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Fantastic Four: The oral history of the iconic run by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

From 2002 to 2005, writer Mark Waid and the late artist Mike Wieringo, alongside inker Karl Kesel and an editorial team led by Tom Brevoort, embarked on a 35-issue run as the creative force behind the Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four title. Waid's involvement was somewhat ironic, as he was shaping an FF tenure that would later be placed in the rarefied air of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's initial efforts after having a rocky relationship with Marvel's first family as a fan.

Fantastic Four #140 (Image credit: Rich Buckler (Marvel Comics))

"Unlike Superman or Captain Marvel or any of these other characters that I've loved all my life, I was never a huge Fantastic Four fan growing up, and it's for a very specific reason," Waid explains to Newsarama. "I was just starting to get into Marvel around 1972-1973, I was about that age, I was on a cruise with my father and my new stepmother, the divorce was still fresh and all I could think about was how I missed my mom - it was very raw. In the middle of the Bahamas, I found the one store that had a couple of comic books on the stand. I had never read Fantastic Four before, but figured this was something to get my mind off the horrible trauma of divorce, and it's Fantastic Four #140, which ends with Sue filing for divorce from Reed. 

"So from that point on I had kind of a knee-jerk resistance to the concept. It was no fault of the characters, and I read the book, I bought the book faithfully, but I didn't have a deep love for it."

Fortunately for fans, Waid would overcome this trepidation in regards to the Fantastic Four assignment, and alongside his creative collaborators establish something special. Newsarama spoke with the writer as well as series editor Brevoort about the magic that went into this seminal landmark in the 60-year-history of the FF.

Fantastic Four fans (or not)

Newsarama: As comics historians more so than even as fans, talk to me about the importance of the Fantastic Four, both to Marvel and to comics…

Fantastic Four #201 (Image credit: Keith Pollard/Joe Sinnott (Marvel Comics))

Mark Waid: Even with Fantastic Four being one of the last books I latched on to [as a fan], it was very much at the top of every Bullpen Bulletins, it was the book that was most talked about; you kind of got the sense that it was a big deal.

Tom Brevoort: I came in a little later than Mark, around 1978. Once you get into the '80s, the real emphasis at Marvel begins to shift to the X-Men as the new, hot, popular thing, but even as late as 1978, that was still the Fantastic Four. The Avengers were getting bigger at that time that Jim Shooter and George Perez were doing the book, but FF was still the most important team comic that Marvel published. 

Mark Waid: It was the gold standard.

Tom Brevoort: And it had been around forever. Almost by osmosis you could tell that these were important characters. The Thing had two books, he had Fantastic Four and Marvel Two-in-One. Even The Human Torch had a series reprinting his Strange Tales run from 10 years earlier and was showing up every few issues in Marvel Team-Up. All of this just gave you the impression that these were important characters and this was an important book.

In the first four decades of the Fantastic Four, aside from Lee and Kirby's foundational 100-plus-issue opus, superlative standouts on the book had included John Byrne's lengthy shepherding in the '80s as well as shorter bursts from the likes of Walter Simonson and others. Talents including Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca as well as Carlos Pacheco and Jeph Loeb had helped kick off a new volume of the title in 1998, but when Brevoort assumed editorial reins, he had loftier ambitions for the book.

Newsarama: Tom, how did you get started as the editor on Fantastic Four?

Fantastic Four #47 (Image credit: Carlos Pacheco (Marvel Comics))

Tom Brevoort: I literally sent the 60th anniversary special to press earlier today, and in working on that issue, I was building a page with all the covers for all the centennial issues, and the 40th anniversary, they did nothing special, it's just an issue of a run, and I discovered it was the first issue I edited, issue #47 [from the volume that launched in 1998]. I started on that book exactly 20 years ago.

Forging this iconic Fantastic Four creative team

Newsarama: Were Mark and Mike along with Karl Kesel the first Fantastic Four creative team that you truly selected as an editor?

