It was so long ago that the space race played a key part in the origin of the Fantastic Four. Reed Richards had built an experimental space shuttle that was about to lose its funding. Therefore, Reed recruited his college roommate and pilot, Ben Grimm, for an unauthorized test flight.
Reed’s fiancée, Susan Storm, and her brother, Johnny insisted on joining the mission... and why not?!
Ben had warned Reed that the shuttle couldn’t withstand the high doses of cosmic radiation. And he turned out to be right. The test flight was aborted when the ship was bombarded with cosmic rays.
Ben managed to bring the ship back to Earth in a crash landing. Everyone survived the crash, but the cosmic rays had mutated them all.
Reed discovered the ability to stretch his flesh, while Susan could become invisible. Johnny could control flames and he was immune to the effects on his body. Ben wasn’t so lucky. His mutation gave him a body that looked like it was made of stone.
Together, they decided to use their new powers for the benefit of humanity as a team.
As the Fantastic Four, the team broke superhero conventions by not even bothering to have secret identities. Although everyone took on a code name. Reed became Mr. Fantastic, Susan was the Invisible Girl, and Johnny named himself the Human Torch, after a previous hero had used the name in the ‘40s.
Ben’s name was almost a cruel commentary on what he had become: The Thing. While the other team members could pass as human, Ben could not. Even though The Thing was prone to rages at his condition, the Fantastic Four quickly became celebrities.
Following one of his extended squabbles with the team, Johnny stumbled upon a derelict homeless man in New York City. After using his flames to burn away the man’s excess hair, Johnny recognized him as Prince Namor: The Sub-Mariner, one of the heroes of World War II.
This jogged Namor’s long-forgotten memories and he returned to Atlantis to discover his kingdom in ruins. Blaming the surface world, Namor declared war and became one of the FF’s earliest villains.
But Namor was never completely evil, and he developed a mutual attraction with Susan. Years later, Namor became an ally of the team, but the romantic rivalry with Reed over Susan’s affections has always remained.
In the fifth issue of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Doctor Doom, a villain who is easily among the all-time greats. Kirby’s design was iconic, and Lee provided Doom’s trademark arrogance in the dialogue. In Doom’s first attack against the Fantastic Four, he kidnapped Sue and forced her teammates to go back in time to steal Blackbeard’s treasure.
The FF eventually turned the tables on Doom (after Ben took on Blackbeard’s identity and considered staying in the past). Doom went on to become a recurring foe of not only the Fantastic Four, but the entire Marvel Universe!
Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four stint was so full of ideas that Marvel Studios is planning feature films based on the supporting heroes that were introduced during the run. In 1965, Lee and Kirby created the secret society of superpowered humans known as the Inhumans.
Medusa had previously been in the book as one of the Frightful Four, but this storyline revealed that she was one of the Inhumans who had lost her memory. More than that, Medusa was promised to the King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt!
Two of the Inhumans, Medusa and her sister, Crystal eventually joined the Fantastic Four as temporary members. Although Crystal joined first because of her romance with Johnny Storm.
In one of the team’s early milestones, Reed and Sue got married in Fantastic Four Annual #3. And in what has become a superhero tradition, the wedding was overrun by supervillains under the influence of Doctor Doom. Fortunately, there were several superheroes on the guest list, including the Avengers.
While the marriages of other comic book characters have been swept away or retconned, Reed and Sue Richards have been married in the comics since 1965. Which isn’t to say that their union hasn’t been tested, but they have ultimately stayed together.
Outside of Doctor Doom, the most memorable creation of the Lee and Kirby FF was Silver Surfer, and his master, Galactus. The cosmic entity known as Galactus was the Devourer of Worlds, and the Surfer was his herald. A chance encounter with the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters, led the Surfer to realize that humanity deserved to survive and he turned on his master.
The Silver Surfer paid for his heroism by enduring banishment on Earth for several years before he was freed. In the interim, the Surfer became one of the most compelling creations in Marvel’s lineup and he even headlined his own comic book series.
Following the Silver Surfer, Lee and Kirby created the first black superhero in mainstream comics: the Black Panther! Black Panther’s real name was T'Challa and he was king of the African nation called Wakanda, which was one of the most technologically-advanced countries on the planet.
Black Panther lured the FF to his country to test himself against them, before enlisting their help against Ulysses Klaw and his invading forces. Black Panther went on to become an Avenger, and the star of his own series of adventures.
