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A Family Divided?

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Although Marvel is only now releasing the official cover of Fantastic Four #536, which will go on sale three weeks from now on March 29, the appearance of Thor’s hammer on the cover probably won’t surprise most internet fans. Rumors regarding this issue have been a major topic on comic book sites for a while now, and—coupled with the return of Dr. Doom from hell and the possible dissolution of the Fantastic Four—there’s a good chance this issue will continue to be discussed for a long time to come.

Marvel held a press conference Tuesday afternoon with J. Michael Straczynski to discuss Fantastic Four #536. While few surprises were revealed, by the end of the call, I was more excited about Civil War than I have been about any “major event” in the last few years. With DC’s Infinite Crisis and Marvel’s Civil War, it looks like 2006 will be the year mainstream superhero fans finally get to see action-packed, monumental crossovers that actually live up to the hype.

Of the six comic books designated as “Road to Civil War” issues, Straczynski is writing five of them (Amazing Spider-Man #529, #530 & #531 and Fantastic Four #536 & #537; New Avengers: Illuminati will be written by Brian Bendis). After reading that, during the last four years, politics have damaged more friendships, relationships and entire families than in the previous twenty years, Straczynski wanted to explore how that dynamic would play out in the Marvel Universe. Since the Fantastic Four is Marvel’s first family of superheroes, it seemed only natural to focus on their reaction to the upcoming political controversy.

Events in the first issue of Civil War will force Reed and Sue Richards to make immediate decisions regarding their roles in the registration of superheroes. They won’t have the luxury of debating the issue at length—the situation will become very personal very quickly, and the fact that the married couple has opposing views will have long-term consequences for everyone in the Fantastic Four. As a result, Straczynski wanted to deal with some of the upcoming Civil War fallout before the team is fractured by what occurs in the miniseries’ opening book.

In the opening pages of Fantastic Four #536, Thor’s hammer is hurtling through time and space. Eventually, it will crash land in Oklahoma. Reed Richards will be called in to help investigate the phenomenon, which can’t be moved from its resting place.

As many have guessed, the hammer will be “an object of interest” in Civil War, and Thor will definitely play a part (“Wait and see” is the only answer you’ll receive if you ask Marvel for specific details regarding the roles of the hammer and Thor). To complicate matters, the hammer breached the gateway to hell as it ripped through the universe. That not only enabled Dr. Doom to escape, but also has made him extremely interested in claiming the hammer for himself. How this will end is anyone’s guess.

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The next two issues of Fantastic Four will be paving the way to Civil War, but they will also explore the personal stakes involved when politics become personal and issues hit too close to home. Because he is writing another storyline that will lead into Civil War, Straczynski also answered questions about Amazing Spider-Man.

Straczynski sees Peter Parker as the everyman, the “representative of the average Marvel reader.” Because Parker can view situations from ten different angles, he’s the perfect character to present both sides of the story. And his relationship with Tony Stark (Iron Man) has become very strong since they’ve been fighting side by side. Parker sees Stark as a father figure in some ways, and the two have a lot in common. So, of course, Parker will promise a helping hand when Stark needs it.

But when Peter Parker finds himself disagreeing with Tony Stark in fundamental ways, it causes problems. How far will he go to help a friend? Is working within the system always the right choice, especially if the system is corrupt?

The next few months will be nothing if not exciting. Tom Brevoort, who edited House of M and will be doing the same for Civil War, said Civil is 3-4 times the scale of House and majorly affects current continuity (House of M mainly took place in an alternate version of the Marvel Universe). With Amazing Spider-Man #529 actually selling out the day BEFORE it went on sale, it looks like a lot of fans are looking forward to what’s coming up.

And based just on this thirty-minute conference call with Marvel and J. Michael Straczynski, it looks like Civil War will be worth the wait.

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