Tom Brevoort: Yes, for lack of a better way to phrase it, this was my team. These were my guys. I had inherited the previous team, which was a fine team, but this was me starting to stack up my guys. 

At that time, in 2001 or so, with a certain segment there was a sense that FF had become passe. It was the 'old' book; while it had historical significance, it wasn't the fresh, young thing. There were other things going on that were more important. But Fantastic Four was always my book, the characters I cared about and liked the most. So I wanted to scrub it up, to make it fresh and work again in a primal way for the audience of that period. So that was my goal in reaching out to this team. 

With [Mike Wieringo], he was sort of in the second Superman chair after Ed McGuinness, and from what I heard or what I was told, he wasn't all that happy with that, it wasn't working out for him. I liked Mike and what he was doing, and I called him up, and, very much like you, Mark, he said he didn't see himself drawing Fantastic Four. 

I told him that when he came on The Flash, he didn't draw The Flash like anybody else before him, he designed his own version. Everybody after him drew it like he did. That's what I told him to do on Fantastic Four. I told him I didn't want Jack Kirby or John Byrne's Fantastic Four, I wanted his Fantastic Four, and then for the next guy to worry about making it like his. He bit on that. [Laughs]

With [Mark] it was right at the moment he was leaving CrossGen.

Mark Waid: Yes.

Tom Brevoort: He had been at CrossGen for two or three years. We'd done little things together over the years, a short Spider-Man story or different odds and ends. We'd been at various editorial meetings and always expressed an interest in doing something together. I remember when [former editor] Matt Idelson left staff and they moved the Captain America book to another editor, and Mark called me going, "Why couldn't it have been you?!" [Both laugh] 

I'm a pretty easy sell when it comes to what Mark does. When I heard he was leaving CrossGen, I called straight away, because I figured there was going to be a line of people, and I wanted to be at the front. [Mark laughs] We had the conversation Mark mentioned earlier in which he said he was not the biggest Fantastic Four fan, but something about that conversation set him off to go think about a different way to approach the characters. 

He came back a day later and said, "I think I can do this, I think I'm in."

Mark Waid: Yeah, and then I think we had to punt for a couple of months while we ran out the clock on my CrossGen contract.

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Tom Brevoort: You were out but there was a non-compete clause or something that got invoked and we had to stall for three months. That's why there's a three-issue run right before ours that Adam Warren and Kieron Grant did.

Mark Waid: What happened [with me writing the book] was that Tom called and had already secured Mike Wieringo [as an artist], which made the decision easier, but I still had to think about it for a night, because I didn't have a hot take on the Fantastic Four like I did for a lot of other characters. I went off and I thought about it, and what I focused on was that everybody loves Sue, everybody loves Johnny, everybody loves Ben - nobody loves Reed. Reed is nobody's favorite character. 

So my question was could I make Reed your favorite character? Could I drill down on that. My inspiration was Buckaroo Banzai, but a little older and more seasoned. I called up Tom and told him I had my take. A little Doc Savage. That's how I see the Fantastic Four.

The 'secret weapon' on the team Brevoort assembled, inker Karl Kesel in addition to his impressive resume as an artist had compiled lengthy runs writing characters like Superman and Daredevil.

Mark Waid: Tom, can you talk about the why of Karl Kesel a little?

Tom Brevoort: Partly in my head, Ringo and Karl were a package deal because I had worked with them on other projects like Spider-Boy, and I always thought Karl looked good [inking] over Ringo. But Karl was also a huge Fantastic Four fan and had a good working knowledge. 

Fantastic Four #56 excerpt (Image credit: Stuart Immonen/Skott Koblish/Liquid! Graphics (Marvel Comics))

I remember the stories of back when he was working on Suicide Squad with John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell where he would just said John all his thoughts on all the characters. I thought somebody with that level of enthusiasm as well as that crispy sheen would be a good part of the team. 

