Let’s face it, Phase 4 of the MCU has been… messy. Even the best recent entries, such as Shang-Chi or Ms. Marvel, feel either disconnected from the rest of the universe or overburdened by expectations. The relatively clean line of the first three phases, building first to The Avengers and then to Infinity War and Endgame, appears missing among the many movies and shows added to the MCU since the end of the Infinity Saga. However, with the announcements at SDCC of Phase 4’s end this year with Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and that the relatively short Phase 5 only goes from next year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania to Thunderbolts in 2024, we begin to see a clearer story developing.
Among these announcements also came the reveal that the long-awaited MCU Fantastic Four movie releasing Nov. 28, 2024 will mark the beginning of Phase 6. Which seems like a perfect way to transition into the culmination of the newly-christened Multiverse Saga.
It’s already clear to see that Phase 5 will flesh out the story of a more dystopian MCU, with an Avenger-less world torn apart with mistrust after the Skrull attack in Secret Invasion. This is why the government will try to create its own Avengers team with the Thunderbolts, featuring USAgent and Yelena Belova, while Kate Bishop and Eli Bradley could form the more virtuous Young Avengers. Out from this disruption will come the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s First Family, a game-changer at the start of Phase 6 that will see the MCU on course for Secret Wars.
The Origin of Marvel’s First Family
In some ways, it seems a bit backward to introduce the Fantastic Four so late in the game. The team’s introduction in 1961 marked the beginning of the Marvel Age of comics, an approach to superheroes as regular people with feet of clay, and who didn’t always like having powers. Mixing the monster and high-concept sci-fi comics of Jack Kirby with the melodramatic dialogue Stan Lee mastered in teen and romance comics, Fantastic Four paved the way for hard-luck Spider-Man, the conflicted Incredible Hulk, and the bickering Avengers.
The Fantastic Four hit the scene after a long period in which superheroes fell out of favor. The genre that turned comic books into a viable medium fizzled after World War II, forcing many comics into cancellation. Thanks to its larger media presence, DC was able to keep Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman going long enough for editor Julius Schwartz to reboot characters such as the Flash and Green Lantern with a more sci-fi angle. DC’s success prompted Marvel publisher Martin Goodman to urge editor Stan Lee to try some new superheroes, but tentatively.
The first few issues of Fantastic Four felt more like sci-fi and monster comics than they did superhero adventures. The story begins with super-scientist Reed Richards and his pilot partner Ben Grimm taking an experimental flight into space, alongside Reed’s fiancée Sue Storm and her younger brother Johnny. Exposure to cosmic rays transforms Reed into Mr. Fantastic, Sue into the Invisible Girl, Johnny into the Human Torch, and Ben into the Thing, but they aren’t superheroes. The team doesn’t even get its costumes until issue #3, and its headquarters and gadgets followed later.
As a result, the Fantastic Four still feels more like a family of scientists than it does a superhero team like the Justice League or the Avengers. Their endless desire to explore brought strange new worlds into the Marvel Universe, from the Negative Zone to Wakanda to the planets ravaged by Galactus. All the while, they remained bonded by an unshakable love, an optimism that overcame tragedies and daily squabbles.
How The Fantastic Four Fit Into Phase 6
Ever since Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox was announced, fans have speculated about how the Fantastic Four would be integrated into the MCU. After all, even though Captain America and Namor predate the FF in the comics, the team established itself as high-profile celebrities before most other superheroes came along. Furthermore, the concept drips with Kennedy-era optimism, which is why future Ant-Man director Peyton Reed’s well-loved Fantastic Four pitch from the 2000s was set in the early ’60s. That’s why, although some have speculated that the Four will simply get their powers and become the most popular heroes of the MCU, others have suggested that the Four will be a team who existed in the ’60s and has been time-displaced, or that they’ll come from another reality.
However, when the FF enters the MCU, they’ll do so at the perfect time. By the time Thunderbolts hits, the heroes of the MCU will have further lost their way. They saved the universe from Thanos, but it cost them Black Widow, Captain America, and Iron Man. Those who remain have been caught in their own troubles, with Sam Wilson finding his way to become the new Cap and Thor rediscovering his purpose in the far reaches of the galaxy, while new heroes such as Shang-Chi and Moon Knight have not had a chance to work with others. With the Avengers gap filled by the duplicitous Thunderbolts or perhaps the inexperienced Young Avengers, the MCU will lack a true center in Phase 5.
That’s when the Fantastic Four will arrive, kicking off Phase 6 with a sense of unity and optimism before the status-quo-shattering twist of whatever Kang the Conqueror (and perhaps Doctor Doom) has planned for the multiverse. And there’s no doubt the FF will be front and center for the climactic Avengers movies, leading the charge against the multiversal forces — if not during The Kang Dynasty, then certainly in Secret Wars, an event they play a huge part in in the comics.
But there’s no doubt their story in the MCU will unfold in other ways before then, too. How will their movie establish the FF’s role and direction? Hopefully by sticking to what made them so great in the comics, which would also bring something fresh to the MCU.
As explorers, the FF are always looking for the next discovery, the next revelation. Like the best parts of fellow ’60s product Star Trek, the FF seeks out new life with a desire to learn and grow. Even when they encounter something terrifying, whether that be the world-devouring Galactus or the many, many, many evil alternate versions of Reed, the Fantastic Four remains devoted to finding the best in those they meet. They even frequently with their constant rival Doctor Doom, convinced that the brilliant baddie can still do some good.
Even better, the FF does it with an unwavering devotion to one another. To be sure, the FF squabble with each other. Guilt often consumes Reed after his mistake created the team, transforming Ben from a human to a rock creature. Depression overtakes Ben, Johnny makes horrible selfish mistakes, Sue feels ignored and reckless. Every member of the team has quit or died or been replaced with a Skrull at one time or another. But in the end, they always come back together, driven by a desire to learn and do good.
The Fantastic Four may not be the first heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They may not be the source of boundless optimism and heroism that drives the franchise. But they will be coming at a point when the world needs them most, and when the heroes of the MCU have lost direction. When they hit screens in 2024, they’ll teach both their fellow characters and audiences the meaning of the word “marvel.”
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