Marvel's next big event Devil's Reign is set in the publisher's literal definition of the term 'street level,' in the New York City neighborhoods of Daredevil and the event's antagonist Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of crime.
And like most Marvel events, Devil's Reign has crossover issues, tie-in specials, and series, including a somewhat surprising detour out of the streets of NYC, up to the top floors of the Baxter Building, and into the Marvel Multiverse.(opens in new tab)
Writer Zac Thompson's three-issue monthly series Devil's Reign: Superior Four (opens in new tab) illustrated by Davide Tinto is a mash-up of a mash-up. It calls back to a fan-favorite Fantastic Four story arc from the '90s and a more recent fan-favorite and critically-lauded extended Spider-Man story arc and mixes them together along with the publisher's current favorite toy, the Marvel Multiverse, to create a whole new thing.
Marvel hasn't given out too many details about the series, but suffice it to say, Otto Octavius (AKA Doctor Octopus and the former Superior Spider-Man) uses the Kingpin's assault on the superhero community as an opportunity to replace the Fantastic Four and using his scientific genius seek out versions of himself from around the multiverse, and he happens upon Otto Octavius's who in their realities became the Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine, respectively.
And by now if you're saying wait a minute, this is all starting to sound a lot like the Walt Simoson-Art Adams Fantastic Four (opens in new tab) story arc of legend, you're on the right track.
But we're already said too much. Thompson recently took a few of our questions about Devil's Reign: Superior Four and reveals more about it, including his feelings about the classic story arcs that inspired his story and how the multiverse-centric adventure fits into the Devil's Reign event, and along the way, we'll show off some of Tinto's art from Devil's Reign: Superior Four #1 (opens in new tab) for the first time along with a couple of new covers.(opens in new tab)
Newsarama: Zac, before we get into specific questions, Marvel's advanced solicitation copy has been a little light on this series. Can you describe Devil's Reign: Superior Four to readers in whatever detail you can to begin?
Zac Thompson: Hmmm. I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say.
With the events of Devil's Reign in full swing, Doctor Octopus maneuvers himself into the position where he's in control of the Baxter Building. Thus, the premise for this book is born. Superior Four is a Fantastic Four book where the team is composed of four different Otto Octavius variants. Together they use Reed Richards' tech to force their will on the Multiverse.
Obviously, things get complicated. It starts a chain of questions that Doc Ock finds very… uncomfortable.
Nrama: Superior Four is obviously a mash-up on a couple of levels. First of all, part of its inspiration is the brief but fan-favorite Fantastic Four three-issue arc (opens in new tab) (1991's Fantastic Four #347-349) by Walt Simonson and Arthur Adams starring Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and Spider-Man.
So first of all, what's your personal experience with that now-legendary arc? Are you old enough to remember while it was being published or did you discover it later? Why did you enjoy it and why do you think it's become such a touchstone for fans?(opens in new tab)
Thompson: In the relative lifetime of superhero comics - I'm a baby. I was barely two when those issues originally came out. So it wasn't until much later in life that I found them in a roundabout way.
In the early '00s, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies made me a huge fan of the character. I was combing back issue bins for anything with Spidey and stumbled on Simonson's three-issue run. Ghost Rider is legitimately the first hero I remember being obsessed with, so this find blew my young mind.
Those became some of my favorite issues as a kid. I revisited them constantly. I think because it just ignites all the wonderful possibilities that come with a shared universe. There's something really special about seeing those characters bouncing off one another in a way that isn't necessarily related to their personal arcs. It's just such an oddball team - I think that's why people keep coming back to it. It's not exactly who you'd expect as a new Fantastic Four and yet the team works - the dynamic of those four characters bouncing off one another is a genuinely exciting story engine.
So it felt like a cool way to do this throwback to that story in a way. To build upon the legacy of a 'new Fantastic Four' in a way only Otto Octavius can. What we've put together is truly superior while harkening back to the past.
Nrama: And how about Dan Slott's 2013-2014's Superior Spider-Man (opens in new tab). We assume that's the other main inspiration for this series?(opens in new tab)
Thompson: Of course. I think about Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman's Superior Spider-Man all the time. It's legitimately one of the most brilliant ideas ever hatched in the House of Ideas. I have a real emotional attachment to that book and that era because I was reading it monthly while it was coming out. It felt thrilling and unpredictable.