I was also a fan of Karl as a writer. He wrote two issues that were supposed to be right before this, but ended up being before the Adam Warren issues. One of those was the historically important moment where it was revealed that the Thing was Jewish. It had quasi been established in the background but never put up front and we were totally unprepared for all the attention that issue got. It was supposed to just be a fill-in and we thought nothing of it.

Mark Waid: Yeah, Karl is great to have in your corner, because no matter what book he's on, he thinks about the characters a lot, but he loves the Fantastic Four. He was a great backstop. I can't remember specifics, but there were a few times he would get a script and then call me to say, "I'm not sure this is how they would do this…" [Tom laughs] He was not wrong. He was never wrong.

Tom Brevoort: Karl was invested. He was part of the team. Often the inker gets relegated to being a functionary. Karl was invested in the characters and the book even beyond Ringo and Mark and me. He brought that attention to detail and that love to what he was doing. He was a huge asset.

The Fantastic Four launchpad

Waid and Wieringo officially assumed control of Fantastic Four with issue #60, which, in an attempt to spread awareness about the new creative team, was released with a 9-cent price tag as opposed to the standard $2.25. The first issue concluded on a memorable admission from Reed Richards while other early arcs introduced new threats and added depth to the existing characters.

Newsarama: Mark, talk to me about the early issues of the run. What were you trying to accomplish? Not in terms of your run, but with the first five issues, or even just the first issue.

(Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Mark Waid: The first issue, on a technical level is probably the best thing I've ever done. We went through 19 different drafts. 

This is not a knock on anybody who came before, but when I come to a book, I like to approach it like it's been dead for 20 years and it's a brand new concept we need to introduce to people. I'm a big believer that you should be able to walk away from a first issue and know the buy-in, know the premise, know the characters, and care. And you should want to come back, which is why we didn't end the first issue on a cliffhanger. I liked it being a thing in and of itself that could stand on its own. I want you to come back because you want to, not because you just feel like it was one fifth of a story. It was getting the pieces in place, getting the concepts in place, making sure we knew what these characters were about and what they wanted. 

Tom gave me the magnificent gift of Reed's speech at the end of that book…

Tom Brevoort: You always give me too much credit for that! I might have said something in some conversation about "Reed feels guilty," but you went "Aha!" The scene, the moment - all of that is yours. 

Mark Waid: Thank you.

Tom Brevoort: That's you and that's Ringo. I remember you being particularly happy with the two panels on the second to last page that's just a push-in on Reed's head, Val looking up at him and then the next panel is tighter on him as he's like "Someday…" or something like that.

Mark Waid: Something like that.

(Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Tom Brevoort: The silent panel, the rhythm there - that's the thing that works.

Mark Waid: The other thing you're doing in a first issue like that if you're trying to relaunch, on top of all the other things I said I wanted to provide, I also want to give you a perspective on these people that you've never experienced before, that nobody has ever given you. That's the key to everything. Without the Reed speech, I think it's a fine first issue, but the Reed speech is what makes it really click. 

Tom Brevoort: It's the thing that has always been there but that you're showing people for the first time.

Mark Waid: Right.

Tom Brevoort: It makes it feel new. That was one of the things we struggled with a lot, and why we broke a million different versions of our first issue, because we kept falling into traps and going down blind alleys. I kept a lot of those drafts and when I would be stuck with another writer I would throw one at them. [Laughs] 

Dwayne McDuffie wrote at least one special that was based off one of the ideas we had. It's not the same story, because Dwayne did his own thing with it, but it came from one of the nuggets of conversation.

The first issue needed to completely introduce everything and everybody. It needs to immediately shake off the dust of the old, to make it seem new and fresh and fun and engaging. It has to make you love the characters in 22 pages, all of them. Because that first issue only cost 9 cents, early on we decided we wanted it to be self-contained so you pay your dime and get a penny back and a full meal. That was the real challenge of the whole thing.

(Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Fantastic Four: Unthinkable

Fantastic Four #67 served as a standalone prologue issue to the 'Unthinkable' four-part story that brought FF archenemy Doctor Doom back with a renewed focus on the mystical elements of the villain.

Newsarama: You bring in Doctor Doom with only the third arc, 'Unthinkable.' What was the consideration there? Was there any concern you went to Doom too quickly?

Mark Waid: I think we did that because we knew issue #500 was around the corner.

Tom Brevoort: It was exactly that. We knew at the outset that #500 was coming and we were going to do Doom for that. We had our flag in the sand. On the other hand, Doctor Doom showed up in issue #5 [of the original series]. It took us seven or eight issues to get to Doom, so by a certain metric we were very relaxed and reserved. 

Mark Waid: We were also very deliberately trying not to do, 'Oh look, it's Diablo' again. 

What I remember specifically about the Doom arc is that Tom made a great call that if we were treating this book like something you hadn't seen before, we had to properly reintroduce Doom. So I had to backtrack and write the lead-in story, which ended up being one of the creepiest things I've ever gotten to do.

Tom Brevoort: Do you know the real story why you did that?

Mark Waid: No.

Tom Brevoort: I could swear we've had this conversation before, but I can understand why you don't remember it. At the time you wrote part two, which was originally part one, our esteemed president of the era [Bill Jemas] made the decision there should be no more flashbacks in comics. 

Mark Waid: That's right!

Tom Brevoort: So originally in that issue you had Doom showing up and you got a page-and-a-half of who he is. I got the script back and I was kind of stuck because I knew I was going to get killed if I ran a page and a half of flashbacks, but you need to know all of this stuff, and if I told Mark that Bill Jemas didn't want flashbacks, he was going to lose his mind.

Mark Waid: Yeah, I would have lost my mind. [Both laugh]

Tom Brevoort: So instead we hit on the idea of doing the Doom lead-in issue, and the Doom lead-in issue is great. So regardless of how we got there, it worked out really really well. 

Mark Waid: We had to skate around Bill a few times. 

Tom Brevoort: Really jumping off of that 9-cent issue.

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Mark Waid: He insisted on having a character in there that we could merchandize. 

Tom Brevoort: I understand it, I legitimately do, in that we sold more copies of that 9-cent issue than anything. We lost money on every copy we printed. It started with a big financial hole, and he thought all the subsequent issues would sell, and they did, but not to the point that he had wanted. 

Wanting a character who we could merchandize was him trying to hedge bets. If we had that he could sell plush toys or whatever and make back some of that shortfall. But it was bananas for a couple of days, because he was angry about the critter, and he retroactively forgot that he'd seen designs and was angry about it, and we had to change it. In the end he just got frustrated enough that he threw his hands up and walked away, which was the best possible outcome, because we didn't have to change anything or make any allowances, though we were all now marked men. Apart from that, the comic book turned out well, and that's what everybody cares about.

Newsarama: Where did the idea to have Doom focus on the sorcery side of his character in 'Unthinkable' come from?

Mark Waid: It came, again, from trying desperately to show you something you'd never seen before. We had never seen Doom come at them with a magic wand.

Tom Brevoort: Doom, I think, was the first established villain that we went back to. Everything we did before that was all new. Doom is the first established Fantastic Four figure that we get back to, and even in doing so, our impulse was not to reinvent him, because he was built as a great character, but to show him in a new light, to make him fresh and new and different from any Doom you'd seen before. We didn't want to tell the same Doctor Doom story you had seen a million times. The actual take, the specifics, were all [Mark]. 

We all hit on the same cover image with Val and the glow in the dark eyes, and the blocks [spelling 'Doom'] - another cover I got in big trouble for! [Both laugh] 

That was at a time that Bill was pushing for a very specific focus for covers, he wanted them to be single characters and particularly female characters. I think he had one or two other rules. So we did this cover and afterwards he complained about it, and I said, "It meets all your conditions." [Both laugh] He was so angry about that. [Mark laughs] But it's a good cover, so I don't mind having done that.

