Hickman and Epting Discuss Retooling the Fantastic Four/ Future Foundation

Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Steve Epting were on site at this year's Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina to discuss how they've taken a long-established Marvel franchise, The Fantastic Four, and retooled it with a new lineup, the death of a founding member, and a new course and story direction for a new world. The panel focused on how to transition between the decades old FF with the new, more expanded roster of the Future Foundation.

The questions for the regarded duo came quickly, the first one dealing with whether or not Hickman thought the story was heading in the direction he intended. Hickman responded, " I think we're on track. Johnny died which was always in the outline. Spider-Man joining the team was new. That was the biggest change from the outline of where I thought we were going. Things are going good and on track of where we thought we'd be with the book."

When asked further about why Spider-Man joining the team was a surprise, Hickman commented that at that point, when discussion first came up, Spider-Man was coming out three times a month, and even though plans were to put him in the book at some point, nothing was concrete. Hickman commented, however, that once Dan Slott came aboard as a writer for Spider-Man, that both of them liked the idea and decided to run with Spidey joining the new FF. Plans currently have Spidey and the Future Foundation mapped our for the next year, and Hickman promised that Spider-Man wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon! Hickman noted that fans had been receptive to Spider-Man being a part of the team, which helps fuel that partnership more.

Epting was then asked if it was hard coming in the middle of a run like this. "No," he said, " a lot of the design work had already been done. A lot of time was saved with that. It's kind of strange jumping in in the middle of a storyline." When asked he he had designed the costumes, Epting said that he had not, but that it wouldn't limit him as an artist, "Since they're the unstable molecules, we're not stuck with any one design (of costumes)." Hickman actually conceived the costumes, but admits that they prefer Ben's to be different.

In discussing Ben, the conversation turned to Ben's role as one of the Worthy in Fear Itself and his work with the Avengers and how it would affect FF. Hickman had this to say, "We {writer Matt Fraction} talked about Ben being turned into a monster and him being on the Avengers team. The reality is that we have a shared universe. I think it's interesting that some people on traditional teams are on non traditional teams. It's ok if Ben becomes more of a monster because when he has to become more a human later it means more."

Keeping with that shared universe idea, Hickman did say that the Future Foundation would be getting involved in more "Avengers like" missions, with different rosters of teams being sent out to do different things and not just the core members carrying all the action. Hickman went on to say that he enjoyed writing the expanded roster characters and liked that characters such as Dragon Man were getting time in the book. He also promised characters such as Wyatt Wingfoot would be making an appearance in the book, which drew excitement from the crowd.

In continuing discussion on major events in Marvel, the conversation quickly turned to the death of Johnny Storm at the hands of Hickman and what the impact of that would be. Hickman first addressed the need to kill Johnny and the publicity generated by the event. He said, "Why kill Johnny than any of the others. It's Todd Brevoort's fave. The reason to kill Johnny is that he wouldn't have died if it wouldn't be good for the story. I wanted it to be a big surprise, but marketing wanted to really promote it, so I would have liked it to be a secret. I guess they saw what happened with the quiet release of Captain America #25 when Steve Rogers died and wanted to sell more issues that way by announcing it."

With Steve Rogers' return mentioned, talk naturally turned to if Johnny Storm would be reappearing. Hickman was quick to point out that he would probably not be the one initiating that return, saying, "If I don't do it, then someone down the line is going to do it. It's going to happen. These are things that Marvel owns, but that stuff happens. Yes, I'm sure at some point in time he will."

Hickman reassured fans that even though much has changed about the Fantastic Four, now the Future Foundation, it was for the best. "The book feels important again. I think we've reinjected energy into it and we're about to introduce more Marvel characters into the mix, which will make it a book that the Marvel universe is reflected in. We try to make it new and fresh. Look at the Wizard. We've given him a new direction. He's not just a mad scientist, he's one with a cause, a new conversion."

Of course any discussion of either the Fantastic Four/Future Foundation has to include Doom, whose role in the FF has already drawn interest. Hickman had this to say about Doom, whose brain was recently healed, "Doom has a massive role to play in the future books. He will matter in a big way. The big question is what will it cost? Can you trust him?"

Things look bright for the Future Foundation, and both Epting and Hickman commented that they plan to stick with it for the long-haul, which fans of the series can certainly appreciate.