As a nod to Black Panther’s enduring popularity, Marvel Studios is already slated to introduce Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa in Captain America: Civil War before spinning him off into a Black Panther solo film in 2018.
A mere six years after the Fantastic Four made their debut, Hanna-Barbera Productions brought the team to television in their first animated series. The stories were fairly faithful to the source material, although slightly toned down for younger audiences.
The series only ran for 20 episodes over the course of a year. And as a strange quirk of corporate ownership, the rights to Hanna-Barbera’s Fantastic Four show belong to Time Warner, while the characters themselves belong to Marvel’s parent company, Disney.
Three years after the marriage of Reed and Susan, their son, Franklin Richards was born in Fantastic Four Annual #6. Franklin was eventually revealed to be one of the most powerful mutants who has ever lived, and he has had the ability to rewrite reality among other powers.
The odyssey of Franklin is far too strange to sum up in just a few words. But he’s been an enduring presence in the Fantastic Four comic for decades, and he serves as another reminder that the Fantastic Four are more than just a superhero team. They are a family.
In the ‘70s, the early adventures of the Fantastic Four were adapted as a radio show, with Stan Lee as the narrator. It probably would have been forgotten if the Human Torch hadn’t been played by Bill Murray before he hit it big. Instead, it’s a fun bit of trivia that can be easily found on YouTube.
But if you want to pick up a physical copy of the Fantastic Four radio program, at least one vinyl record and book set was produced: Fantastic Four: "The Way It Began." It may even be available on eBay.
The second Fantastic Four animated series debuted in the late ‘70s, and it infamously replaced Johnny Storm with H.E.R.B.I.E., a kid-friendly robot.
For years, the rumor was that the network, NBC was afraid that children would set themselves on fire like the Human Torch. But later explanations for Johnny’s absence have indicated that Universal had the rights to do a TV movie based on the Human Torch alone.
That never happened. And this version of the Fantastic Four only lasted for 13 episodes. It would be nearly two decades before the FF got another shot at TV stardom.
Here’s a strange one.
Hanna-Barbera gave The Thing his own show as part of its compilation series: Fred and Barney Meet The Thing. The rest of the Fantastic Four were left out, as Ben Grimm became a teenager named Benjy Grimm who could turn into the Thing at will by calling upon his magic ring.
It was basically a superhero Scooby-Doo, and it is one of the most bizarre Marvel adaptations of all time.
1984’s Secret Wars was one of the first mega Marvel crossover events. Almost all of the Marvel heroes and villains at the time were drawn to an alien planet called “Battleworld” by an entity known as the Beyonder. Only Reed, Johnny, and Ben were included from the FF.
While on Battleworld, Ben discovered that he could return to his human form at will. Therefore, when the other heroes returned to Earth, Ben elected to remain behind.
Luke Cage had previously stood in for The Thing on the Fantastic Four, but She-Hulk turned out to be his most popular replacement. She-Hulk returned to Earth with the Fantastic Four as the newest member of the team, and she had a long stint with the team.
Byrne became so enamored with the character that he eventually wrote and drew a She-Hulk ongoing series for Marvel.
In the ‘80s, John Byrne came on board the Fantastic Four series as both the writer and the artist. During his run, Susan Richards became pregnant again. However, complications with Susan’s pregnancy led to Reed seeking help from one of Spider-Man’s greatest enemies, Doctor Octopus!
But in a shocking twist, Reed’s heroics were dashed when he arrived too late to save the baby. It was the first real tragedy to hit the team, but not the last word on their second child.
From the ‘60s to the mid ‘80s, Susan Richards was known as the Invisible Girl. During a storyline with the Hate Monger that brought out Sue’s dark side as “Malice,” she rejected her old codename and started calling herself the Invisible Woman.
It’s been one of the most enduring changes from Byrne’s FF run.
Life on Battleworld wasn’t very happy for Ben Grimm, and he came back to Earth only to find that Johnny was now dating Alicia Masters, Ben’s ex-girlfriend! To further complicate things, Ben’s mutation got worse and he retreated to Monster Island as a guest of the Mole Man, one of the Fantastic Four’s first enemies.
Eventually, the Thing’s mutation stabilized and he accepted Johnny and Alicia’s relationship. He was even Johnny’s best man at the wedding before returning to the team full time.
Shortly after returning, The Thing became the new leader of the Fantastic Four, with Crystal rejoining the team to help fill the void left by Reed and Sue. The other new addition was Ms. Marvel, Sharon Ventura, a superheroine who had romantic feelings for Ben.
