The Fantastic Four is Marvel Comics' first comic book superhero team, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and debuting in The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961).
Although the group's membership has occasionally changed temporarily, it almost always consists of these four core friends and family members, who gained superPowers after being exposed to cosmic rays during an outer space science mission:
Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards), the leader of the group, a scientific genius who can stretch his body into incredible lengths and shapes.
The Invisible Woman (Susan Richards, née Storm; originally the Invisible Girl), Reed Richards' wife, the team's second-in-command. As her codename implies, Sue can render herself invisible at will. She can also create force fields and fire invisible power blasts from her hands.
The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue's brother, who can surround himself with flames and fly.
The Thing (Ben Grimm), their grumpy friend with a heart of gold, who possesses superhuman strength and endurance, his skin is monstrous, craggy, orange, and looks as if made of scales or plates (often mistakenly referred to as "rocks").
Since its introduction - in which the groundbreaking team did not even adhere to the convention of superhero costumes in its first two issues - the Fantastic Four have been portrayed as a somewhat dysfunctional yet loving family. Breaking convention with comic-book archetypes at the time, its members would squabble and even hold animosities both deep and petty, though ultimately supporting and truly caring for each other. Also, unlike many other comic book superheroes, the Fantastic Four have no anonymity, maintaining something of a celebrity status in the public eye.
The team saved Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, giving it a pivotal place in the history of American comic books. The FF (as they are commonly known) has remained more or less popular since, and has been adapted into other media, including four animated television series, an aborted 1990s low-budget film, a major motion picture, Fantastic Four (2005), and a sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007.
The comic book series, which famously added the hyperbolic tagline "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" above the title starting with issue #4 (issue #3 declared itself "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!"), dropped the "The" from the cover logo with #16, becoming simply Fantastic Four.
Lee & Kirby
Legend has it in 1961, longtime magazine and comic book publisher Martin Goodman was playing golf with either Jack Liebowitz or Irwin Donenfeld of rival DC Comics, then known as National Periodical Publications, who bragged about DC's success with the superhero team the Justice League of America. While film producer and comics historian Michael Uslan has partly debunked the story, Goodman, a publishing trend-follower aware of the JLA's strong sales, confirmably directed his comics editor, Stan Lee, to create a comic-book series about a team of superheroes. According to Lee in 1974:
" Martin mentioned that he had noticed one of the titles published by National Comics seemed to be selling better than most. It was a book called The Justice League of America and it was composed of a team of superheroes. ... ' If the Justice League is selling ', spoke he, ' why don't we put out a comic book that features a team of superheroes?' "
Lee, who'd served as editor-in-chief and art director of Marvel and its predecessor companies, Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, for two decades, had by now found the medium restrictive. Determined "to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books, Lee concluded that:
" For just this once, I would do the type of story I myself would enjoy reading.... And the characters would be the kind of characters I could personally relate to: they'd be flesh and blood, they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty, and - most important of all - inside their colorful, costumed booties they'd still have feet of clay. "
The result was The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961) by Lee, penciler and co-plotter Kirby - the only credit signatures - with George Klein the generally recognized, uncredited inker The new book did not look like a superhero comic; the new characters appeared on the cover without costumes, and fighting a giant monster as was in vogue in Marvel's pre-superhero comics at the time. Moreover, they had no secret identities, and squabbled and grumbled more like real-life people than traditional superheroes. These first issues of the risky, groundbreaking book set the template for the "Marvel revolution" that revitalized the comics industry with a rough-hewn naturalism in which superheroes could bicker, worry about finances, and be flawed human beings, unlike the golden, square-jawed archetypes that had become the tradition. Lee's intended swan song became unexpectedly and phenomenally successful; Lee and Kirby stayed together on the book and began launching other titles from which the vaunted "Marvel Universe" of additional interrelated titles and characters grew.
