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The Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four is a fictional superhero team appearing
in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The
group debuted in The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961),
which helped to usher in a new naturalism in the
medium. It was the first superhero team created
by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist and co-plotter
Jack Kirby, and a cornerstone of Marvel Comics'
1960s rise from a small division of a publishing
company to a pop-culture conglomerate.
The four core individuals traditionally associated
with the Fantastic Four, who gained superpowers
after exposure to cosmic rays during a scientific
mission to outer space, are: Mr. Fantastic (Reed
Richards), a scientific genius and the leader
of the group, who can stretch his body into incredible
lengths and shapes; the Invisible Woman (Susan
"Sue" Storm), Reed's wife, who can render
herself invisible and project powerful force fields;
the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue's younger
brother, who can generate flames, surround himself
with them and fly; and the monstrous Thing (Ben
Grimm), their grumpy but benevolent friend, who
possesses superhuman strength and endurance. Since
the original four's 1961 introduction, the Fantastic
Four have been portrayed as a somewhat dysfunctional
yet loving family. Breaking convention with other
comic-book archetypes of the time, they would
squabble and hold grudges both deep and petty,
and eschew anonymity or secret identities in favor
of celebrity status.
The Fantastic Four have been adapted into other
media, including four animated television series,
an aborted 1990s low-budget film, the major motion
picture Fantastic Four (2005), and its sequel,
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007).
Apocryphal legend has it that in 1961, longtime
magazine and comic book publisher Martin Goodman
was playing golf with either Jack Liebowitz or
Irwin Donenfeld of rival company DC Comics, then
known as National Periodical Publications, and
that the top executive bragged about DC's success
with the new superhero team the Justice League
of America. While film producer and comics historian
Michael Uslan has debunked the particulars of
that story,Goodman, a publishing trend-follower
aware of the JLA's strong sales, did direct 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 [sic] 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?'
Stan Lee, who had served as editor-in-chief and
art director of Marvel Comics and its predecessor
companies, Timely Comics and Atlas Comics, for
two decades, found that the medium had become
creatively 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.”
Lee said he created a synopsis for the first Fantastic
Four story that he gave to penciller Jack Kirby,
who then drew the entire story. Kirby turned in
his penciled art pages to Lee, who added dialogue
and captions. This approach to creating comics,
which became known as the "Marvel Method",
worked so well for Lee and Kirby that they utilized
it from then on; the Marvel Method became standard
for the company within a year.
The release of The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961)
was an unexpected success. The title began to
receive fan mail, and Lee started printing the
letters in a letter column with issue three. Also
with the third issue, Lee created the hyperbolic
slogan "The Greatest Comics Magazine in the
World!!" (soon changed to "The World's
Greatest Comic Magazine", which was a fixture
on the issue covers into the 1990s.
#4 (May 1962) reintroduced Namor the Sub-Mariner,
an aquatic antihero who was a star character of
Marvel's earliest iteration, Timely Comics, during
the late 1930s and 1940s period historians and
fans call the Golden Age of Comics. Issue #5 (July
1962) introduced the team's most frequent nemesis,
Doctor Doom. While the early stories were complete
narratives, the frequent appearances of these
two antagonists in subsequent issues indicated
the creation of a long narrative by Lee and Kirby
that extended over months. Ultimately, according
to comics historian Les Daniels, "only narratives
that ran to several issues would be able to contain
their increasingly complex ideas".
During its creators' lengthy run, the series produced
many acclaimed storylines and characters that
have become central to Marvel, including the The
Inhumans, the Black Panther, the rival alien races
of Kree and Skrull, Him (who would become Adam
Warlock), the Negative Zone, and unstable molecules.
The story frequently cited as "the finest
achievement" of the collaboration
is the three-part "Galactus Trilogy"
that began in Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966),
about the arrival of Galactus, a cosmic being
who wanted to devour the planet. Daniels noted,
"The mystical and metaphysical elements that
took over the sage were perfectly suited to the
tastes of young readers in the 1960s", and
Lee soon discovered that the story was a favorite
on college campuses.
