History Of The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four, a comic book series published by Marvel Comics, combined soap opera themes with superheroics. Learn more about its history.

The Fantastic Four star in a comic book series published by Marvel Entertainment Group. First published in 1961, the title continues, starring the same characters to the current day. The FF, as they're known to their fans, have gone through some remarkable changes in the last forty years, yet remained consistent to the original vision of their creators.

In 1961, the company that would become Marvel Comics, then Marvel Entertainment Group, struggled to find a niche in a marketplace dominated by giant companies like National Periodicals (now known as DC Comics) and EC. DC comics in particular had recently revived their staple of superhero titles and had then launched a team book called the Justice League of America, starring those superheroes. JLA was a phenomenal success, and Martin Goodman, the publisher of Atlas/Timely, as Marvel was then known, was under pressure to come up something to compete.

Goodman turned to his nephew, Stanley Lieber, who had been working for Atlas/Timely for some number of years. Lieber had been involved with several Marvel projects, mainly horror and science fiction oriented titles. When the mandate came down, Lieber got together with Jack Kirby, and together they created a title that would become the flagship for an entire universe of superheroes, heroes they would create as well.

The Fantastic Four consists of four heroes, Reed Richards, Benjamin Grimm, Susan Storm (later Richards), and Johnny Storm. When an experimental rocket flight planned by Richards and Grimm is cancelled, the four sneak onto the launch pad and take off in the rocket themselves. Once they leave the Earth's atmosphere, the rocket is subjected to unknown cosmic radiation, against which the craft is unshielded. The four crash land back on Earth, but not before the radiation takes its toll.

Reed Richards gained the ability to bend and stretch his body into any number of incredible shapes. He took the name Mr. Fantastic. Ben Grimm's skin changed into a orange, rocky crust, and his strength increased tremendously. He now called himself The Thing. Johnny Storm's body burst into flame, but was not consumed. In fact, as the Human Torch, he could now fly and control fire. After the crash, the other three couldn't find Susan Storm. They had to track her down by the sound of her voice, since she had become invisible. She learned to control this power, and the Invisible Woman, as she's now known, can also create invisible force fields. The four survivors vowed to use their new abilities for the good of humanity, and the Fantastic Four was born.

The Fantastic Four was an atypical superhero group right from the beginning. They wore no costumes, and made no attempt to keep their identities secret. In fact, they bickered among themselves all the time. The writer and co-creator of the book, Stanley Lieber, who now used the pen name Stan Lee, wrote the four as more of a family than a team, and this family fought each other as hard as any real one. The FF got uniforms by their fourth issue, along with a high-tech headquarters and gadgets by the ton. In another dose of reality though, Stan Lee gave the FF the money problems that all have, even to the point of having them lose the headquarters they thought they owned.

No article on the FF would be complete without mentioning their greatest adversary, Doctor Doom. Victor Von Doom was born in the hinterlands of Bavaria to a gypsy tribe. A genius on the par of Reed Richards, the two were actually college roommates briefly. Von Doom, suspicious of others, especially those near his own much valued intellect, interrupted Richards going over some of Von Doom's notes. Flying into a rage, Von Doom evicted him from his laboratory, and when Richards tried to warn him of a dangerous miscalculation, Von Doom ignored him. The experiment blew up in his face, literally, and Von Doom was forced to leave the university. This was merely the first of many wrongs for which he would blame Reed Richards. Von Doom wandered the world after this, learning everything he could. Eventually he concluded that the only way to save the world was to rule it, and sealing himself inside a gray metal suit of armor, he set out to do just that.

The FF and Doctor Doom have clashed many, many times over the years, and no doubt they will clash again in the future. The Fantastic Four have saved the entire world, even the entire universe several times though they hardly receive the acclaim one would expect for such heroism. They still go on, as they have for the last forty years, and, given the slow passage of comic book time, as they probably will for the next forty years.

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