Fantastic Four

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The Fantastic Four is a Marvel Comics superhero group. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they first appeared in Fantastic Four #1 (1961).

Although the group’s membership has occasionally changed temporarily, the team usually consists of four friends who gained superpowers after being exposed to cosmic rays:

  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), the leader of the group, a scientist who can stretch his body.
  • The Invisible Woman (Susan Richards, née Storm; originally the Invisible Girl), his wife, the second-in-command of the group who can become invisible at will and create invisible force fields.
  • The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), her brother, who can surround himself in flames and fly.
  • The Thing (Ben Grimm), their grumpy friend with a heart of gold, who possesses superior strength and whose body is made of craggy orange rock.

Since their introduction, the group has been portrayed as a dysfunctional superhero family of sorts. They squabble and even hold some deep animosity towards one another, but ultimately truly love and care for each other.

The team launched the revival of Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, giving them a pivotal place in the history of American comic books. They have remained more or less popular since and have been adapted into other media, including three somewhat successful cartoon series and a big-budget 2005 film.

Publication history

File:Ff1kirby.jpg
Cover to Fantastic Four #1. Art by Jack Kirby.

Legend has it that in 1961, longtime magazine and comic-book publisher Martin Goodman was playing a round of golf with rival publisher Jack Liebowitz of DC Comics. Liebowitz told Goodman about the success DC had been having with the superhero team the Justice League of America, which had debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (Feb. 1960) before going on to its own hit title. Whether or not this mythic meeting actually occurred, Goodman, a publishing trend-follower aware of the JLA's sales success, directed his comics editor and head writer Stan Lee to begin publishing a comic-book series about a team of superheroes.

Lee, who'd served as Timely's second editor and had run Goodman's comic-book division for two decades, had by now found the medium restrictive. Intending to leave after completing this assignment, Lee teamed with artist Jack Kirby to produce a groundbreaking series featuring a family of superheroes who were fallible and more human than anything seen in comics.

To forestall possibly upsetting DC (which, in addition to being a competing publisher, also owned Marvel's distributor), Lee and Kirby deliberately avoided making the new book look like a competing superhero comic; the new characters appeared on the cover without costumes and had no secret identities. Lee's intended swan song became phenomenally successful, and Lee and Kirby stayed together on the book and began launching other titles from which the Marvel Universe grew.

Through the lengthy run of the creators' involvement, the series produced many acclaimed stories and characters that have become central to the Marvel Universe, including Doctor Doom, The Silver Surfer, Galactus, The Watcher, The Inhumans and The Black Panther.

After Kirby's departure from Marvel in the early 1970s, the title continued with less distinguished results until the 1980s, when writer-artist John Byrne created the most hailed acclaimed run since Lee and Kirby's. Among his contributions was the modernization of the Invisible Girl into the Invisible Woman — a self-confident and dynamic character whose newfound control of her abilities made her the most powerful member of the team.

In February, 2004, Marvel launched Ultimate Fantastic Four, a version of the group in the Ultimate universe. Marvel launched Marvel Knights 4, a more adult version of the Fantastic Four, in April, 2004

Character history

The Fantastic Four acquired their superhuman abilities after an experimental rocket designed by the scientist Reed Richards passed through a storm of cosmic rays on its test flight. Upon crash landing back on Earth, the four occupants of the craft found themselves transformed and possessed of bizarre new abilities.

Richards, who took the name Mister Fantastic, was now able to stretch his body into nearly any shape he could imagine (similar to the earlier Plastic Man). His fiancée, Susan Storm, gained the ability to become invisible at will and named herself the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman). She later developed the ability to project force fields, create invisible objects, and turn other objects visible or invisible. Her younger brother, Johnny Storm, possessed the incendiary powers of the Human Torch, enabling him to control fire, project burning bolts of flame from his body, and fly. Finally, pilot Ben Grimm was transformed into a craggy, orange-skinned monster with incredible strength and a nearly invulnerable hide. Filled with self loathing and self pity, he dubbed himself the Thing.

The four characters were modeled after the four classical Greek elements: earth (The Thing), fire (The Human Torch), wind (The Invisible Girl) and water (the pliable and ductile Mr. Fantastic). They also appear inspired by co-creator Kirby's DC Comics team the Challengers of the Unknown.