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 such as John Romita, Sr.,
John Buscema, Rich Buckler and George Pérez,
with longtime inker Joe Sinnott adding some visual
continuity. Jim Steranko contributed a few covers
John Byrne joined the title with issue #209 (Aug.
1979), doing pencil breakdowns for Sinnott to
finish. Byrne then wrote two tales as well (#220-221,
July-Aug. 1980) before writer Doug Moench and
penciller 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. One of
his key contributions to the series was the development
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.
also staked bold directions in the characters'
personal lives, having the married Sue Storm and
Reed Richards suffer a miscarriage, and with the
Thing quitting the Fantastic Four and the She-Hulk
being recruited as his long-term replacement.
Byrne was followed by a quick succession of writers
(Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, Roy Thomas), with an
extended run of stories by Steve Englehart, who
had Reed and Sue retire 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 for a handful of issues.
Editorial disagreements led to Englehart finishing
his run under the pen name "John Harkness".
Writer-artist Walt Simonson took over as writer
with #334 (Dec. 1989), and three issues later
began pencilling and inking as well. With brief
inking exceptions, and one fill-in issue, he remained
in all three positions through #354 (July 1991).
After another fill-in, the regular team of writer
and Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco, penciller
Paul Ryan and inker Dan Bulanadi took over, with
Ryan self-inking beginning with #360 (Jan. 1992).
That team, with the very occasional different
inker, continued through for years through #414
(July 1996). DeFalco nullified the Storm-Masters
marriage by retconning that the alien Skrull Empire
had kidnapped the real Masters and replaced her
with a spy named Lyja. Once discovered, Lyja,
who herself had fallen for Storm, helped the Fantastic
Four rescue Masters. Ventura departed after being
further mutated by Doctor Doom. Ryan's lengthy
run is behind only those of Jack Kirby and John
Byrne in number of issues drawn.
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 "deaths"
were orchestrated by the supervillain Hyperstorm.
"Heroes Reborn" and renumbered
The ongoing series was canceled with issue #416
(Sept. 1996) and relaunched with vol. 2, #1 (Nov.
1996) as part of the multi-series "Heroes
Reborn" crossover story arc. The year-long
volume retold the team's first adventures in a
more contemporary setting in a parallel universe.
Following the end of that year-long experiment,
Fantastic Four was relaunched with vol. 3, #1
(Jan. 1998). Initially by the team of writer Scott
Lobdell and penciller Alan Davis, it went after
three issues to writer Chris Claremont (co-writing
with Lobell for #4-5) and penciller Salvador Larroca;
this team enjoyed a long run through issue #32
(Aug. 2000). Carlos Pacheco then took over as
penciller and co-writer, first with Rafael Marín,
then with Marín and Jeph Loeb.
This series began using dual numbering, as if
the original Fantastic Four series had continued
unbroken, with issue #42 / #471 (June 2001). (At
the time, the Marvel Comics series begun in the
1960s, such as Thor and The Amazing Spider-Man,
were given such dual numbering on the front cover,
with the present-day volume's numbering alongside
the numbering from the original series.) After
issue #70 / #499 (Aug. 2003), the title reverted
back to its original vol. 1 numbering with issue
#500 (Sept. 2003).
Karl Kesel succeeded Loeb as co-writer with issue
#51 / 480 (March 2002), and after a few issues
with temporary teams, Mark Waid took over as writer
with #60 / 489 (Oct. 2002) with artist Mike Wieringo
(with Marvel releasing a promotional variant edition
of their otherwise $2.25 debut issue at the price
of nine cents US). Pencillers Mark Buckingham,
Casey Jones, and Howard Porter variously contributed
through issue #524 (May 2005), with a handful
of issues by other teams also during this time.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski and penciller Mike
McKone did issues #527-541 (July 2005 - Nov. 2006),
with Dwayne McDuffie taking over as writer the
following issue, and Paul Pelletier succeeding
McKone beginning with #544 (May 2007).
Beginning with issue #554 (April 2008), writer
Mark Millar and penciler Bryan Hitch began what
Marvel announced as a 16-issue run.
