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The Fantastic Four (also known as the Fantastic 4) 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. They were the first superhero team created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist and co-plotter Jack Kirby.
There are four core individuals traditionally associated with the Fantastic Four, who gained superpowers after exposure to cosmic rays during a scientific mission to outer space. Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) is 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) is Reed's wife; she can render herself invisible and project powerful force fields. The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) is Sue's younger brother, who can generate flames, surround himself with them and fly. The final member is the monster-like 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).
The 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 as they maintain a high public profile, 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 frequent lineup.
- 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 Grimm.
- Invisible Girl/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 effects
- The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue Storm's younger brother, possesses the ability to control fire, project burning bolts of flame from his body, and fly. The Human Torch was an update of the Golden Age character published by Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics, 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, the Thunderbolts.
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, 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 [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?' ”
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 was becoming rather 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 (November 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 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.
Issue four reintroduced Namor the Sub-Mariner, one of the Golden Age Timely characters, who was placed into battle against the new Human Torch (Lee explained, "I always loved the old characters"). Issue five introduced the team's most frequent nemesis, Doctor Doom. While the early stories were complete narratives, the frequent appearances of these 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 as well.
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. John Byrne gets "Back to the Basics" in #232 (July 1981), his debut as writer-artist. Cover art by Byrne and inker Terry Austin. John Byrne gets "Back to the Basics" in #232 (July 1981), his debut as writer-artist. Cover art by Byrne and inker Terry Austin.
Byrne also staked bold directions in the characters' personal lives, having the married Sue Storm 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.
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 (Aug. 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.) The title reverted to its original numbering with issue #509 (March 2004).
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), working with pencillers Mike Wieringo, Mark Buckingham, Casey Jones, and Howard Porter variously through #524 (May 2005), with a handful of issues by other teams during that 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).
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
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 "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).
Fantastic Four: The End is a six-issue limited series depicting a possible future in which the members of the Fantastic Four have become estranged after an epic battle with Dr. Doom, resulting in the deaths of Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards, the children of group leader Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and his wife Susan Storm (the Invisible Woman).
At the end of Exiles #95 a Fantastic Four that consists of Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, Victor von Doom, and the Hulk is revealed. They will appear in Exiles through issue #99, as it is a 5-part story arc.
In the MC2 continuity the group has become the Fantastic Five. The team consists of the Human Torch, Ms. Fantastic (Lyja), Psi-Lord (Franklin Richards), Big Brain (a robot with the mind of Reed Richards), and the Thing when the line and their own short-lived title launched. Through later guest appearances in Spider-Girl, we have seen a team consisting of the twin offspring of the Thing (Grim and Rad), the son of Johnny and Lyja (Torus AKA Super-Storm), Kristoff von Doom, Spider-Girl and Psi-Lord taking the place of Fantastic Five briefly. Eventually Susan Storm and Reed Richards return from the Negative Zone to rejoin the team. The most recent line-up consists of the Torch, Ms. Fantastic, Thing, Grim, and Psi-Lord.
Ultimate Fantastic Four
Set in the Ultimate Marvel universe, this version involves a more youthful version of the team.