The team of adventurers have used their fantastic abilities to protect humanity, the earth and the universe from a number of threats. Propelled mainly by Richards' innate scientific curiosity, the team have explored space, the Negative Zone, the Microverse, other dimensions and nearly every hidden valley, nation and lost civilization on the planet.

They have had a number of 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 of the Fantastic Four's seminal villain (and rumored half-brother of Mr. Fantastic) 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. Most recently, an orbiting satellite version of the Baxter Building has been used.

The comic has typically emphasized that the Fantastic Four, unlike most superhero teams, are truly a family. Three of the four members are directly related, with The Thing being the exception. Although not strictly related, The Thing's role is that of the beloved Dutch uncle, and his relationship with Mister Fantastic and the Human Torch is nonetheless quite sibling-like. The children of Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards, are also regulars in the series.

Unlike most superheroes, the Fantastic Four's identities are not secret and they maintain a high public profile, enjoying celebrity status for their scientific and heroic contributions to society. Recent issues have revealed that this is a deliberate move by Reed Richards, who works to keep the team highly visible and well-regarded out of guilt for causing their mutations.

Characters

Heroes

Temporary Replacement Members

  • Medusa - An Inhuman; filled-in for the pregnant Invisible Girl
  • Crystal - An Inhuman and Johnny Storm's girlfriend at the time; left due to pollution allergies
  • Luke Cage - Power Man - Replacement during the Thing's brief absence
  • Nova - Mutant Frankie Raye; later became herald to Galactus
  • She-Hulk - Jennifer Walters, first cousin of Bruce Banner, the Hulk; replacement for the Thing
  • Ms. Marvel - Former wrestler Sharon Ventura; gained powers and appearance similar to the Thing's
  • Lyja - An undercover Skrull whom Johnny Storm married, believing her to be Alicia Masters
  • Ant Man II - Scott Lang, reformed thief utilizing Henry Pym's shrinking particles; briefly hired when Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic was missing and presumed dead
  • Kristoff - Doctor Doom's protege, mind-conditioned to behave as Doom. Attracted to Ant Man's daughter, joined team in last issues of series I

Allies/Supporting Characters

Antagonists

Comic book within a comic book

Some early issues of The Fantastic Four established the conceit of the characters having been adapted to comic books within the context of the Marvel Universe, with the Fantastic Four having sold Marvel a license to use their likenesses. One early Doctor Doom story included Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as characters. It was again used in Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #262. The issue depicted writer/artist John Byrne being asked by editor Michael Higgins for the latest issue, since it was almost late. Byrne explained that he had been unable to contact the Fantastic Four for the latest story, since they were away. He was about to make up a story when the Watcher whisked him away to take part in the Fantastic Four's latest adventure. At the end of the issue, Byrne submitted his story. Such self-reference faded out as the Marvel Universe developed, but was occasionally revived, most notably with the character She-Hulk in the 1990s, again written by John Byrne. Marvels Comics: Fantastic Four (2000) was a mockup of what the comic book published in the Marvel Universe might have looked like, and was (within the fictional context of the story) produced with the official approval of Fantastic Four, Inc.

Other media

Over the years, there have been three short-lived TV animated series and two feature-length film adaptations (though one was never released, and is only available in bootleg) of the Fantastic Four comic book series. Currently, there is a new animated series being planned for 2006 (estimated).

1967 Animated Series

The first series was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions (with character designs by Alex Toth) and aired on ABC from 1967 to 1969. It lasted for 20 episodes, and it is favorably remembered as one of the better cartoon adaptations of a Marvel comic book series. This Fantastic Four series was rerun as part of the continuing series Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure.