Fantastic Four #48 (Sept. 1966): The Watcher warns, in part one of the landmark "Galactus Trilogy". Cover art by Kirby & Sinnott.Through its creators' lengthy run, the series produced many acclaimed stories and characters that have become central to Marvel, including Doctor Doom; the Silver Surfer; Galactus; the Watcher; The Inhumans; the Black Panther; the rival alien Kree and Skrull races; and Him, who would become Adam Warlock. As well, the daring duo of Lee & Kirby, who eventually shared credit as co-plotting collaborators, introduced such concepts as the Negative Zone and unstable molecules, two core elements of the Marvel mythos. In the book's most groundbreaking yet utterly natural development, Fantastic Four presented superhero comics' first pregnancy, culminating with the birth of a Marvel superhero family's first child, Franklin Benjamin Richards. The pregnancy was announced in Fantastic Four Annual #5, and the baby was born one year later in Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968). (DC Comics' Aquaman had previously fathered a child in his own series, issue #23.)
After Kirby's departure from Marvel in 1970, Fantastic Four continued with Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, and Marv Wolfman as its consecutive regular writers, working with artists including John Romita, Sr., John Buscema, Rich Buckler, and George Perez, with longtime inker Joe Sinnott helping to provide some visual continuity. Jim Steranko contributed a handful of covers.
In the 1980s, John Byrne crafted what many critics call the series' best run since Lee & Kirby's. He joined the title with issue #209 (Aug. 1979), doing pencil breakdowns for Sinnott to finish. Byrne then scripted two tales as well (#220-221, July-Aug. 1980) before writer Doug Moench and penciler Bill Sienkiewicz took over for 10 issues. With issue #232 (July 1981), the aptly titled "Back to the Basics", Byrne began his celebrated run as writer, penciller, and (initially under the pseudonym Bjorn Heyn) inker. His key contribution was the modernization of Invisible Girl into Invisible Woman - a self-confident and dynamic character whose newfound control of her abilities made her the most powerful member of the team.
Byrne also staked bold directions in the characters' personal lives, having the married Sue and Reed Richards suffer a miscarriage, and having the Thing's longtime girlfriend, Alicia Masters, and Johnny Storm fall in love and marry. The rift brought on by the latter would linger for several years, with the Thing quitting the Fantastic Four and the She-Hulk being recruited as his long-term replacement.
Into the '90s
Byrne was followed by a quick succession of writers (Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Roy Thomas), but the next extended run was by Steve Englehart, who had Reed and Sue retire to try to give their son a normal childhood. The returned Thing's new girlfriend, Sharon Ventura, and Johnny Storm's former lover, Crystal, joined the team (though Crystal would leave within a year). Sharon was quickly turned into a female "Thing", and the Thing himself further mutated, developing jagged Spikes after being exposed to cosmic radiation during this roster's first mission. When writer and artist Walt Simonson took over the series for the next year-and-a-half, Sue and Reed came out of retirement and the Thing temporarily lost his Powers and reverted to his human form.
Following Simonson was Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco. DeFalco nullified the Johnny Storm-Alicia Masters relationship by retconning that the Skrull Empire had kidnapped the real Masters shortly after the start of John Byrne's scripting run and replaced her with a Skrull spy named Lyja, with whom Storm unwittingly fell in love and married. Once discovered, Lyja, who herself had fallen for Storm, helped the Fantastic Four rescue the real Alicia Masters. Ventura departed after being further mutated by Doctor Doom, with whom she'd sought alliance after Masters returned.
Other key developments included Franklin Richards being sent into the future and returning as a teenager; the return of Reed's time-traveling father, Nathaniel; and Reed's apparent death at the hands of a seemingly mortally wounded Doctor Doom. It would be two years before DeFalco resurrected the two characters, revealing that their seeming deaths were orchestrated by Hyperstorm, the tyrannical futuristic offspring of Rachel Summers (daughter of the X-Men Jean Grey and Cyclops) and Franklin Richards.
"Heroes Reborn" and renumbered
In 1996, the ongoing series was cancelled with issue #416 and relaunched as part of the Heroes Reborn imprint, which retold the team's first adventures in a modern setting in a parallel universe.
