Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Base: Baxter Building (formerly Avengers Mansion, Four Freedoms Plaza, Pier 4)
The Fantastic Four is a fictional superhero team appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics. The group debuted in The Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961), which helped to usher in a new level of realism in the medium. The Fantastic Four was the first superhero team created by writer-editor Stan Lee and artist and co-plotter Jack Kirby, who developed a collaborative approach to creating comics with this title that they would use from then on. As the first superhero team title produced by Marvel Comics, it formed a cornerstone of the company's 1960s rise from a small division of a publishing company to a pop-culture conglomerate. The title would go on to showcase the talents of comics creators such as Roy Thomas, John Byrne, Steve Englehart, Walt Simonson, John Buscema, George Pérez and Tom DeFalco, and is one of several Marvel titles originating in the Silver Age of Comic Books that is still in publication today.
The four 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), who eventually married Reed, who can render herself invisible and later 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, a former college football star and Reed's college roommate as well as a good pilot, who possesses superhuman strength and endurance due to the nature of his stone-like flesh.
Ever since the original 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 eschewed anonymity or secret identities in favor of celebrity status. The team is also well known for its recurring encounters with characters such as the villainous monarch Doctor Doom, the planet-devouring Galactus, the sea-dwelling prince Namor, the spacefaring Silver Surfer, and the shape-changing alien Skrulls.
The Fantastic Four have been adapted into other media, including four animated television series, an aborted 1990s low-budget film, and the studio motion pictures Fantastic Four (2005) and 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,[note 2] 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, writing 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 had become creatively restrictive. Determined "to carve a real career for myself in the nowhere world of comic books,[note 3] 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 used it from then on; the Marvel Method became standard for the company within a year.
Kirby recalled events somewhat differently. Challenged with Lee's version of events in a 1990 interview, Kirby responded: "I would say that's an outright lie", although the interviewer, Gary Groth notes that this statement needs to be viewed with caution. Kirby claims he came up with the idea for the Fantastic Four in Marvel's offices, and that Lee had merely added the dialogue after the story had been pencilled. Kirby has also sought to establish, more credibly and on numerous occasions, that the visual elements of the strip were his conceptions. He regularly pointed to a team he had created for rival publisher DC Comics in the 1950s, Challengers of the Unknown. "If you notice the uniforms, they're the same... I always give them a skintight uniform with a belt... the Challengers and the FF have a minimum of decoration. And of course, the Thing's skin is a kind of decoration, breaking up the monotony of the blue uniform." The characters wear no uniforms in the first two issues.
Given the conflicting statements, outside commentators have found it hard to identify with precise detail who created the Fantastic Four. Although Stan Lee's typed synopsis for the Fantastic Four exists, Earl Wells, writing in The Comics Journal, points out that its existence doesn't assert its place in the creation; "We have no way of knowing of whether Lee wrote the synopsis after a discussion with Kirby in which Kirby supplied most of the ideas". Comics historian R.C. Harvey believes that the Fantastic Four was a furtherance of the work Kirby had been doing previously, and so "more likely Kirby's creations than Lee's". But Harvey notes that the Marvel Method of collaboration allowed each man to claim credit, and that Lee's dialogue added to the direction the team took.:69 Wells argues that it was Lee's contributions which set the framework within which Kirby worked, and this made Lee "more responsible".:85 Comics historian Mark Evanier, a studio assistant to Jack Kirby in the 1970s, says that the considered opinion of Lee and Kirby's contemporaries was "that Fantastic Four was created by Stan and Jack. No further division of credit seemed appropriate".
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 (November 1994 – April 1996) featuring an adult Franklin Richards, from a different timeline, as Psi-Lord. A 12-issue series Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comics Magazine ran in 2001, paying homage to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's legendary run. 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. The series ran 60 issues (Feb. 2004 - Feb. 2009). In 2008, Marvel launched Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four, an out-of-continuity series aimed at younger readers.
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.:98 The series began in Strange Tales #101 (October 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 (March 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 Fantastic Four 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 being replaced in issue #134 (July 1965) 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 imprint, 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, September–November 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 (January 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 (January–August 2006).
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, 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 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/Invisible 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, 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".:85 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 long-term friend of the family with a gruff Brooklyn manner, short temper, and caustic sense of humor".:204 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, located at 42nd Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. The Baxter Building was replaced by Four Freedoms Plaza at the same location after the Baxter Building's destruction at the hands of Kristoff Vernard, adopted son of the team's seminal foe Doctor Doom (Prior to the completion of Four Freedoms Plaza, the team took up temporary residence at Avengers Mansion.). Pier 4, a waterfront warehouse, served as a temporary headquarters after Four Freedoms Plaza was destroyed by the ostensible superhero team the Thunderbolts shortly after the revelation that they were actually the supervillain team the Masters of Evil in disguise. Pier 4 was eventually destroyed during a battle with the longtime Fantastic Four supervillain Diablo, after which the team received a new Baxter Building, courtesy of one of team leader Reed Richards' former professors, Noah Baxter. This second Baxter Building was constructed in Earth's orbit and teleported into the vacant lot formerly occupied by the original.
A number of characters are closely affiliated with the team, share complex personal histories with one or more of its members but have never actually held an official membership. Some of these characters include, but are not limited to: Namor the Sub-Mariner (previously an antagonist), Alicia Masters, Lyja the Lazerfist, H.E.R.B.I.E., Kristoff Vernard (Doctor Doom's former protégé), Wyatt Wingfoot, governess Agatha Harkness, and Reed and Sue's children Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards.
Several allies of the Fantastic Four have served as temporary members of the team, including Crystal, Medusa, Power Man, Nova (Frankie Raye) (as the Human Torch), She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel II, Ant-Man II, Namorita, Storm, and the Black Panther; a temporary lineup from Fantastic Four #347-349 consisted of the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider II.
Other notable characters who have been involved with the Fantastic Four include Alyssa Moy, Caledonia (Alysande Stuart of Earth-9809), Fantastic Force, the Inhumans (particularly Black Bolt, Crystal, Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton, and Lockjaw), Reed's father Nathaniel Richards, Silver Surfer (previously an antagonist), Thundra, Willie Lumpkin the postal worker, and Uatu The Watcher.
Some of the team's oldest and most frequent enmities have involved such foes as the Mole Man, the Skrulls, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Doctor Doom, Puppet Master, Kang the Conqueror/Rama-Tut/Immortus, Blastaar, the Frightful Four, Annihilus, Galactus, and Klaw. Other prominent antagonists of the Fantastic Four have included the Wizard, Impossible Man, Red Ghost, Mad Thinker, Super-Skrull, Molecule Man, Diablo, Dragon Man, Psycho-Man, Ronan the Accuser, Salem's Seven, Terrax, Terminus, Hyperstorm, and Lucia von Bardas.