One of the biggest hurdles Marvel Studios have to clear when introducing the Fantastic Four (and the X-Men) is answering why they haven’t already appeared in the MCU. Given the multiple threats to Earth experienced over the last few years, you’d expect Reed Richards to pop up at some point. After all, even if he doesn’t yet have his stretchy powers, Richards is still a supergenius who you would imagine would have something to say about the various cosmic invasions taking place on his New York doorstep.
But now, an interesting fan theory might not only explain why we haven’t seen the Fantastic Four in the MCU but answer where they’ve been, too. The roots of this go way back to 2010’s Iron Man 2, where Tony Stark is going through his father’s records. In this scene, we see references to several mysterious projects. One was Project PEGASUS, eventually revealed as the US government’s attempts to understand the Tesseract (seen in The Avengers and Captain Marvel). Another was Project GOLIATH, which were Hank Pym and Bill Foster’s experiments with Pym particles (revealed in Ant-Man and the Wasp).
But there’s a third that we have no information on: Project EXODUS. As yet, we have no idea what this was, but if it’s being mentioned in the same breath as the other two, it’s certain to have been a major endeavor. Now, fans are convincingly arguing that it could be a reference to the Fantastic Four’s origins.
What if the ‘exodus’ was an attempt by Reed Richards to explore an unknown area of space or engage in extra-dimensional research? As such, Richards, Sue and Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm could have simply vanished on this expedition decades earlier, with no indication that they’d ever return. Perhaps they’ll soon come back though and for them it could be as if no time has passed at all.
Personally, I think it sounds like a really cool idea (albeit quite similar to Captain America’s fish out of water routine). I’d also love to see these characters behaving as if they’ve walked off the page of a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic, their style of heroism clashing with the more modern heroics of the rest of the MCU.
Of course, it’s almost certain that the Iron Man 2 writers didn’t intend Project EXODUS to be a gateway for the Fantastic Four, but if they need a dangling plot thread to bring them in, it’s right there.