Following the end of that year-long experiment, Fantastic Four was relaunched with a new #1 in late 1997. Initially penciled by Alan Davis, it was written by Scott Lobdell, succeeded after three issues by Chris Claremont. Mark Waid later became the series' writer for a run with penciler Mike Wieringo, followed by writer J. Michael Straczynski and penciler Mike McKone.
The title reverted to its original numbering with issue #500, with Vol. 2 (Heroes Reborn), #1-13 and Vol. 3, #1-70 considered as #417-499 of the original run. Marvel announced through Diamond Comics Distributors that writer Dwayne McDuffie and penciler Paul Pelletier would be the creative team beginning with issue #544.
In 2006, as part of Marvel's company-wide "Civil War" fictional crossover, the Fantastic Four disbanded, torn apart by differing views on the Superhuman Registration Act. Mr. Fantastic, allied with Tony Stark, SHIELD, and the U.S. government, is in favor of the Act, while the Human Torch and the Invisible Woman leave to join Captain America's resistance movement. The Thing remains neutral and leaves for France. However, he returns in the last battle of the war to help save civilians from the battle. Mr Fantastic is also shot saving the Invisible Woman, but he survives and recovers. Sue then returns to him.
In the aftermath of the superhero "Civil War", Reed and Sue take a leave of absence in order to repair their strained relationship. The Black Panther and Storm, the newlywed king and queen of Wakanda, join the team as their temporary replacements (#543, Apr. 2007).
Ancillary titles and features spun off from the flagship series include the 1970s quarterly Giant-Size Fantastic Four and the 1990s Fantastic Four Unlimited and Fantastic Four Unplugged; Fantastic Force, an 18-issue spinoff (Nov. 1994 - April 1996) featuring an adult Franklin Richards, from a different timeline, as Psilord; and Marvel Knights 4 spinoff in April 2004. As well, there have been numerous limited series all similarly set in the main universe, designated in Marvel continuity as Earth-616.
In February 2004, Marvel launched Ultimate Fantastic Four, a version of the group in the "Ultimate Marvel" alternate universe.
The Human Torch solo
Johnny Storm starred in an early Silver Age solo series beginning in Strange Tales #101 (Oct. 1962), in 12- to 14-page stories plotted by Lee and initially scripted by his brother, Larry Lieber, and drawn by penciler Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.
Marvel Two-In-One #20 (Oct. 1976), cover art by Kirby & Frank Giacoia, with John Romita Sr. corrections. Golden Age heroes the Whizzer, Miss America, the Patriot and the Blue Diamond look on.Here Johnny was seen living with his elder sister, Susan, in fictional Glenview, Long Island, New York, where he continued to attend high school and, with youthful naivete, attempted to maintain his "secret identity". (In Strange Tales #106 (Mar. 1963), Johnny discovered that his friends and neighbors knew of his dual identity all along, from Fantastic Four news reports, but had humored him.) Supporting characters included Johnny's girlfriend, Doris Evans, usually seen only in consternation as Johnny cheerfully flew off to battle bad guys. (She was seen again in a 1970s issue of Fantastic Four, having become a heavyset but cheerful wife and mother.) Ayers took over the penciling after ten issues, later followed by original Golden Age Human Torch creator Carl Burgos and others. The FF made occasional cameo appearances, and the Thing became a co-star with #123 (Aug. 1964).
"The Human Torch" shared the "split book" Strange Tales with fellow feature "Doctor Strange" for the majority of its run, before finally flaming off with issue #134 (July 1965), replaced the following month by "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.".
A later ongoing solo series in Marvel's manga-influenced "Tsunami" line, Human Torch, ran 12 issues (June 2003 - June 2004). This was followed by the five-issue limited series Spider-Man/Human Torch (March-July 2005), an "untold tales" team-up arc which spanned the course of the pair's friendship.