Newsarama: Mark, did you feel like there was more mileage in the sorcery angle for Doom or did you get all you wanted from it?

Mark Waid: I think I did. I didn't really envision this as a permanent status quo change for the character, it was just something that hadn't been done before. I'm also smart enough to know if a character has been established since before I was born, you're never going to affect any sort of permanent status quo change with them, ever. [Tom laughs] 

You can try, but someone will come and drop a piano on it. There will always be a Baxter Building. 

Only a dozen issues into what was rapidly becoming one of the more well-received Fantastic Four eras in some time, Waid, Brevoort, and their colleagues faced unexpected opposition from within the House of Ideas itself...

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Authoritive Action, in more ways than one

Newsarama: Was there a reason the six-part arc following 'Unthinkable,' 'Authoritative Action,' was drawn by Howard Porter instead of Ringo?

Mark Waid: Do you really not know the story behind this? Tom, take it…

Tom Brevoort: There were a couple of things going on here. The first was that this was around the time Marvel played around with double shipping and shipping more than 12 books a year. The mainstream, core Marvel hero titles, the ones not seen as lustrous to the powers that be, were leaned on to ship more and thus help with the bottom line on the books that took longer to come out. At some point we decided we would ship three extra issues of Fantastic Four that year, and it would be this 'Authoritative Action' arc that came after the Doom story, for three months we would ship twice a month. And that would buy Ringo time to come back four months later.

Well, as we were working on this, at some point Bill [Jemas] decided, "Screw this, I have a better idea of what to do with the Fantastic Four." It was called 'Working Class Heroes'' and it had the FF being stripped of all their grants by the government, and they're kicked out of their skyscraper, and they've just got the clothes on their back, and all work menial 9-5 temp jobs while being super heroes kind of on the side. He wanted us to immediately do that.

Mark Waid: Immediately!

Tom Brevoort: No matter how much we would argue "but that doesn't make sense," he just wanted the thing that he wanted, and he was the lead guy so he got to make that decision. 

Mark Waid: We tried saying we would do it for a story and give it a reason to be. 

Tom Brevoort: We had a whole thing worked out, and it's good enough that I've had it in my back pocket for 20 years. No matter who's writing FF, if we get stuck, I go, "or we could do this!" It still hasn't happened. But we had a methodology worked out where you could take all that stuff away and make them no longer beloved and so forth. But it was too complicated. 

Bill really just wanted a FedEx from the government to show up on page one saying 'you're fired,' out of the house by page two, page three you're in the new status quo. Bill got frustrated and said to fire Mark. I had to call Mark up and tell him he was off the book. Ringo quit in solidarity. 

So this new creative team was going to start this 'Working Class Heroes' idea with what would have been Fantastic Four #509. That ended up instead being the Marvel Knights 4 book that Roberto Sacasa and Steve McNiven did. They started working on this, but it will surprise nobody that Steve is not the fastest artist in the world. This was the first thing Roberto was doing for Marvel, they recruited him from doing that play that was the pastiche of Archie. He did a very nice job with the story, but it took awhile to get going, so to buy time we decided to single ship those FF issues instead of double shipping and get three more months. 

This is all going on, there are backstage battles where I'm saying I'm not going to edit those books, they're telling me I am, and then, what suddenly changed was that Bill was out. He was done and Joe [Quesada, the then-editor-in-chief] decided to do 'Working Class Heroes' as the Marvel Knights book and told me to get my ducks in a row. I went back to Mark and Ringo individually. Originally you guys were going to go and do Legion [of Super-Heroes for DC]...?

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Mark Waid: We were going to do Legion, yeah.

Tom Brevoort: Dan DiDio was new in his position at the top of DC and was very excited about getting the team that had been fired from Fantastic Four, fired from Marvel, to do Legion. I remember a meeting with me, [Mark], and I think Joe at the Chicago convention…

Mark Waid: Yeah, I think Joe was there.

