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To Better Know a Team: Fantastic Four

To Better Know a Team: Fantastic Four

 Fantastic Four - Art Adams

First Appearance
Fantastic Four #1, November 1961

Roll Call
Founding Members: Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards, who can stretch and contort his body to a superhuman degree), Invisible Woman nee Girl (Susan Storm Richards, who can create invisible force fields and turn herself and others invisible), Human Torch (Johnny Storm, who can generate intense heat and flames on command, which also enables him to fly), Thing (Ben Grimm, who was transformed into a massive rock-like creature with super-strength.)

Other Members: Crystal, Medusa, Luke Cage, Nova (Frankie Raye), She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel II (aka She-Thing), Ant-Man II (Scott Lang), Namorita, Storm, Black Panther.

The New Fantastic Four: Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine & Ghost Rider.

Traditionally, the Fantastic Four operate out of the top floors of the Baxter Building, a Manhattan skyscraper owned by Reed Richards (the lower flowers are rented out to tenants). After the original Baxter Building was destroyed, it was replaced by Four Freedoms Plaza, before that building in turn was replaced by a new Baxter Building.

The FF have also, at times, operated out of Avengers Mansion as well as Pier 4, their warehouse along the Hudson River.

Gadgets & Accessories
Thanks to Reed Richards’ knack for invention, the Fantastic Four utilize a large variety of equipment. Most famously, they have the FantastiCar and the Pogo Plane,for long-range travel, a flare gun for signaling other members, belt buckles, which serve as identification devices for access to the FF headquarters, and costumes made of unstable molecules, which allow for the fabric to change to the needs of the wearer, along with a whole host of other gizmos and thingamjigs, as the situation requires it.

Friends and Allies
Franklin & Valeria Richards (Reed and Sue’s son & daughter), Alicia Masters (Thing’s longtime girlfriend), Agatha Harkness (Franklin’s one-time nanny), Wyatt Wingfoot (Human Torch’s friend and She-Hulk’s sometime boyfriend), HERBIE the robot, Lyja (a Skrull who masqueraded as Alicia Masters and married Human Torch), Namor the Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer, Uatu the Watcher, Willie Lumpkin (the FF’s mailman), the Inhumans, the Avengers, the X-Men.

Foes and Antagonists
Dr. Doom, Galactus, Mole Man, Annihilus, the Wizard, Blastaar, the Mad Thinker, Puppet Master, Diablo, Molecule Man, Impossible Man, Klaw, Psycho Man, Super-Skrull, Red Ghost, Ronan the Accuser, the Frightful Four, the Kree, the Skrulls.

Movies and Appearances
The Fantastic Four have headlined four different animated series thus far, the second of which was notable for featuring HERBIE the Robot in place of Human Torch (NOT due to network concerns that children would light themselves on fire trying to emulate Torch, as is commonly believed, but because Human Torch’s TV rights were, at that time, held by other parties.) while the third series was paired with an Iron Man animated series as part of the Marvel Action Hour in the mid 90s.

Fantastic Four - Animated

In 1994, a notorious bad FF film was produced by Roger Corman as a means to maintain control of the characters film rights longer. The film was never distributed (and was never intended to be), but bootleg copies have appeared periodically at conventions and such.

Fantastic Four - Corman Movie

In 2005 and 2007, director Tim Story released a pair of Fantastic Four films starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, a pre-Captain America Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis. Both films received mixed reviews, but were mostly successful financially. Neither captured audience interest, like the later Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

Fantastic Four - Old Movie

The film franchise was then rebooted via a new cinematic take on the FF, starring Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell and directed by Josh Trank.

Fantastic Four - New Movie

One Sentence Origin
When scientist Reed Richards, along with his test pilot best friend, his fiancee and her brother, are bombarded by cosmic rays during an experimental space flight, they return to Earth and discover each has been endowed with a fantastic ability, which they pledge to use for good as the Fantastic Four!

Fantastic Four - origin

Memorable Moment
Fantastic Four #48-50: In the “Galactus Trilogy”, arguably the high-water mark of the celebrated Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on the series, the Fantastic Four meet the Silver Surfer, who helps them prevent his master, the planet-devouring Galactus, from destroying the planet.

