply because it adds another layer to Ben’s development. The same way Thor becoming overweight added a new dimension to a down-on-his-luck deity. Also, it looks really cool. But that’s not to say Ben Grimm should be permanently stripped of his rock form. There is something truly endearing with how Ben overcomes his adversity. He’s a monster with a heart of gold and looks at life differently and profoundly from any of the Fantastic Four.
Maybe give him the glowy abilities for one installment and have him revert to his old form at the end. The ability to change back and forth to his human form has been afforded to Ben Grimm at some point in the comics, so why not in the MCU?
THE MAKER AND HIS CITY
The Ultimate line of Marvel Comics put out some appallingly bad ideas to the page but a diamond in that rough is Reed Richards’ transformation into one of Marvel’s most menacing villains, the Maker. Spurned by Sue Storm and disillusioned by the shortcomings of his own species, the Ultimate Reed Richards loses his faith in humanity and spirals downward into a creature of madness hellbent on improving mankind through any means possible.
Enter the City, an impenetrable sentient haven filled with technology thousands of years advanced from ours and humanoids designed by Reed to be far superior to us normies. This self-expanding City was an unstoppable force that pretty much conquered several continents on its own with the Avengers barely able to stop it.
How could something as crazy as this fit in the MCU? It’s simple. Introduce the Maker in the inevitable Council of Reeds.
The Council of Reeds was essentially a multiversal clandestine cabal composed of varying Reed Richardses from all universes. Three of them wield their own Infinity Gauntlet, for starters. In the comics, the main Reed stumbles on the Council where they recruit him for their own needs. Unsurprisingly, main Reed learns that to join the club would require him to ditch his family and bails on them. With the introduction of the multiverse in the upcoming Doctor Strange sequel, this is the perfect time to introduce Maker, a terrible, terrible seed among the Reed Richardses of the Multiverse.
THE GAH LAK TUS EVENT
The original Galactus trilogy was one of the most pivotal moments in Marvel history as it introduced a threat unlike any other in comics. This wasn’t about trying to stop a cackling supervillain in his secret lair. This was an unbridled force of nature traversing the cosmos, on its way to end all life of on Earth. Needless to say, the whole thing was treated like an event, albeit condensed into 3 short issues back in 1966.
Such is the 2005 Ultimate Gah Lak Tus Trilogy, an expanded version of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s concept that reframes the story, not from the perspective of just the Fantastic Four but from the rest of the Marvel universe. The X-Men and the Avengers play key parts in the attempt to stop it. This version is a bit crazy, as it retroactively revises the mysterious real-life Tunguska incident as a precursor to Galactus’ arrival, features a cult of Silver Surfers (plural meaning multiple bald-headed surfers) and replaces the iconic giant guy with hivemind of alien ships.
One thing I found interesting with their particular take on Galactus was how his arrival manifests in various phases. It wasn’t just the Silver Surfer vibe-checking Earth and giving his master the go-signal to consume it. There was a process to how it took place. It starts with the psychic attack on the global scale to incapacitate the planet’s inhabitants followed by a machine that emits a virus. The grand finale of that is the consumption part. While I don’t think the virus aspect of the process works, the idea of the arrival manifesting in various phases is something I’d like to see.
Given how Galactus’ arrival on Earth amounts to an extinction-level event, it only makes sense to treat the story as a multi-franchise affair in the MCU. The Coming Of Galactus could essentially be the next big MCU event following Avengers: Endgame. However, the importance of the Fantastic Four in the story shouldn’t be reduced so it could be written the First Family at its heart.
Do you feel the same way about the Ultimate Fantastic Four? Let us know in the comments below!