1967 Fantastic Four animated series cast

  • Gerald Mohr - Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards) (voice)
  • Jo Ann Pflug - Invisible Girl (Susan Storm Richards) (voice)
  • Jack Flounders - The Human Torch (Johnny Storm) (voice)
  • Paul Frees - The Thing (Benjamin J. Grimm)/The Watcher/Additional Voices (voice)

1967 Fantastic Four animated series episode guide

  1. Klaws
  2. Menace Of The Mole Men
  3. Diablo
  4. The Red Ghost
  5. Invasion Of The Super Skrulls
  6. Three Predictions Of Dr. Doom
  7. The Way It All Began
  8. Behold A Distant Star
  9. Prisoners Of Planet X
  10. The Mysterious Molecule Man
  11. Danger In The Depths
  12. Demon Of The Deep
  13. Return Of The Mole Man
  14. It Started On Yancy Street
  15. Galactus
  16. The Micro World Of Dr. Doom
  17. Blastarr,
  18. The Terrible Tribunal
  19. Rama-Tut
  20. The Deadly Director

1978 Animated Series

The second series was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (who would ironically become known as Marvel Productions, Ltd. in 1980) in the mid-1970s. It is infamous for starting a long-running urban legend that persists in comic book and animation fandom to the present day. The 1970s Fantastic Four series replaced the character of the Human Torch with a "cute" (and "annoying" by many Four fans) robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. A long-lasting rumor persisted that this change was made by the TV network (NBC) because they supposedly did not want young viewers to imitate the Human Torch by setting themselves on fire. However, this rumor was false; the true reason for the change was because of merchandising concerns. (A movie featuring the Human Torch was in the early stages of production at the time, though the film was never completed.)

File:Ff79herb.gif
H.E.R.B.I.E.

1978 Fantastic Four animated series cast

1978 Fantastic Four animated series opening narration

"It was the world's strangest accident. While testing a new rocket ship, our heroes were bombarded by mysterious cosmic rays from outer space. Though they crash-landed safely, the strange and powerful rays had changed each one of them. Transforming their leader, Reed Richards, into the plastic-skinned Mr. Fantastic; Sue Richards into the "now you see her, now you don't" Invisible Girl; and Ben Grimm into a mighty-muscled powerhouse called The Thing. Now together with H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot, the newest member of the group, they have become the greatest team of superheroes the world has ever known. The NEW Fantastic Four!"

1978 Fantastic Four episode guide

  1. A Monster Among Us!
  2. The Menace Of Magneto
  3. The Phantom Of Film City
  4. Medusa And The Inhumans
  5. The Diamond Of Doom
  6. The Mole Man
  7. The Olympics Of Space
  8. The Frightful Four
  9. Calamity On The Campus!
  10. The Impossible Man
  11. Meet Doctor Doom
  12. The Final Victory Of Doctor Doom

1994-96 Animated Series

In the mid-1990s, Marvel Productions syndicated a new Fantastic Four animated series as part of the "Marvel Action Hour". The first half of the hour was an episode of Iron Man; the second half an episode of Fantastic Four (many episodes of which were direct recreations of episodes from the original 1960s series). During the first season, Stan Lee was featured speaking before each show about characters in the following episode and what had inspired him to create them. Both Fantastic Four and Iron Man were radically retooled in their second seasons, sporting new opening sequences, improved animation and more mature writing, though noticeably missing the introductions by Stan Lee. The "Marvel Action Hour" lasted two seasons before being cancelled. Recently, the entire 94-95 series was released on DVD, now featuring new introductions by Stan Lee for all 26 episodes.

1994 Fantastic Four animated series cast

1994 Fantastic Four animated series theme song (Season 1)

Opening lyrics:

On an outer space adventure
They got hit by cosmic rays
And the four were changed forever
In some most fantastic ways
No need to fear they're here
Just call the Four
Fantastic Four
Don't need no more (that's ungrammatical)
Reed Richards is elastic
Sue can fade from sight
Johnny is the Human Torch
The Thing just loves to fight
Call the four
Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

Closing lyrics:

There's Galactus looking hungry
And ol' Doctor Doom is near
Here come the Skrulls invading
Do you run and hide in fear?
No way, no way, no way
Just call the Four
Fantastic Four
That's all, no more (now that's grammatical)
Reed Richards is elastic
Sue can fade from sight
Johnny is the Human Torch
The Thing just loves to fight
Call the four
Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

