When Disney purchased 21st Century Fox in 2019, Marvel Studios gained access to the live-action rights of a treasure trove of Marvel Comics characters. The X-Men. The Fantastic Four. Doctor Doom. Galactus. The Silver Surfer. Annihilus. The list goes on…and it really goes on. However, 3 years after the deal was sealed, we’ve only seen a Variant of Kang the Conqueror and some Skrulls, which were already kinda-sorta useable anyway, while Marvel Studios carefully constructs their plans for the mutants and The First Family.
To date, very little is known about said plans. At SDCC ’19, Kevin Feige announced that a Fantastic Four film was on the way and teased the arrival of the mutants. Since then, however, other than announcing that the new FF film would be helmed Jon Watts, whose recently completed Spider-Man trilogy integrated the Sony-owned Webslinger into the MCU, there has been no official news. Word did come that Marvel Studios was seeking pitches on The Mutants and minor tidbits have surfaced here and there about the Fantastic Four, but nearly 3 years later fans are still in the dark. And that’s ok. It’s ok because, as Feige well knows, Marvel Studios has to proceed carefully with both properties because, simply put, they have to get it right.
As with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and X-Men have had previous and relatively recent films. In the case of the FF, the most recent attempt to bring the characters to resulted in one of the most despised superhero films of all times; in the case of The X-Men, Fox’s love affair with Wolverine and inattention to continuity left some of the best characters on the bench, some others poorly adapted and fans feeling fairly frustrated with the end result. As Marvel Studios attempts to reboot these properties, fans are going to carry their experiences with these previous iterations with them into the new projects. In a way, that means Feige and the Parliament are starting in a hole they didn’t dig, but if they don’t get it right out of the gate with these projects, they’ll bury what should be two different properties that could each generate a decade’s worth of stories.
As mentioned previously, fans will be be wary of these MCU reboots as they carry the trauma of the previous versions with them into theaters. If the MCU versions of these properties start to follow familiar arcs or feel similar to what Fox did, fans will find themselves triggered and the aforementioned decade of projects will be DOA. In this case, doing it right almost certainly means they need to do it very differently to separate the MCU versions from the Fox versions as much as possible. That’s no easy task, given that both the Fantastic Four and The X-Men franchises have each been “rebooted” once already, however, Feige and The Parliament could find some inspiration in an already established property that has been incredibly successful: Doom Patrol.
The three properties are a great example divergent evolution in comics, so while their modern day iterations don’t seem to be incredibly similar, Doom Patrol, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are fairly inexorably entangled and have been for nearly 50 years. The group of metahuman misfits that came to be known as Doom Patrol first appeared as The Legion of the Strange in the pages of 1963’s My Greatest Adventure #80. Just 3 months later, The X-Men #1 introduced comic readers to the world of mutants whose strange powers kept them from being accepted by society. If the similarities of a team of weirdos being led by a wheelchair-bound doctor/professor hadn’t ever occurred to you, they certainly did to Doom Patrol creator Arnold Drake, who once stated his belief that his plans for the team somehow made their way to X-Men creator Stan Lee, allowing him to launch his book shortly after the Doom Patrol first appeared. While Drake’s stance on “insider trading” softened over time, the reality is that other than some superficial similarities, the books didn’t truly have much in common. The X-Men dealt with themes of social injustice while Doom Patrol found themselves caught up in the incredibly strange types of adventures that fans of the HBO Max streaming series have come to know and love. And in that regard, it’s another group of Marvel heroes that have much more in common with Doom Patrol than the X-Men really ever did.
As Marvel Studios prepares to bring the First Family to the MCU, they could certainly take a few cues from the way that DC has brought Doom Patrol into live-action. Most importantly, Jon Watts and the creatives behind the project should embrace the strangeness that really defined the early days of The Fantastic Four and has made Doom Patrol a streaming hit. The Fantastic Four has been drastically redefined over the years, but their roots grew through stories about Mole Man and Monster Isle, Skrulls being turned into cows, traveling through time and having Ben Grimm be mistaken for Blackbeard, meeting the Impossible Man and many more ludicrous adventures that often take a back seat to Doctor Doom.
In order for Marvel Studios’ Fantastic Four to be successful, it has to be different from its predecessors. Embracing the weirdness of the Puppet Master, The Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super Apes, the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android ensures that nobody will mistake this iteration for one of Fox’s attempts. Doom Patrol has provided a template for doing so successfully, not just because of the weirdness, but because the series has captured something that is also central to the story of the Fantastic Four: a family.
Sure, Doom Patrol isn’t a family in the same sense that the FF are, but they share a sense of tragedy and loss and loneliness that unites them. Over the course of several seasons, the characters of Doom Patrol have come to know, care for and rely on one another as a result of their crazy adventures and this idea is, at its core, what Marvel Studios could-maybe even should-do with their Fantastic Four. A family of explorers going on the type of weird adventures not previously seen in the MCU, but in the DCEU.