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. A spinoff title Marvel Knights 4 (April
2004 - June 2006) was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
and illustrated by Steve McNiven in his first
Marvel work. As well, there have been numerous
limited series featuring the group.
In 2004, Marvel launched Ultimate Fantastic Four.
Part of the company's Ultimate Marvel imprint,
the series reimagined the team as teenagers. In
2008, Marvel launched Marvel Adventures: Fantastic
Four, an out-of-conitnuity series aimed at younger
The Human Torch solo
The Human Torch was given a solo strip in Strange
Tales in 1962 in order to bolster sales of the
title. The series began 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 penciller Kirby and
inker Dick Ayers. Here, Johnny was seen living
with his elder sister, Susan, in fictional Glenview,
Long Island, New York, where he continued high
school and, with youthful naiveté, attempted
to maintain a "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 were humoring him.) Supporting characters
included Johnny's girlfriend, Doris Evans, usually
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
issue #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.". The Silver Age stories
were republished in 1974, along with some Golden
Age Human Torch stories, in a short-lived ongoing
Human Torch series.
A later ongoing solo series in Marvel's manga-influenced
"Tsunami" line, Human Torch, ran 12
issues (June 2003 - June 2004), followed by the
five-issue limited series Spider-Man/Human Torch
(March-July 2005), an "untold tales"
team-up arc spanning the course of their friendship.
The Thing solo
The Thing appeared in two team-up issues of Marvel
Feature (#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
World War II-era Liberty Legion in #20 and the
1930s hero 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.
Fantastic Four is formed when during an outer
space test flight in an experimental rocket ship,
the four protagonists are bombarded by a storm
of cosmic rays. Upon crash landing back on Earth,
the four astronauts find themselves transformed
with bizarre new abilities. The four then decide
to use their powers for good as superheroes. In
a significant departure from preceding superhero
conventions, the Fantastic Four make no effort
to maintain secret identities, instead maintaining
a high public profile and enjoying celebrity status
for scientific and heroic contributions to society.
At the same time they are often prone to arguing
and even fighting with one another. Despite their
bickering, the Fantastic Four consistently prove
themselves to be "a cohesive and formidable
team in times of crisis."
While there have been a number of lineup changes
to the group, the four characters who debuted
in Fantastic Four #1 remain the core and most
Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), a scientific
genius, can stretch, twist and re-shape his body
to inhuman proportions. Mr. Fantastic serves as
the father figure of the group, and is "appropriately
pragmatic, authoritative, and dull". Richards
blames himself for the failed space mission, particularly
because of how the event transformed pilot Ben
Invisible Girl/Invisble Woman (Susan Storm), Reed
Richards' girlfriend (and eventual wife) has the
ability to bend and manipulate light to render
herself and others invisible. She later develops
the ability to generate force fields, which she
uses for a variety of defensive and offensive
The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue Storm's younger
brother, possesses the ability to control fire,
allowing him to project fire from his body, as
well as the power to fly. This character was loosely
based on a Human Torch character published by
Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics in the 1940s,
an android that could ignite itself. Lee said
that when he conceptualized the character, "I
thought it was a shame that we didn't have The
Human Torch anymore, and this was a good chance
to bring him back". Unlike the teen sidekicks
that preceded him, the Human Torch in the early
stories was "a typical adolescent–brash,
rebellious, and affectionately obnoxious".
The Thing (Ben Grimm), Reed Richards' college
roommate and best friend, has been transformed
into a monstrous, craggy humanoid with orange,
rock-like skin and super-strength. The Thing is
often filled with anger, self-loathing and self-pity
over his new existence. He serves as "an
uncle figure, a longterm friend of the family
with a gruff Brooklyn manner, short temper, and
caustic sense of humor". In the original
synopsis Lee gave to Kirby, The Thing was intended
as "the heavy", but over the years the
character has become "the most lovable group
member: honest, direct and free of pretension".