Fantastic Four - Galactus

Fun Fact
During Dr. Doom’s first appearance, in Fantastic Four #5, he sends the male members of the team back in time, where Thing dons pirate garb and a black beard to disguise his rocky appearance, inspiring the legend of Blackbeard the Pirate.

Fantastic Four - Blackbeard

Austin’s Analysis
The Fantastic Four are the first family of Marvel Comics. Created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (apocryphally, the result of an edict by Marvel publisher Martin Goodman to try out a superhero team, a la rival DC Comic’s super-successful Justice League) and heavily inspired by the monster comics Marvel was publishing at the time, their tremendous popularity and success is responsible for launching Marvel’s Silver Age superhero renaissance. They singlehandedly transformed a middling publisher of romance and sci-fi comics into one of the “Big Two” publishers of superhero adventure stories, leading to the creation of some of pop culture’s most enduring and beloved characters. Without the Fantastic Four, there would arguably be no Spider-Man, no Hulk, no X-Men or Avengers. Fantastic Four #1 is, simply, the Big Bang of Marvel Comics.

Fantastic Four - Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four succeeded initially because of two relatively unique things. One, they didn’t function as traditional superheroes, not wearing any kind of costume or uniform until the third issue of their series, and never wearing masks, their identities remaining known to the public (In contrast, DC’s Superman at the time had countless stories built around the idea of Lois Lane trying to discover his secret identity.). Two, the Fantastic Four were a family. This meant they bickered and squabbled and fought with one another almost as much as they fought tremendous monsters and larger-than-life villains. In other words, they were realistic, less idealized and more like the kids reading their stories in a way no other superheroes at the time were.

This grounded, salt-of-the-earth approach to superheroes became a staple of the stories launched in their wake: Spider-Man’s “ol’ Parker luck”, the Hulk being hounded by the army, the X-Men being feared and hated by the world they’ve sworn to protect, can all be traced back to the FF and the fact that Lee & Kirby depicted them as people first and heroes second. This became the defining characteristic of Marvel Comics, the thing that separated them from the morally-infalliable, godlike heroes of DC: while DC’s characters were meant to be looked up to by readers, Marvel’s characters were the readers, albeit with fantastic powers.

Fantastic Four - Montage

Though the series would eventually be eclipsed in popularity and sales, first by the X-Men and then by the Avengers, for the first two decades of its existence, Fantastic Four was Marvel’s flagship title, the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Comics Magazine, the series the writers and editors all vied for, the series reserved for the top guy in the Marvel bullpen. Lee and Kirby’s initial 102 issue (plus annuals) run on the series, a veritable gold mine of big ideas and exciting characters, laid the groundwork not only for the future of the Fantastic Four, but much of the Marvel Universe, debuting, amongst other things, the alien Kree and Skrull races, the African Black Panther, the Watcher, the Inhumans, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, and arguably Marvel’s single greatest villain, Dr. Doom.

Fantastic Four - McNiven Collage

But in recent years, the FF has become marginalized, overshadowed by more popular, “cooler” characters, a state which isn’t helped by the fact that the rights to the Fantastic Four remain in the control of Fox Studios, leaving them out of the crowd-pleasing films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and leading some conspiracy theorists to claim Marvel is intentionally downplaying the FF to undercut the latest film; notably, there is no FF comic on the stands at the time of the film’s release, though that is probably just a quirk of the schedule, as that’s more likely to hurt Marvel’s bottom line than Fox’s). But that’s a shame, because the Fantastic Four deserve better, not just because of their historical importance to the rest of the Marvel Universe, but because there is still potential for entertaining stories in the concept of a super-powered family, in the interactions between the brilliant-but-absent-minded Mr. Fantastic, the tough-but-kind Invisible Woman, the hotheaded-but-heroic Human Torch, and the monstrous-but-gentle Thing, and the massive, sprawling universe they helped create. The Fantastic Four are the first family of Marvel Comics, and they deserve to be treated as such.

Fantastic Four - Jack Kirby