FANTASTIC FOUR: Carlos Pacheco & Jeph Loeb (Mania.com)

By:James Busbee
Date: Wednesday, December 13, 2000

Imagine if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created The Practice. Granted, it's a bizarre idea, but one that hints at the changes which plotter/artist Carlos Pacheco is making in the lives of Lee and Kirby's family super-team, the Fantastic Four. Combining classic villains with a thoroughly modern corporate threat, Pacheco's Fantastic Four has made an instant splash, bringing fans flocking back to Marvel's first family. And now, with the scripting assistance of Superman writer Jeph Loeb, Pacheco stands poised to help the FF once again live up to its cover tagline, 'The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!'

The Spanish-born Pacheco is no stranger to high-profile projects. After stints with Marvel UK and on X-Men, Pacheco took the artistic reins for 1999's year-long Avengers limited series, Avengers Forever. Avengers Forever showcased the astounding range of Pacheco's talents, which combine the dead-on facial expressions of an Adam Hughes, the intricate detail of an Art Adams and the hyperkinetic energy of a Jackie Chan flick.

But drawing a twelve-issue time-traveling epic with a cast of thousands was cake compared to Pacheco's next assignment: not only drawing the Fantastic Four, but plotting their adventures as well, beginning with September's issue #35. And, with this month's #38, Loeb has come aboard to lend his scripting prowess, and both are working hard to make their own mark on what's long been one of their most favorite books.

'I love the FF,' says Loeb. 'Everybody knows it. I say it in conversations with people who don't even know what 'FF' stands for. When Carlos got the book, it only made it worse. I mean, is there a better artist out there for the work? Aside from Kirby, who draws a better Thing? Who? I want names!'

For Pacheco, who had only the most limited writing experience prior to Fantastic Four, the job is not only a dream come true, but one that's opened up new avenues of creativity. 'While plotting stories is as hard as I expected, it is also more fun than I ever imagined,' says Pacheco. 'Every complication you solve is like opening a door that brings possibilities you didn't count on. It is an absolutely creative process that tries to make an abstract concept into a very defined thing, keeping the inner logic the characters usually have had, solving the continuity problems40 years of history are watching you!closing the still-opened doors and opening new ones that show new exciting directions.'

Crossing Over

The list of comic book artists who assumed they could easily slide over to the writer's side of the credits box, but quickly found themselves in over their heads, is long indeed. For every John Byrne, who made the transition smoothly enough to earn himself jobs based on his writing talent alone, there's a Todd McFarlane, whose 1990 writing stint on the adjectiveless Spider-Man was considered by many, to put it gently, unpolished.

So Pacheco knew he was in for an uphill battle, creatively speaking, when he agreed to script the FF's adventures. 'Basically, when I talked to Bob [Harras, Marvel's former editor in chief] about how to do the work, we agreed that the script could be a handicap since English is not my first language,' says Pacheco. Pacheco had previously written an Inhumans mini-series, but since the Inhumans don't use the same American idioms as the FF, there wasn't the same need to pay close attention to the characters' dialogue'superhero-speak' translates much easier than year-2000 slang.

'I decided to go ahead with the first issues and see what happened,' says Pacheco. 'Bobbie [Chase, Fantastic Four editor] was helping very much in trying to fix this idiom problem. But this sometimes created some other problems, because the modifications altered the meaning of what I was trying to show, so she needed to send me the corrections to have my OK. This was really very exhausting. After the first three issues of working like that we decided to reconsider our initial premises.'

Pacheco, Chase and new Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada decided to bring in Loeb. His 'fee'? A princely $1a price he'd cited in an issue of Wizard when the series was previously up for grabs, while speaking of his strong desire to write the bookwhich Quesada graciously paid out of his own pocket.

Finally offered the opportunity, Loeb leaped at the chance. 'I'd been cleaning the leaves out of the gutters at Joe Quesada's house on weekends hoping to win his good favor,' laughs Loeb. 'Bobbie Chase has also been needing some yard work, so I've made myself available. I'd go over to Spain and rake leaves for Carlos, but the airfare makes that kind of hard to do.'

Loeb admits there were more serious reasons, as well. 'Carlos was looking at the series, and the amount of time and effort he was putting into each panel was the work of ten other guys,' explains Loeb. 'On top of that, he was plotting and scripting the book. Something had to give if Carlos wanted to keep up the quality of the artwork and storytelling. Joe and Bobbie asked if I would help essentially polish what is already brilliant.'

'I called my friend Humberto Ramos [Crimson artist/plotter] to ask how he felt working with an American scripter,' adds Pacheco. 'He was the only one that was in a situation close, although not exactly equal, to mine. Humberto's words couldn't be more reassuring. He was working with Brian Augustyn, who was the editor of our work for DC Comics [Impulse and Flash] and someone that had a feeling about comics similar to the one Humberto has.'