Tom Brevoort: I tried to talk Mark into coming back and doing stuff again. He was concerned but agreed to at least end the [FF] run. 'Authoritative Action' was not originally the end of that run, and it was not going to end originally with The Thing getting killed, that would have been a funny way to end the run. [Mark laughs] It wasn't supposed to be that. I originally convinced Mark to do two issues because he had a begin date on Legion. We would do a big conclusion and at least end the run nicely, and Mark was onboard for that.

I called up Ringo and Ringo was onboard for that as well, he didn't have to start on Legion quite yet. Then I guess a day or two later they sent over his exclusive agreement for Legion, and he called Dan and said "Looks good, I just need to finish up two more issues of FF and then I'll be ready to start." "What do you mean two more issues of FF?" "Mark and I are going to do two more issues to finish the run." Dan exploded, his head blew up. "The whole point of this is I want the guys who were fired from Marvel, not the guys who went back and finished the run!" 

He basically told Ringo, 'If you go back and do this, [expletive] you, we're not going to give you an exclusive.' Ringo called me up, relayed all of this, and said he was still going to do the two issues of FF because he told me that he would. I told Joe about all this and by the end of the day, Ringo got the paperwork for his Marvel exclusive contract that matched all the terms DC had given him. 

At that point we figured why just do two issues, everybody is back, let's do more! [Tom laughs] We had so much material from the 'Authoritative Action' arc that there was literally no disruption of service. There was a lot of storm if you were online or following Wizard or whatnot, but just reading the comic you would have no idea that anything had been going on.

Mark Waid: But if you were online - it's a joke, but it's absolutely true that we broke the Internet. Newsarama crashed. The one cool takeaway from being fired and it being so public and ugly is that it was like Tom Sawyer being at his own funeral. All we got all weekend was 'This was the best comic book ever, how could they do this,' and that was nice.

Tom Brevoort: It showed that what we had set out to do at the beginning of the run, we had done. Here's a huge segment of people who cared about this era of Fantastic Four who a year prior would have been indifferent. So on that level it was a nice thing in the middle of a lot of not so nice stuff.

Fantastic Four finds God

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Newly reinstated and reinvigorated, Waid and Wieringo faced the obstacle of bringing The Thing back from a seeming demise at the end of 'Authoritative Action.' Their solution in the 'Hereafter' trilogy of issues took the FF to a realm where even they had never ventured...

Newsarama: I need to ask about the appearance of Jack Kirby as 'The Creator' in the 'Hereafter' arc. Did that just make sense or was there more to it?

Mark Waid: That was [writer] Tom Peyer.

Tom Brevoort: It was Tom Peyer!

Mark Waid: I always talk stories over with Tom Peyer. I was fishing for that and he came up with the perfect idea. Of course the 'God' of the Marvel Universe is Jack Kirby, of course it is.

Newsarama: Was there any resistance to the idea on any fronts?

Tom Brevoort: The part that was hard was convincing me to do the story to begin with. Mark pitched me the idea of the FF going to the afterlife, going to heaven, to rescue Ben and I didn't like it on principle. I didn't like it on principle because I don't like it anytime we treat death as cavalier. I don't like it when you can take a bus to get the dead guy back.

Mark Waid: You put the challenge in front of me that it couldn't be duplicated.

Tom Brevoort: I didn't want to be able to bring back anybody, and you found the right bit of continuity to make it work, the 'Doctor Doom trying to save his mom' machine, and that more than anything else was the thing that made me buy it and say let's go. But I definitely dragged my feet on this story, but I had gone through a lot to get these guys back and I couldn't turn down the first story they were pitching me! [Mark laughs]

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

In terms of the [Kirby] cameo, I don't think we particularly told anybody. I think we just did it. When we did it, I don't think anybody particularly cared one way or another. It was a comic, people commented on it, it got a bunch of buzz, and nobody ever came to me saying 'What have you done?!' because we were careful about how we did it and tried to be respectful all around. I am told, sadly, that the Kirby family was not happy about it, which I regret. I almost certainly wouldn't have done it--

Mark Waid: I wouldn't have done it. It never occurred to us that they'd be unhappy.

