Warning: SPOILERS for Marvel Legacy #1 ahead.
Debuting in 1961, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), the Invisible Woman (Sue Richards nee Storm), the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), and the Thing (Ben Grimm) were a staple of the company and ran for the better part of five decades. In 2015, Marvel announced the end of the Fantastic Four’s print run, due to a decline in sales (and a rumored a grudge match with 20th Century Fox over movie rights). The classic team gave their "final" bow after the world-rending events of Secret Wars (2015).
In Reed and Sue’s absence, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm maintained their heroic lifestyles, settling into roles with the Avengers Unity Squad and S.H.I.E.L.D. respectively. However, when Captain America’s Secret Empire fell, the Unity Squad disassembled and S.H.I.E.L.D. was all but scrapped. Since then, both men have looked to the past for answers.
Speaking of which, Marvel Legacy is both a soft reboot and a paean to the stories and characters of the yesterday, as well as its current lineup of same-name characters. The initiative explores the publisher’s rich history but also hints at its future, including the Fantastic Four. Will Marvel's First Family finally become part of tomorrow or remain a four-colored memory?
What Happened to the Fantastic Four?
In the days leading up to Secret Wars, a number of “incursions” tore apart the Marvel multiverse – a series of alternative universes including the “prime” universe (Earth-616), the Ultimate Universe (Earth-1610), and others. As worlds literally collided, Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) and his group, the Future Foundation, were unable to stop the collapse of the multiverse. However, Doctor Doom and Molecule Man quested through time to stop the cause of the cosmic implosion, The Beyonders. Doom stole their power, and cobbled together the remaining realities, becoming the God Emperor of Battleworld.
Eventually, Reed and the other survivors confronted Doom. His longtime foe conceded that Richards would have done a better job rebuilding the multiverse. As a result, Molecule Man gifted Mr. Fantastic with the same incredible powers, tasking Reed and family with recreating creation.
After the event, Johnny and Ben parted ways with their teammates and family. The Thing signs on for a tour of duty with the Guardians of the Galaxy, before being recruited as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Meanwhile, Johnny hooks up with Medusa, becoming as a liaison to the Inhumans, later doing a stint with the Uncanny Avengers.
In the pages of Legacy, the pair gets nostalgic about the old days, with Johnny even wondering whether the world needs them anymore. Ben convinces him people always needs heroes, and they team up again, setting off the Fantastic Four flare and setting up Marvel's upcoming Two-in-One reboot – ostensibly to find their former teammates. But what became of the rest of Marvel’s First Family?
Since his mission began, Sue, Reed, and the fam have been personae non-gratae in the Marvel universe. The MU has experienced plenty of turbulence, including another Civil War and Steve Rogers' fascist empire. Fans' first true taste of the iconic nuclear unit comes in Marvel Legacy #1.
It's revealed that the book's unseen narrator is actually their daughter, Valeria Richards. At present, she and her brother Franklin are skirting the untold realms alongside their parents. However, Valeria's narration also reveals her desire to return home, which so happens to coincide with her thoughts on manifesting reality through thoughts… something not impossible for the children of Mr. and Ms. Fantastic. Naturally, wherever she and her brother travel, so do their parents. If Valeria can steer the family towards their home planet, a Fantastic Four reunion is almost inevitable in the not too distant future.
Four Once More?
In the Marvel Universe, dead is rarely dead and famous heroes rarely stay out of print for long (witness Wolverine's rebirth'). With the Legacy initiative resurrecting a number of classic heroes, it would be shocking if Marvel's first Silver Age-success didn't make an appearance. Plus, the Fantastic Four have seen a return to the pop culture conversation as of late.
Recently, Stan Lee reassured fans that Marvel Studios is trying to reclaim the film rights (even though Kevin Feige insists they aren't). In addition, the upcoming Chip Zdarsky-penned Two-In-One, entitled “Fate of the Four,” will see the Human Torch and Thing embark upon an intergalactic quest to uncover the whereabouts of Sue, Reed, and their clan – thanks to some help from a purportedly reformed Victor Von Doom. In addition, rumors about a Mark Millar-based children-friendly movie centered on the Richards family, as well as a Dr. Doom-centered film in development. As the disappointing 2015 film finally fades from memory, the time seems right for a reunion, at least in the comic book realm.
So how will the Fantastic Four return? Perhaps the Legacy-awakened Celestial and its reference to “summoning the final host” conjures up a cosmic crisis on Earth that requires the fully assembled quartet. Not to mention the Richards certainly know their fair share of extremely powerful cosmic entities like Galactus (who was even Franklin Richard’s herald for a moment), the Beyonder, and Molecule Man among others. Plus, Franklin himself is an omega-level mutant who's currently conceptualizing the multiverse into existence, with the help of dear old dad. It wouldn't take much pull for him to warp them back home.
The most likely scenario: Valeria's homesickness synchs them up with Johnny and Ben's search, leading to a homecoming. No matter how it happens, the Fantastic Four appears to be on a collision course with the pages of Marvel. And fans are just about ready, too.
Marvel Legacy #1 is currently available.