Marvel Comics’ all-ages series FF (2012) is brought to us by team Matt Fraction and Mike, Lee, and Laura Allred and follows the adventures of the Future Foundation, a school for special youngsters, temporarily headed by Scott Lang, She-Hulk, Medusa, and pop singer Darla Deering a.k.a Miss Thing.
At the very end of the story, Reed Richards confronts Scott Lang’s about the kids’ safety when they were going toe-to-toe to the series’ big baddie, Doctor Doom, and Scott Lang replies with:
Which may not be the biggest lie ever told in the history of superhero comics, but it has to be up there. Because throughout the thirteen issues of FF, the kids of the Future Foundation are in near constant danger. Like this time when Artie and Leech shrunk and stole a zoo tiger.
But that’s just par for the course of the normal day-to-day life of the members of FF. These kids are weird, and weird things happen around them. But what seems just weird to us as readers would seem really scary within the world of the story, especially to the children who are facing these big baddies. When Scott tells Reed that the kids were never in danger, his statement could not possibly have been true, because their very existence puts them in a sort of danger. The kids of the Future Foundation are set apart from the majority of society for varying reasons. Some of them are the last of their kind, others are mutants, or Inhumans. Most of them are geniuses.
When describing the FF, Valeria Richards says “We’re… I’d say extraordinary, which is true, but I’d like to avoid the qualification that comes bundled with that term—and express, rather, the uniqueness of those present. There are, within our numbers, singular specimens of life and intelligence. We will outlive the Fantastic Four. We are what comes next.”
A lot can be gleaned from Val’s description of the FF. She first mentions that the members are extraordinary, but then qualifies her term with the idea of uniqueness. This emphasis on the unique and the power of the unique continues throughout the series, as unique perspectives and experiences allow the children to approach problems with unconventional solutions.
Like that time when Vil and Wu, the Uhari kids, called on a giant monster from the deep to put out the flames of a future version of the Human Torch.
The other concept that Val mentions is the future. While the Fantastic Four has been portrayed as futuristic since its conception, the fact that Reed Richards created the Future Foundation implies that the new future must be addressed by a new generation. And specifically by a group of unique children with differing perspectives.
FF made the news for its depiction of an openly transgender character with Tong the Moloid.
When Tong comes out to her brothers, she says “This is unexpected? It is unexpected. And scary. And wonderful. It is new. Who I am… is new.”
The language that Tong uses emphasizes the future theme of the Future Foundation. The space within this story is a space where the characters can experiment and grow and define themselves as something different from how society sees them. The adults and the children of the Future Foundation immediately accept Tong’s new pronouns and identity presentation. But, however accepting the people within the FF might be, the Future Foundation isn’t the rest of the world. Discovery and exploration are rarely safe activities.
In Alison Waller’s book Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism, Waller argues that young adult fiction in the fantastic realist genre creates a world in which an adolescent protagonist can face and overcome a physical manifestation of the systemic boundaries found in real life. Because the systemic is made visible and, sometimes even anthropomorphized, the systemic becomes a tangible enemy that can be defeated, allowing young people to disrupt systems that seem unmovable. This allows for triumph and, more importantly, hope, which is central to stories that are meant to reach all ages.
For the children of the Future Foundation, who are not only the world’s most brilliant minds but also a group of figures and faces that don’t necessarily “fit in” with what the world wants to them to be, there are a lot of enemies that they face just for being who they are.
The Future Foundation’s first antagonist is The Wizard, aka. Bentley Wittman, who attacks the Future Foundation in order to create his own ideal version of a family. The Wizard kidnaps Medusa and brainwashes her into being his wife. And he kidnaps Bentley-23,his son, who he wants to force to grow up exactly like him. These actions represent forced conforming to societal norms, which we see more of as we see more of the Wizard.
This is an actual panel from the comic.
Obviously, in the real world, heteronormativity and transphobia are much more entrenched and menacing than a character actually saying these words out loud. But if we’re following Waller, the Wizard is something physical for the kids to punch and defeat. A less scary simplification of what these unique individuals have to go up against. When Bentley Wittman ends up teleporting the Baxter Building to the Negative Zone, he effectively destroys the safe space that the children have been inhabiting, both literally and figuratively. In comes a villain whose goal is to erase this found family unit because of how he believes a family should look.
When faced with these new circumstances, Scott Lang turns to the children and tells them to get ready to go fight and rescue the kidnapped Bentley-23 and Medusa. The students are shocked by his call to action. Onome says, “This is usually where you tell us to go hide somewhere safe. Aren’t you… worried about us? That we’ll get hurt? That we’ll die?”
Scott, who has recently lost his own daughter, replies that he is always scared for the children, but that “The world is big and dangerous sometimes, Onome. But it’s the only one we’ve got. And it won’t get safer if we live safer.”
The children end up having to fight for themselves and for their friends. And of course, they save the day. But the fact that they were forced to fight in the first place suggests that they aren’t living the safe and sheltered lives that they were promised by the adults running their school. In this call to action, there is an implication that these kids have a certain level of responsibility for the safety of their peers.
Even in the first issue, Alex Power talks about this heavy responsibility when he says “I think there’s something about being raised—maybe being able—to actually get out there and save the world that does something to your head. At a young age, there’s stuff you grapple with that manages to never even permeate other people’s lives, y’know?”
These children are not only set apart by who they are but also by their abilities to change things. Not all kids can summon a majestic water beast to knock out a Human Torch. Not all kids would be inside the Baxter Building learning how to shape the future in the first place. What makes these children unique is also what puts their bodies in the line of fire. And yet, what makes them unique also makes them prepared to face the dangers of the world. Alex says it well when he explains, “It’s not that you don’t get to be a kid… it’s that you’re a kid aware of the weight the other kids you meet aren’t. And at some point you realize that is why you do it. So kids don’t have to know about how awful things can be.”
This experience that Alex talks about isn’t unlike the experience that a lot of marginalized or othered children must face, whether they are queer or people of color or just different. They are put or put themselves in harm’s way to change the future. They are forced to take a sort of responsibility. They are forced to sacrifice parts of their ability to be ignorant of the outside troubles of the world because the troubles come to find them.
So while the adults of the FF maintain that their job is to the protect the children, it’s interesting to consider whether these adults could ever have protected the children at all, even if there weren’t mustache twirling villains coming after them.
Because the central goal of the Future Foundation has always been to shape the best future from the minds of these children—and that goal is directly at odds with the desire to keep the kids safe. To shape the world, the kids have to interact with it, and that will never be safe for them.
As Scott says, “the world doesn’t get safer if we live safer.” This statement can be extended to apply to what the Future Foundation does at its very core, as these children who would have always been in danger purposefully decide to put themselves in the line of fire in order to make the world safer for the children of the future.
Fraction, Matt, Lee Allred and Mike Allred. FF. New York: Marvel Comics, 2012. Digital.
Waller, Alison. Constructing Adolescence in Fantastic Realism. London: Routledge, 2011. Print