Tom Brevoort: That's the one sort of dark cloud over it. They would have rather we didn't do that. It absolutely seemed like a masterstroke though. I remember how excited [Mark] was when he called me to say he had the ending [to 'Hereafter']. It also had to expand to three issues because you needed the space to do the business and the punchline. I felt like the depiction was good and everybody involved got it and was able to make it work. It's definitely one of those moments that everybody remembers, even if they don't know why. 

I do a Marvel Reading Circle every week with our editors and sometime within the last six months we did this book, and at least half the people in that circle, because all the editors are younger now, didn't get the ending, they didn't get the reference.

Mark Waid: Amazing.

Tom Brevoort: To them it was just, 'Ok, God is a cartoonist.' It maybe doesn't have the same level of resonance, but it still works. That, I think, more than anything is why the issue works. Ringo used all the reference in the world. That's Kirby's studio, that's his patio, it was very on target.

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Their goals with Fantastic Four

Waid and Wieringo's celebrated stint as the storytellers responsible for Fantastic Four concluded with 2005's issue #524 of the series, which had resumed its original numbering. Brevoort would remain on as editor for years following and continue to steer the ship of Marvel's storied first super heroes of the Silver Age.

Newsarama: Mark, what do you feel like your legacy is on Fantastic Four, and what do you want it to be?

Mark Waid: It's hard for me to judge what my legacy is. My educated guess is that people like Reed more. Frankly, that's probably what I would want it to be. Reed is no longer strictly the purview of 60-year-old men who like the Fantastic Four. He's still not anybody's favorite character, everybody loves Ben. Everybody talks about Wolverine, Spider-Man, etc., but I've never in my life met anybody who doesn't like Ben Grimm. 

Tom Brevoort: Yep.

Mark Waid: All these characters have their fans, but I just wanted to give Reed his due.

Tom Brevoort: Honestly, if you look back at it, that worked out. I would argue that for the last 20 years, Reed has been the central character of the book. Before that, it tended to be Ben or [somebody else]. All the runs that came after have been about Reed. [J. Michael Straczynski] - Reed-centric. Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, very Reed-centric. The Jonathan Hickman run - very Reed-centric.

Mark Waid: Very Reed-centric.

Tom Brevoort: Almost everything since Mark's run has put Reed front and center, so it definitely had a lasting impact on how this generation perceives the Fantastic Four. It's to the point now that I need to fix The Thing and remind people why they love him in the first place. 

Fantastic Four (Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Newsarama: Tom, how did Mark and Ringo's run shape the way you would edit the book even after they left?

Tom Brevoort: On a certain level it ruined me for everybody else. [Mark laughs] 

Also I learned the lesson not to fire people in the middle of their run, I haven't done that since then! [Mark laughs again] 

I don't know that it had a lasting impact beyond every time we start a new run [with a new creative team] it's with similar intent, to not do the same thing we've already been doing for 60 years. How is this different? How can we look at these characters and their relationships and stuff we take for granted in a new light? Certainly there are bits that keep coming up because they were big and we kind of defined them in this run. 

Most everybody who has done FF since this run has heard me talk about cross matching the characters. You want to do a lot of Ben and Sue scenes, you want to do a lot of Reed and Johnny scenes. You want to put characters with each other that you're not used to seeing them with. Everybody will do a Reed and Ben scene, the Reed and Sue scenes are obvious, the Sue and Johnny scene is obvious. We did stuff like Reed and Sue being in crowded New York City and her making him invisible so he could do calculations while being stimulated by all the things around him.

