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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 naturalism 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 utilize 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, and Tom DeFalco, and is one of several Marvel titles still in publication since the Silver Age of Comic Books.

The four core 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), Reed's wife, who can render herself and others invisible and 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, who possesses superhuman strength and endurance due to the nature of his organic stone flesh. 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 team is also well known for its recurring struggles 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 SkrullsOrigins 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, did direct 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?' ” Stan 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, 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. Jack Kirby recalled events somewhat differently. Kirby was challenged with Lee's version of events in a 1990 interview, responding "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 1950's, Challengers of the Unknown. "[I]f 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." 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 sees the Fantastic Four as "more likely Kirby's creations than Lee's." But Harvey notes that their working practises, the "Marvel Method", allowed each man to claim credit,[6]:68 and that Stan's dialogue added to the direction the team took. Wells argues that it was Lee's contributions which set the framework within which Kirby worked, and this made Lee "more responsible".[5]:85 Mark Evanier, studio assistant to Jack Kirby, recalls Stan Lee calling Kirby into the office one day, and that on that day the Fantastic Four was born. Evanier 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." The Fantastic Four is an internationally-renowned group of superhuman champions (often dubbed the world's premiere super hero team or the first family of super heroes) based in New York City and dedicated to the betterment of the world through scientific discovery and defense against evil.

It all started with a rushed test flight of an experimental spacecraft. Years before, while a student at Empire State University, Reed Richards began working on plans for one of the first vehicles capable interstellar travel. His roommate and best friend, Benjamin Grimm, jokingly promised to pilot the craft. But Reed, after studying to be an aeronautical engineer, finally realized his lifelong dream. Exhausting the majority of his vast inheritance, he funded the construction and launch of such a starship. Other financers, particularly the U.S. government, however, were losing interest and they threatened to cut him off from their funding of the project. Reed embarked on an immediate test flight, taking Ben Grimm with him who had become a successful Air Force pilot. Reed's longtime sweetheart and fiancée, Susan Storm, and her brother, Johnny, also joined them. Ben opposed the idea, warning that the ship's shielding might prove inadequate against intense forms of cosmic radiation. Nevertheless, Reed persuaded them all to accompany him, stealing into the launch facility, boarding the starship, and blasting off in pursuit of scientific glory. They intended to travel to another star system and back, but a solar flare temporarily boosted the intensity of the ionizing radiation in Earth's Van Allen belt.

The spaceship encountered a bombardment of cosmic radiation, causing both the mission to be aborted and the craft to crash. Emerging from the ruins of the spaceship, they discovered the radiation had mutated their bodies. Reed gained the ability to stretch his body and limbs, Johnny was able to fly and become engulfed in flame, and Sue was able to bend light around her body and become invisible. Ben, on the other hand, gained Calling themselves Mister Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch and the Invisible Girl, the four established their headquarters atop the Baxter Building in midtown Manhattan - a building originally erected in 1949 by the Baxter Paper Company and since owned by a number of other corporations. Noah Baxter, a friend and fellow inventor, helped Reed Richards purchase the Baxter building. Then, financed by profits from the patents on Reed's inventions, the Fantastic Four set out to safeguard the world from any and all threats beyond the purview of conventional peacekeeping forces.

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