As a long-time Ock fan, I was reeling month to month while waiting for the next chapter. In preparation for this title, I revisited the entire run. Looking at the ways Slott sketched Otto's character and trying to frame this series less as a recreation of Otto's journey throughout Superior Spider-Man and more of a response.
I know that's vague. But it's the best way to talk about it right now. Otto's time as Superior Spider-Man is massive, emotional, and genuinely pushed Ock's character forward in ways that we'll be unpacking for years. I see it as my duty not to recreate that era but to find a way to go beyond it, to push Otto into asking new questions about his existence and role within the Marvel Universe.
Nrama: Now frankly, Superior Four seems very multiverse-y to be part of what's largely a 'street level' event in Devil's Reign. Was this story originally conceived as part of Devil's Reign from the start?
And how did you marry the Multiverse with the Kingpin's attack on NYC superheroes?
Thompson: As far as I know, yes. This is something that Marvel brought me. They had the title and the team sketched out but everything plot-wise was up to me.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn't really concerned with this book being 'street level' as I knew that's what people were getting in every other corner of this mega event. So I wanted to give readers something that only felt possible in the right now of Devil's Reign.
The idea for what to do with the book was born out of reading Dark Reign: Fantastic Four (opens in new tab). I really dig that miniseries and wanted this book to understand its place in the large ongoing tapestry of a shared superhero universe while still being its own thing. I've written the main book on an event before and it's really difficult to thread the needle on the how and why of everything if you're writing a book that's supposed to exist within the raindrops of another team's narrative.(opens in new tab)
It's hard to talk about this without spoiling Devil's Reign but when you come onto a book like this - they typically give you everything you need to understand the full scope of the event and the 'how' of your individual tie-in. It seemed interesting to me to explore something only possible within the context of this event… namely, what if Ock got his hands on the Baxter Building? He's not going to sit around with all those toys and head back into the streets of NYC. He's a scientist, after all, compelled by a sense of discovery and adventure.
This is his opportunity to become something more, to evolve.
Nrama: Speaking of evolution, the Marvel Multiverse has evolved into more of a narrative centerpiece for Marvel Comics than it's ever been and Marvel Studios is jumping into its waters too. Why do you think interest is so high in the Multiverse concept?
Thompson: The Multiverse is perfect catnip for the very nostalgic cultural moment we find ourselves in. Thanks to the success of the MCU and the many other various superhero films and shows - most people now have a passive understanding of how superhero narratives work. It's also incredibly exciting and freeing as a concept - things can be reimagined, repurposed, or revisited.
I love that we exist in a timeline where kids are growing up with this incredible rendition of Miles Morales on screen while we can also get to see familiar favorites like Alfred Molina's Doc Ock one last time. The Multiverse is really freeing adaptations of these highly storied characters from being monolithic or prescriptive to one interpretation. Which I think is how the genre evolves as a whole. There can (and should be!) more than one Spider-Man.
Nrama: Well, there's three or so at the moment, so...
Also Zac, as Newsarama points out often, Marvel Comics loves character mash-ups. In February 2022 when Superior Four #2 goes on sale, they'll be Jason Aaron's new Avengers Forever (opens in new tab) series, as well as Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales titles that all swim in similar waters. Why do you think this has become such a go-to premise for Marvel?
Thompson: People love familiar comforts right now. And who could blame them? The world is on fire.
Nrama: Can't argue there.
In issue #2, Doc Ock "must do everything he can to undo a paradox of his own creation before it undoes him." Anything you can say about that without giving the story away?(opens in new tab)
Thompson: The Multiverse is a living breathing quantum system. To measure it, one must tamper with the fabric of time itself. Superior Four #1 ends with Ock doing the unthinkable and begins a chain of events that could irrevocably change every world in the multiverse. After all, no one ever accused Doctor Octopus of thinking small.
Nrama: Well on that note, to be sure we're thinking big enough, what can you tell readers about this story we haven't asked you about?
Thompson: Superior Four is meant to capture the tone and adventure of a Fantastic Four story but warped through a multiversal lens. It's a little crazy and self-indulgent but still works as a character study on Dr. Otto Octavius.
All the typical themes I deal with are there: identity, duality, and environmentalism but with dire multiversal stakes that feel intensely personal. The intent is to examine Ock through a lens of possibility and ask important questions about his long and storied history as both a hero and villain. It's not a story about who he used to be…
...it's a story about who he becomes next.
The three-issue Devil's Reign: Superior Four is on sale monthly beginning January 12, 2022.