Before jumping on board completely, though, Loeb was wary of stepping on a fellow pro's toes. But Pacheco assured him the decision was a mutual one. 'I told Marvel I would only take the book if it were okay with Carlos,' says Loeb. 'I have too much respect for him. He is just amazing. We've known each other for a long time and I always wanted to work with him, but he was always busy, busy, busy. This is the perfect opportunity. He has the same love and affection for the characters. You can see it in every line. Enjoy his work? I lick his pages.'

The Postmillennial Fantastic Four

While the FF's readers may not be joining Loeb in licking the pagesit'll turn your tongue Thing-orange, kidsthey're certainly salivating. So far, Pacheco has treated his readers to a devious and majestic Diablo, a surprisingly subtle Super-Skrull, and a relentless Grey Gargoyle. He's laid the groundwork for several monster story arcs, and he's also in the process of creating a more permanent Frightful Four, returning them to their base concept of a warped, evil reflection of the heroic FF.

Among all the superheroics, though, Pacheco's also working with a subtler palette. For example, one of issue #35's dramatic high points came when Reed and Sue, represented by none other than Daredevil ally Foggy Nelson, found themselves over a legal barrel, forced to sign over the lucrative rights to Reed's many patents. 'Using the Gideon concept, a tycoon that confronted the FF a couple of times in the past, I'm trying to create a nemesis with no face, an entity that has as a goal to obtain as much powerin the broadest sense of the wordas it can,' says Pacheco. 'The only relationship that the FF will have with this group will be through the lawyers that represent them.'

But this is the FF, after all, so there'll always be a lot more clobberin' time than courtroom time. Right now, the team's in the midst of a citywide throwdown with the Grey Gargoyle, who's done quite a number on the Thing, turning the brick-like hero into solid stone. And starting in February, the FF goes where few have gone before. 'I'm preparing the pieces for a big Negative Zone saga,' says Pacheco. 'From my point of view, the Negative Zone is a cosmic area more interesting to analyze that our own cosmos. Since the moment you put a foot there you are in an almost never-explored territory. No maps, no stars to guide you, nothing that can help you to know where you are. This is the ultimate last frontier for the FF.'

Should they survive the Negative Zone, times won't get any easier for the FF in the rest of 2001. 'The FF has such amazing villains,' says Loeb. 'Doom, Annihilus, Dragon Man, the list goes on and one. And here's the good newsCarlos wants to use them all!'

Family Style

Another important facet of the FF that Pacheco has nailed is the 'family' dynamic. They aren't just another group of costumed yahoos whomping on bad guys; they've got a heart, which Pacheco has tapped into. 'The FF has a peculiar feeling in the superhero jungle,' says Pacheco. 'We consider them superheroes just because they live in a universe populated by these types of characters. Initially they were a mixture of cultural ingredients like superhero stuff, of course, but also the obvious sci-fi and adventure connections, and a taste of 1960s TV showseven Bewitched! Probably today these elements aren't so obvious, and most of them haven't survived along the years, but FF fans still see the book as different from the X-books or Avengers.'

Loeb concurs. 'They are the first family of comics, this wonderful dysfunctional family that will be arguing and back biting one second, and then defending each other to the death in the next,' says Loeb. 'That's what I always loved about the charactersthey didn't really like each otherlike a real family!'

Although the book is freighted with history, neither Loeb nor Pacheco wants the FF to become a continuity-laden mess. Instead, they prefer to draw inspiration from classic FF tales, hoping to capture some of that magic, rather than weigh readers down in the details. Unsurprisingly, their favorites skew heavily toward the initial Lee-Kirby stories.

Pacheco favors the Beehive story from Fantastic Four vol. 1 #66-#67, which introduced Him, who later became Adam Warlock. 'This is what I should call 'The FF Story'something that cannot be told with other characters,' says Pacheco. 'Simply, it wouldn't have worked [with others], probably because of its metaphysic, biblical feeling.' He also points new readers to the Lee-Kirby Silver Surfer/Doctor Doom saga (vol.1 #57-#60), 'This Man, This Monster' (vol. 1 #51), the introduction of the Black Panther (vol. 1 #52), John Byrne's Galactus Trial (vol. 1 #262), and the Walt Simonson-written issues (vol. 1 #334-#354).

'While the Galactus trilogy (vol. 1 #48-#50) is pretty much a high water mark in comics, anything that comes from about Fantastic Four #36-#86 is tops in my book,' says Loeb. 'Black Panther, Wakanda, Dr. Doom steals the Surfers powers, Ronan and the Sentry introduce the Kree, the Negative Zone... 'This Man, This Monster' is still probably one of the best single issues of comics ever. There is just too much greatness in the World's Greatest Comic Magazine! And now I get to be a hairline fracture in that wall!'