1994 Fantastic Four animated series episode guide

Season 1
  1. The Origin Of The Fantastic Four - Part 1
  2. The Origin Of The Fantastic Four - Part 2
  3. Now Comes The Sub-Mariner
  4. Incursion Of The Skrulls
  5. The Silver Surfer & The Coming Of Galactus - Pt 1
  6. The Silver Surfer & The Coming Of Galactus - Pt 2
  7. Super Skrull
  8. The Mask of Doom - Pt 1
  9. The Mask of Doom - Pt 2
  10. The Mask of Doom - Pt 3
  11. Mole Man
  12. Behold The Negative Zone
  13. The Silver Surfer & The Return of Galactus
Season 2
  1. And A Blind Man Shall Lead Them (guest starring Daredevil)
  2. Inhumans Saga Pt 1: And The Wind Cries Medusa
  3. Inhumans Saga Pt 2: The Inhumans Among Us
  4. Inhumans Saga Pt 3: Beware The Hidden Land
  5. Worlds Within Worlds
  6. To Battle The Living Planet (guest starring Thor)
  7. Prey Of The Black Panther
  8. When Calls Galactus (guest starring Ghost Rider and Thor)
  9. Nightmare In Green (guest starring the Incredible Hulk)
  10. Behold, A Distant Star
  11. Hopelessly Impossible
  12. The Sentry Sinister
  13. Doomsday

Video Games

In 1998 a side-scrolling video game was released for the PlayStation based on the Fantastic Four characters. In 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 meet up with Doctor Doom. The game was widely panned by critics for having a weak storyline, and handling of the characters powers.

Movies

File:Fantastic four poster.jpg
Promotional poster for Fantastic Four (2005), featuring Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, and Ioan Gruffudd.

A movie adaptation of The Fantastic Four was completed in 1994 by famed b-movie director/producer Roger Corman. While this movie was never released to theaters or video, it has been made available from various bootleg video distributors. The film was made on a shoestring budget and is largely mocked by fans of the comic book foursome for what they see as poor acting and disappointing special effects (at one point, The Human Torch turns into an obvious cartoon).

It was ultimately revealed by Stan Lee that unbeknownst to the cast and crew, this movie was never intended to be released in the first place. It was only because the studio who owned the rights to make a Fantastic Four movie would have lost the rights if they did not begin production by a certain date.

Another feature film adaptation of The Fantastic Four was released July 8 2005, directed by Tim Story. Fantastic Four opened in 3602 Theaters and despite predominately poor reviews has generated US$150M+ & $330M+ Worldwide, making a sequel probable. It stars Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mister 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.

Parodies

  • An episode of the animated series The Venture Bros., titled Ice Station Impossible, involved an obvious parody of the Fantastic Four.
  • An early episode of Batman Beyond, called "Heroes," features a trio of superheroes who closely resemble The Fantastic Four.
  • TheSpongeBob SquarePants episode Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy V had a parody of the Fantastic Four, although SpongeBob's powers were a parody of The Flash and not of a particular Fantastic Four member.
  • The hit cartoon show The Simpsons has also poked fun at the Fantastic Four.
    • In The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror X episode, Bart and Lisa are exposed to radiation and transformed into 'Stretch Dude' and 'Clobber Girl'
    • In The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror XIV episode, Bart discovers a magic stopwatch; near the end of the episode he gives it to Lisa, who presses the button repeatedly — at one point briefly turning the family into the Fantastic Four.
    • In another episode of The Simpsons entitled "I Am Furious, Yellow" guest-starring Stan Lee, a boy in the comic book shop wants to buy a Batman action figure, but Stan tries to sell the boy an action figure of The Thing instead.
  • The universe of writer Kurt Busiek's various Astro City comics includes a Fantastic Four-like group called The First Family.
  • The 2004 Disney/Pixar animated feature The Incredibles is built around a family of superheroes whose powers include stretching, super strength, invisibility/force field, and, to a more briefly seen extent, flame. (Another family-member has superspeed.) Indeed, Marvel Studios chairperson Avi Arad told Entertainment Weekly that, "In the words of Stan Lee, when someone asked him about The Incredibles, he said, ‘You know, it feels like I wrote it.’'"
  • An episode of "The Mask" animated series featured four stones that granted the exact same powers as those of the Fantastic Four. Only the invisibility stone was used, however.
  • An episode of "Atomic Betty", featured three Betty clones possessing the powers of the Torch, Mr. Fantastic, and the Thing, including their traditional colors.
  • The Wildstorm comic series Planetary has as its main villains a group called simply The Four. They are counterparts to the Fantastic Four in many ways, mostly in their powers and in the relationships between the analogs to Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman.


See also

External links

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