Mark Waid: That was in Times Square. That's his equivalent of an isolation tank. He needs that.

Tom Brevoort: Them having a fun day out, because they could be a fun couple, they're not your parents. Things like that always resonate in the back of my brain as I push new people toward doing a big arc or story of Fantastic Four. Really though it's kind of all been downhill since that run. [Both laugh] 

It's not like there haven't been good things since, but that's the one for me. There's an omnibus now, I like that there's an omnibus.

Mark Waid: I love that there's an omnibus. It makes me so happy. [Tom laughs]

(Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

Remembering Mike Wieringo

Mike Wieringo passed away at the tragically young age of 44 in 2007, only a couple years removed from his work with Waid on Fantastic Four. Remembered not only for his immense artistic talent but his universally beloved status within the industry, Ringo's influence continues to be felt to this day.

Newsarama: I want the final word to be about Mike Wieringo. What do you remember about working with him on this and what did he bring to the book that was special and unique?

Mark Waid: Let me go first. Humanity was what he brought to the book. The characters are acting, they're real, they're human. One of the things I loved about Ringo is that nobody is in the panel unless they're doing something. He doesn't do typical panels of one character and then there are just people in the background; everybody is doing something, they had body language, they had facial language. He always felt like he was too cartoony to do the Fantastic Four. Even at the end he felt like it was not quite the style that people expected, but they didn't care, there was so much life to it. It can be such a funny book, it can be such a source of comedy, and Ringo brought the funny. He can do anything. That's my answer.

Tom Brevoort: Everything that Mark said. The humanity goes to Ringo himself. Ringo was a super humble guy for a man who had the considerable talents and skills that he had. He was not in awe of his own abilities and was much more likely to be excited about what somebody else was doing. He was so excited about people who would come up to him and show their burgeoning samples. He was a really good mentor and big brother figure to a lot of up and coming artists and talent. And a really beloved figure in that way as well. 

To me, it all goes back to that story about him coming back on the book. The smart thing to do would have been to stick with the big exclusive contract that would take care of him, but he kept to his word when he probably shouldn't have. I wouldn't have blamed him for not coming back. That speaks to a certain element of character. He said he was going to do it and therefore he was going to do it, regardless of the consequences. Ultimately it shook out in the end, but he didn't know that when he was making that choice and he did it anyway. It goes beyond what he did on the page. 

And his work is beautiful. He composes beautifully. He immediately shaved 15 years off of every character in the book. For all that he worried about his art being too cartoony, and there were people in the industry who said his art was too cartoony, it was an immediate step up for the FF that made them young and vital--we didn't need to tell you that, they just are, he just draws them that way, they're having fun. It's fun and it's delightful because he imbues it with such magic of characterization. He could draw what [writer and editor] Danny Fingeroth used to call 'the punchin' and the hittin'' as well, but it was the strength of everything else. And certainly he had the comedy chops. That's the secret to what Mark does as well, mix the drama with the humor, and that's a talent that's becoming more and more rarefied in the world of superhero comics, unfortunately. I think it's one of the things that helped set that run apart.

Mark Waid: I think the bottom line with Mike is that if you could have bought him for what he thought he was worth and sold him for what he was actually worth, you'd be a millionaire.

(Image credit: Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel/Paul Mounts (Marvel Comics))

With the Fantastic Four back at the forefront of comic books both as a print and digital property and impending feature film, it's important to acknowledge the contributions of Waid, Brevoort, Wieringo and the rest of the team that brought the FF to this point.

Waid and Wieringo's FF run has a couple of spots on our recommended best Fantastic Four stories of all time. 

Ben Morse

Ben Morse worked in the comic book industry for nearly 15 years, starting at Wizard Magazine in 2004 and later spending a decade at Marvel Entertainment as part of the Digital Media team. Since 2018 he has been a visiting lecturer at UNLV in Las Vegas at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies. He currently co-hosts the Other Identity podcast and continues to write about comics any chance he gets.