Fantastic Four are “disabled,” it’s not that controversial

What does Michael B Jordan’s “disabled” Fantastic Four have to do with the comics?

The Fantastic Four as they appeared in the 1967 cartoon
The Fantastic Four as they appeared in the 1967 cartoon

20th Century Fox’s The Fantastic Four continues to befuddle armchair insiders who think they’ve already got a handle on the reboot.

Speaking to MTV, Chronicle star Michael B Jordan described director Josh Trank’s back-to-basics approach in a way that many sites have willfully misinterpreted as part of their overarching Marvel Studios vs 20th Century Fox narrative.

“Josh’s vision is very clear and he knows exactly what he wants,” said Jordan, “and he gives us room to adapt and to play. That’s what I kind of think sets us apart, is that this is going to be grounded and unconventional

The Fantastic Four star Michael B Jordan
The Fantastic Four star Michael B Jordan

“It’s not your typical superhero film, you know,” continued the actor, “we aren’t looking at this as like, being superheroes. We’re more or less a bunch of kids that had an accident and we have disabilities now that we have to cope with, and try to find a life afterwards – try to be as normal as we can.”

Now if you’re not sure what he means by that, or don’t think that’s in any way true to the comic maybe you just need to admit that you don’t know comics as well as you think.

Emerging as it did from Marvel’s monster comics, the powerhouse first issue by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby is all about the horror of transformation. Caught up in a storm of cosmic rays, this (literally) Nuclear family find themselves unable to control their bodies as they turn to rock, turn invisible, turn fluid or burst into flame.

The horror of transformation in Fantastic Four #1
The horror of transformation in Fantastic Four #1

These were supposed to be normal people who had found their lives changed, and not necessarily for the better and that’s where Jordan’s comments ring true. However this new origin story plays out, our four heroes find themselves in an accident, one that changes their bodies in a pretty fundamental way and have to build themselves back up.

Do they return to their place in the world or do they find a new role? That’s one of the core tenets of the Marvel revolution. It’s the lesson that Lee and his collaborators took to Spider-Man, to the X-Men, to Hulk and beyond.

The Fantastic Four only get their costumes in the third issue, when popular demand wanted them to be more like traditional heroes and it was from thereon that the mythology of Fantastic Four really began to take shape.

Ben Grimm feeling especially sorry for himself
Ben Grimm feeling especially sorry for himself

Even as the series progresses, on their worst days Ben Grimm’s haunted by his appearance, Sue Storm is lonely and unappreciated, Reed Richards is arrogant and emotionally distant, and Johnny Storm is just a douchebag.

These aren’t happy people, these are troubled people who are struggling with the psychological implications of their new lives – depression, post-traumatic stress, maybe even autism in Reed’s case.

It’s something that’s always been there, dealt with particularly explicitly in Mark Waid’s 2002 run on the title, and in Warren Ellis’s dark and dystopian 1995 two-parter Ruins where the whole mission ends in tragedy, the crew dying painful deaths from cosmic radiation – Johnny burning alive, Reed melting away and Sue blinded by her own invisibility.

Only Ben Grimm escapes this horror, Victor von Doom piloting the flight and meeting the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing’s fate instead: “They said he was animal when he went up, and mineral when he came down. They say he was wearing his internal organs on the outside.”

A particularly moving scene from Mark Waid's Fantastic Four run
A particularly moving scene from Mark Waid’s Fantastic Four run

From Fantastic Four #3 onward, Marvel’s first family become the Fantastic Four we know today, and all of those tropes sit at the forefront of the memory where the subtext and the character development fade away, but from Fantastic Four #1 the whole damn Marvel ethos is born and that’s where the movie should start too.

The weirdness, the cosmic adventures, the alternate universes and the super-science, they all come later. The Fantastic Four is beginning where it should – with a group of four friends, a surrogate family, who have an accident and have to deal with it.

Fantastic Four is set to be released on 6 March 2015. You can buy Josh Trank’s Chronicle on Blu-ray for £9.75 at Amazon.co.uk and find out more about the comics that inspired the film with new digital magazine Uncanny Comics.