The Thing solo
The "ever-lovin', blue-eyed Thing", as Ben Grimm sometimes refers to himself, appeared in two team-up issues of Marvel Feature (issues 11-12, Sept. - Nov., 1973). Following their success, he was given his own regular team-up title Marvel Two-in-One, co-starring with Marvel heroes not only in the present day but occasionally in other time periods (fighting alongside the Liberty Legion in #20 and Doc Savage in #21, for example) and in alternate realities. The series ran 100 issues (Jan. 1974 - June 1983), with seven summer annuals (1976-1982), and was immediately followed by the solo title The Thing #1-36 (July 1983 - June 1986). Another ongoing solo series, also titled The Thing, ran eight issues (Jan.-Aug. 2006).
For a list including one-shots, limited series, graphic novels, and trade paperback collections, see Thing bibliography.
Comic book within a comic book
Issue #10 (Jan. 1963) established the concept the FF (and by extension the rest of the Marvel universe) existed in the same world as Marvel Comics; the team-members, it was explained, had licensed their names and likenesses to the company, and the rights to adapt their "real-life" adventures. In this issue, Doctor Doom himself came to Marvel's Madison Avenue offices. Sharp-eyed fans would later note this "real-world" Marvel was even more fictional than it seemed: Not only was penciler Jack Kirby working at a drawing table there, rather than at home per his wont, but the office door was labeled "Lee and Kirby" - suggesting the kind of comradely partnership fans wanted and expected.
"A Visit with the Fantastic Four" in the following issue (#11, Feb. 1963), reinforced this notion of "real-world superheroes" by having the Fantastic Four, in civilian clothes, stroll to a newstand hoping to pick up their latest comic book. The second story introduced the impish Impossible Man, who starred in writer Roy Thomas' self-referential update in Fantastic Four #176 (Nov. 1976), "Improbable as it May Seem - The Impossible Man is Back in Town!" Here he invaded the Marvel offices demanding to have his own comic. Lee, Kirby, writer Thomas, issue artists George Perez and Joe Sinnott, and Marvel staffers Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Marv Wolfman, and John Verpoorten all made cameo appearances.
This concept was again used in #262 (Jan. 1984), which depicted writer-artist John Byrne being asked by editor Michael Higgins for the latest issue, since it was almost late. Byrne explained he had been unable to contact the Fantastic Four for the latest story, since they were away. He was about to make up a story when the Watcher whisked him away to take part in the FF's latest adventure. At the end of the issue, Byrne submitted his story.
Marvels Comics: Fantastic Four (2000) was a mock-up of what the comic book published in the Marvel%20UNIVERSE%20'>Marvel UNIVERSE might have looked like, and was (within the fictional context of the story) produced with the official approval of "Fantastic Four, Inc."
Fictional character biographies
The Fantastic Four acquired superhuman abilities after an experimental rocket ship designed by scientist Reed Richards passed through a storm of cosmic rays on its test flight to outer space. Upon crash landing back on Earth, the four impromptu astronauts found themselves transformed and possessed of bizarre new abilities.
Richards, who took the name Mr. Fantastic, was now able to stretch, twist and re-shape his body to inhuman proportions (similar to Quality Comics' celebrated Plastic Man, Timely Comics' Thin Man, and DC Comics' Elongated Man, who had been introduced the year before). His fiancée, Susan Storm, gained the ability to bend and manipulate light in order to render herself invisible, thus naming herself the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman). She later developed the ability to generate fields of energy that were bended light as well; being used as defensive shields, offensive blasts or allowing her to perform telekinetic feats upon a target. Her younger brother, Johnny Storm, possessed the incendiary Powers of a Human Torch, after Marvel's Golden Age character, enabling him to control fire, project burning bolts of flame from his body, and fly. Finally, pilot Ben Grimm was transformed into a monstrous, craggy humanoid with orange, seemingly rock-covered skin and incredible strength/durability. Filled with anger, self-loathing and self-pity over his new existence, he dubbed himself the Thing, the term Susan used in her initial, startled reaction to his transformation.