The Fantastic Four has had several different 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 (and rumored half-brother
of Mr. Fantastic) of the Fantastic Four's seminal
villain 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,
Ego the Living Planet
Kang the Conqueror/Rama-Tut/Immortus
Ronan the Accuser
have been four The Fantastic Four animated TV
series and three feature films (though one of
the movies went unreleased, and is only available
in a widely circulated bootleg). The Fantastic
Four also guest-starred in the "Secret Wars"
story arc of the 1990s Spider-Man animated series
as well as in the "Fantastic Fortitude"
episode of the 1996 Hulk series. There was also
a very short-lived radio show in 1975 that adapted
early Kirby/Lee stories, and is notable for casting
a pre-Saturday Night Live Bill Murray as the Human
Torch. Also in the cast were Bob Maxwell as Reed
Richards, Cynthia Adler as Sue Storm, Jim Pappas
as Ben Grimm and Jerry Terheyden as Doctor Doom.
Other Marvel characters featured in the series
included Ant-Man, Prince Namor, Nick Fury and
the Hulk. Stan Lee narrated the series, and the
scripts were taken almost verbatim from the comic
books. The team made only one other audio appearance,
on the Power Records album The Amazing Spider-Man
and Friends. The Way It Began featured Stan Lee
himself in the role of Johnny Storm and saw Ben
Grimm reliving the origin of the FF, before leaving
the Baxter Building to find their original nemesis
the Mole Man, and a possible cure for Alicia's
blindness. The story was never followed up on
any further Power Records albums. In 1979, the
Thing was featured as half of the Saturday morning
cartoon Fred and Barney Meet the Thing. The character
of the Thing was given a radical make-over for
the series. The title character for this program
was Benji Grimm, a teenage boy who possessed a
pair of magic rings which could transform him
into the Thing. The other members of the Fantastic
Four do not appear in the series, nor do the animated
The Flintstones stars Fred Flintstone and Barney
Rubble, despite the title of the program.
Four (1967) - Produced by Hanna-Barbera
Fantastic Four (1978) - Produced by DePatie-Freleng
(featuring a H.E.R.B.I.E. Unit in place of the
Fantastic Four (1994) - broadcast under the Marvel
Action Hour umbrella, with introductions by Stan
Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes (2006)
- Cartoon Network
In 1998, a side-scrolling video game was released
for the Sony PlayStation home video game system
/ platform, based on the Fantastic Four characters.
the game you and a friend could pick among the
Fantastic Four characters (along with the She-Hulk),
and battle your way through various levels until
you faced Doctor Doom. The game was widely panned
by critics for having weak storyline and handling
of the characters' powers.
The Fantastic Four appeared in the Super NES and
Sega Genesis video games based on the 1990s Spider-Man
animated series and in their own multi-platform
games based on the 2005 movie.
The Thing and the Human Torch appeared in the
2005 game Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
All of the Fantastic Four appear as playable characters
in the game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, although
they had had only minimal roles.
Human Torch has an appearance in a mini-game where
you race against him in all versions of the Ultimate
Spider-Man game except for Game Boy Advance.
The Fantastic Four are featured prominently in
games based on the 2005 movie Fantastic Four and
its 2007 sequel.
movie adaptation of The Fantastic Four was completed
in 1994 by B movie producer Roger Corman. While
this movie was never released to theaters or video,
it has been made available from various bootleg
Another feature film adaptation of Fantastic Four
was released July 8, 2005 by Fox, and directed
by Tim Story. Fantastic Four opened in approximately
3,600 theaters and despite predominantly poor
reviews grossed US$156 million in North America
and US$329 million worldwide, weighed against
a production budget of $100 million and an undisclosed
marketing budget. It stars Ioan Gruffudd as Reed
Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba as Susan
Storm/Invisible Woman, Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/Human
Torch, Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing
and Julian McMahon as Victor Von Doom/Dr. Doom,
with Stan Lee making a cameo appearance as Willie
Lumpkin, the mailman.
A sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,
directed by Story and written by Don Payne, which
was released June 15, 2007. Despite another round
of mostly poor reviews, the sequel brought in
US$132 million in North America a total of US$288
are underway to produce a third movie, where the
Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom are said to reprise
their roles. (Credit: Wikipedia)