Warning: SPOILERS for Fantastic Four #14
After 58 years, Marvel Comics has finally revealed the true origin story of the Fantastic Four. That news will come as a shock to any comic fan who thinks they know the Fantastic Four's origin story. The brilliant Reed Richards, desperate to compete in a space race, launches a prototype rocket into space (with his fiancee Sue Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, and pilot Ben Grimm).
The flight goes well... right up until the moment it's bombarded with cosmic rays, bringing it crashing down to Earth, and leaving its passengers transformed by exposure to phenomenal energy. Curiously, though, a close reading of Fantastic Four #1 reveals a mysterious gap in the narrative. Just what was Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic's rocket, what was he hoping to achieve, and why did it enter a flare of cosmic rays? The script is absolutely silent on that point... until now.
This week's Fantastic Four #14 finally reveals the truth about the Fantastic Four's mission, albeit one that's adjusted for the sliding-scale of Marvel Time. Rather than participating in moon shots or basic space exploration, it seems Reed Richards was in a space race to develop the first faster-than-light drive. His rocket, the appropriately named Marvel-1, was designed to jump to FTL speeds. But the famous cosmic ray bombardments turn out to be a precursor to making the jump. This explanation actually fits perfectly with 1961's Fantastic Four #1, and the fact that Reed always blamed himself for what happened to the foursome of friends. He really had miscalculated, underestimating the extent and danger of the cosmic ray bombardment, and overestimated the strength of his shields. Despite Ben's reservations and concerns, we might add.
It's a smart retcon, updating the Fantastic Four's origin story for the sliding scale of Marvel Time--a phenomenon possibly unknown to the casual comic book fan. When stopping to think about it, the modern Marvel Comics are supposed to be set in the present day. Sure, time runs more slowly in the comics than it does in the real world, but a span of decades can never really work. So as a result, the Fantastic Four's origin is constantly moved in the timeline to match the science of yesterday. By now, Reed's experiments aren't connected to the Cold War at all. Instead, it looks as though he was part of a different space race, although Fantastic Four #14 still suggests NASA was involved.
Interestingly, this update may well make it easier for Marvel Studios to create their own version of the Fantastic Four in the MCU. In the movies, the events of The Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame have taught the world that aliens exist and that faster than light travel is possible. No doubt governments, corporations, and scientific geniuses are desperately trying to crack the science behind it - and Reed Richards can be one of those geniuses, whose experiments go fantastically wrong.
Fantastic Four #14 is available now at your local comic book shop, and direct from Marvel Comics.