The four characters were modeled after the four classical Greek elements: earth (The Thing), fire (The Human Torch), air (The Invisible Girl) and water (the pliable and ductile Mr. Fantastic). The Powers of Mr. Fantastic were modelled on those of Plastic Man, the Invisible Girl's Powers were originally the same as those of the comic strip character "The Invisible Scarlett O'Neill"; the Human Torch had the Powers of the Golden Age character of the same name; and the Thing was similar to many of the monster characters that Lee and Kirby had created in the past. The characters may also have been inspired by co-creator Kirby's similarly unmasked though non-superpowered DC Comics quartet the Challengers of the Unknown.
The team of adventurers has used its members' fantastic abilities to protect humanity, the Earth and the universe from a number of threats. Propelled mainly by Richards' innate scientific curiosity, the team has explored space, the Negative Zone, the Microverse, other dimensions, and nearly every hidden valley, nation, and lost civilization on the planet.
They have had a number of headquarters, most notably the Baxter Building in New York City. The Baxter Building was replaced by Four Freedoms Plaza, built at the same location, after the Baxter Building's destruction at the hands of Kristoff Vernard, adopted son of the Fantastic Four's seminal villain (and rumored half-brother of Mr. Fantastic) Doctor Doom. Pier 4, a warehouse on the New York waterfront, served as a temporary headquarters for the group after Four Freedoms Plaza was condemned, due to the actions of another superhero team, the Thunderbolts.
The comic books have typically emphasized that the Fantastic Four, unlike most superhero teams, are truly a family. Three of the four members are directly related, with The Thing being a long-time friend and Reed Richard's college room-mate; Reed and Sue's son, Franklin Benjamin Richards, was given his middle name after him. Although not strictly related, The Thing's role is that of the beloved Dutch uncle, and his relationship with Mr. Fantastic and the Human Torch is nonetheless quite sibling-like. The children of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards, are also regulars in the series.
Unlike most superheroes, the Fantastic Four's identities are not secret and they maintain a high public profile, enjoying celebrity status for their scientific and heroic contributions to society. Recent issues have controversially revealed that this is a deliberate move by Reed Richards, who works to keep the team highly visible and well-regarded out of guilt for causing their mutations. Fantastic Four has had many supporting characters throughout the comic book franchise.
List of Fantastic Four members
Temporary replacement members
Medusa - An Inhuman who filled-in when the Invisible Girl separated from Mr. Fantastic due to marital problems.
Crystal - An Inhuman and Johnny Storm's girlfriend.
Luke Cage (Power Man) - Replacement during the Thing's brief absence.
She-Hulk - Jennifer Walters, first cousin of Bruce Banner (the Hulk). She joined the team as a replacement for the Thing in the aftermath of the first Secret War.
Ms. Marvel (She-Thing) - Sharon Ventura, who gained Powers and an appearance similar to the Thing's served on the team for a brief period of time.
Ant Man II - Scott Lang, reformed thief utilizing Henry Pym's shrinking particles. He briefly joined when Reed Richards was missing and presumed dead.
Namorita - with She-Hulk and Ant-Man (Scott Lang), joined the Human Torch's makeshift team when the 3 other original members were missing in the Negative Zone
Storm - Along with her husband, Black Panther, she filled in for Sue Richards in 2007.
Black Panther - Along with his wife, Storm, he filled in for Reed Richards in 2007.
"Alternate Fantastic Four" members
The Hulk (aka Mr. Fixit), Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider (Daniel Ketch) - served as a complete team replacement in Fantastic Four #347-349 (Dec. 1990 - Feb. 1991), in a storyline written by Walter Simonson and pencilled by Art Adams, in which they were called "The New Fantastic Four". This line-up reappeared issue #374-375 (March-April 1993), this time with the Merged Hulk/The Professor. The video game Marvel Ultimate Alliance offered this version of the team as an option, with Luke Cage in place of the Hulk.
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