However, exposure to more cosmic rays further mutated The Thing and turned Sharon into She-Thing, which badly affected her sanity.
As a stunt, writer Walter Simonson and artist Arthur Adams briefly replaced the Fantastic Four with a quartet of popular Marvel heroes: Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider!
An alien Skrull faked the deaths of the real Fantastic Four and assumed the shape of Susan Richards before tricking the New FF into doing her bidding.
It was a really fun story that only ran for three issues, but it was still a memorable side note in the team’s history.
Comic veterans Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan had a very long and strange stint on the Fantastic Four in the ‘90s as they tried everything to build up interest in the title. Susan was given a skimpy costume with a boob window, while Reed and Doctor Doom were written out of the book and presumed dead.
Johnny's wife Alicia was also revealed to be a Skrull named Lyja, who had replaced the actual Alicia to better spy on the team. Don't ask about their egg!
Scott Lang’s Ant-Man joined the team, and Namor invited himself on their adventures as Susan insisted upon search for Reed.
Eventually, Susan’s persistence paid off and Reed was revealed to be trapped in the past.
In 1992, producer Bernd Eichinger was about to lose his rights to make a Fantastic Four movie, so he contracted B-movie king Roger Corman to make a low-budget Fantastic Four movie for only $1 million total budget.
Eichinger’s gambit worked, as Marvel’s Avi Arad paid millions to bury the film. While Eichinger remained attached to the next two Fantastic Four movies, Arad ordered all prints of Corman’s movie to be destroyed.
A few prints of the Fantastic Four movie survived and made their way to the bootleg market. Corman’s Fantastic Four even pops up online now and then, but it’s generally regarded as a truly horrible film.
After nearly 20 years, the Fantastic Four finally had their own cartoon series again as part of the Marvel Action Hour with Iron Man.
The first season of the Fantastic Four was pretty terrible, with a theme song that will haunt your ears. But the second season was remarkably improved as it largely took its tone from the John Byrne run.
Marvel was a little creatively bankrupt during the ‘90s, and sales were sliding fast as the comic market collapsed. In a desperation move, Marvel farmed out The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four to Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, two of Image Comics’ founding creators who had made their name at Marvel before heading out on their own.
Lee provided the art for the first six issues of the Fantastic Four, which looked great but had weak writing from Lee and his collaborator, Brandon Choi. The Heroes Reborn experiment sold well, but it came to an end after only 13 issues.
Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis were briefly the creative team of the relaunched Fantastic Four series that reintroduced the team to the Marvel Universe. But writer Chris Claremont and artist Salvador Larroca quickly took over for a long run.
Along the way, Claremont and Larroca introduced Valeria von Doom, the daughter of Susan Richards and Doctor Doom! Valeria was seemingly from an alternate world, but her ties to the team went deeper than that.
It was eventually revealed that Valeria von Doom was actually the unborn child that Susan and Reed had thought lost. Franklin Richards had saved her life by using his powers to send her to another reality.
Valeria was eventually de-aged and regressed to a fetus in her mother’s womb before Doctor Doom assisted in the birth and named her “Valeria” once again.
In 2004, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar and Adam Kubert launched Ultimate Fantastic Four, which was an attempt to modernize the characters and their origin as part of the Ultimate Comics line. The characters were much younger this time, and their powers were gained in a teleportation accident, rather than a space shuttle launch.
However, the characters began to wildly change in the later years of the Ultimate line, and Reed became more like the new Doctor Doom of the Ultimate Universe... before the original Doom was revealed to have survived.
Just over a decade after the Roger Corman debacle, director Tim Story brought the Fantastic Four to the big screen for the first time.
The film featured 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.
Story’s Fantastic Four wasn’t a huge hit, but it did well enough to get a sequel.
As part of the renewed media push for the Fantastic Four, the characters were given their fourth animated series: Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes.
This series had more of an Anime-inspired look and reimagined versions of classic FF stories and characters during its two season run on Cartoon Network.
Tim Story’s second and last Fantastic Four movie introduced the Silver Surfer into the mix. And while the visuals of the Surfer and Laurence Fishburne's vocal performance were praised, the return of McMahon’s Doctor Doom and the general tone of the movie were met with a resounding thud.
Further enraging fans was the depiction of Galactus as a space cloud, and a truly anti-climatic finish. A planned spinoff for the Silver Surfer was nixed after the box office numbers for this movie failed to convince Fox to keep the franchise going in its then current form.
During Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Civil War crossover, the Fantastic Four was divided by the issue of superhero registration. Reed was in favor of it, while Susan and Johnny were strongly against it. Ben removed himself from the conflict by briefly leaving the country.
In the final battle of the superhero Civil War, Reed partially redeemed himself in Susan’s eyes by taking a hit that was meant for her. In the aftermath, they both briefly left the Fantastic Four to work on their marriage.
To replace Reed and Susan, Black Panther and his new wife, Storm briefly joined the Fantastic Four during Dwayne McDuffie’s run. That also spilled into Black Panther’s solo title, where he and Storm led the team against the Marvel Zombies from another world that were previously encountered by the Ultimate Fantastic Four.
Black Panther and Storm only stayed with the team for a short time, before helping Johnny and Ben save Reed and Susan from one of their oldest enemies.
Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch were previously the creative team on Marvel’s Ultimates, the book that largely inspired Marvel’s Avengers movies.
Millar and Hitch reteamed for a Fantastic Four run that never quite reached the critical or sales heights of The Ultimates.
But the biggest change from the Millar and Hitch run that has stayed around was the revelation that Valeria Richards has an intelligence that rivals her father, despite being a young child!
Early in Jonathan Hickman’s epic Fantastic Four run, Marvel teased the death of one of the original members. When the time came, it was Johnny Storm’s number that was called as the Human Torch sacrificed his life in the Negative Zone to prevent an invasion and save his extended family.
As a tribute to Johnny, Reed, Susan, and Ben retired the Fantastic Four name and costumes. They also honored Johnny’s request by inviting Spider-Man to join their new team, the Future Foundation.
To create a better tomorrow, Reed assembled several of the most brilliant children on Earth to serve as members of the Future Foundation. Unexpectedly, Doctor Doom also invited himself to join the team as part of a deal that he struck with Valeria.
Doom’s memories and intellect had been stripped from him, and in exchange for Valeria’s promise to restore him, he agreed to help the team defeat an otherworldly threat beyond anything that they had faced before.
In comics, superheroes rarely die forever. Such was the case with Johnny Storm.
The villain, Annihilus resurrected Johnny in an attempt to breach the Negative Zone entrance once again. But Johnny rebelled against Annihilus and usurped his control of the Annihilation Wave to help the Fantastic Four in their confrontation with the Kree.
In the aftermath, Johnny rejoined the team, while Spider-Man and Doctor Doom departed.
During Matt Fraction and artist Mark Bagley’s relatively brief Fantastic Four stint, Reed discovered that he was dying from a cancer-like illness. Using a family vacation through time and space as a pretense, Reed set out to find a cure before the condition could spread to the rest of the team.
He was too late on that account, but the team soon learned that their illness wasn’t meant to kill them. It was to draw them into battle against an all-powerful version of Doctor Doom who threatened the team’s very existence.
Of course, the FF won and returned home healthy and whole.
There are rumors that Marvel is deliberately burying the Fantastic Four comic out of spite for Fox. The last Fantastic Four storyline by writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk found the team under assault by all sides as part of a wider plan to discredit and destroy them.
Although Marvel is relaunching most of its titles next fall, Fantastic Four is not currently among them. But the characters will eventually get their own comic book series back. It’s just a matter of time.
In the new Secret Wars, Doctor Doom has set himself up as God of a new Battleworld, which is made up of the remaining pieces of Marvel’s multiverse.
The upcoming covers for the final issues suggest that Reed and Doom will have a final battle for the fate of the many worlds. And the outcome of that battle may explain why Reed isn’t around for the All-New, All-Different relaunch.
We know that Human Torch will be appearing in Uncanny Inhumans as Medusa’s lover, while The Thing is joining the Guardians of the Galaxy. The fate of Reed and Sue is currently unknown.
Chronicle director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four reboot will be hitting theaters very soon. Loosely based on the Ultimate Fantastic Four, Trank’s Fantastic Four will feature Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm and Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom.
Reviews for Fantastic Four are currently embargoed, so we can’t pass judgement one way or another, but the fate of the franchise depends on how audiences respond to the latest reboot.
Fox has optimistically placed a Fantastic Four sequel on the schedule for June 2, 2017, and Bryan Singer has even publicly spoken about a potential crossover film between the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
All of that could happen, but only if Trank’s Fantastic Four movie is the monster hit that Fox wants it to be. If it’s not a hit, then the future of the franchise will once again be up in the air.