Ask a casual superhero fan to name a prominent Marvel super team today, chances are the answer would be The Avengers, Guardians of The Galaxy, The X-Men or even The Inhumans. What’s notably missing from this line-up is the team that inspired all these other teams… the Fantastic Four!
Despite being the ones who sparked the Silver Age era and revitalised the Age of Marvels, the Fantastic Four has not had a title for the last three years, with the whereabouts of half of the team unknown.
They were last seen in action in Jonathan Hickman’ noteworthy Secret Wars event where Reed Richards defeated Doom, and together with his wife Sue and kids Franklin and Valeria, decided to focus on reconstructing the multiverse. Meanwhile, Ben Grimm aka the Thing joined the Guardians of the Galaxy and Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch joined the Inhumans.
Add to that some dismal attempts at getting the FF onto the silver screen, and it’s no wonder Marvel’s First Family has been forgotten of late.
Well, not anymore. With Marvel’s parent company Walt Disney buying 20th Century Fox (who owned the film rights to the FF), however, the Fantastic Four is making a comeback not just in cinemas (potentially joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe) but also with their first title in three years, which began with last week’s Fantastic Four #1 (Reviewed here: ‘Fantastic Four’ #1: Marvel’s First Family is back, back , back)
Written by Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-Man) and artist Sara Pichelli (co-creator of Miles Morales in Ultimate Spider-Man), the date of the new title’s release (August 8) coincided with the day the first Fantastic Four title was released 57 years ago in 1961.
Will all these signs result in greater heights for Marvel’s First Family, or will it be another turbulent journey as evidenced by the last five incarnations of the FF? As we get into the mood of welcoming back the FF, let’s revisit the past five FF titles and hope that the sixth time has the cosmic charm!
The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine (1961-1996)
Comprises: Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #1-#416
Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creation of the Fantastic Four not only revived Marvel Comics’ fortunes back in 1961, their combined 102 issues also revolutionised mainstream comics in the 60s and 70s.
Those days, stories tended to be mostly stand-alone, but the Fantastic Four’s adventures deserved more than a single issue, as evident by classics like Coming Of Galactus (#48-#50), The Inhumans (#45 and #46) and Doomsday (#57-#60). Kirby and Lee’s ability to blend humour, family dynamics and world-saving exploits made the FF a refreshing read at the time.
Post Kirby-Lee, such family-oriented chemistry was only truly recaptured during John Byrne’s epic 60-plus issue run (#232-#293) in the 80s. During Byrne’s run, the heavy hitters (i.e. Dr Doom, Galactus, and Silver Surfer) hit even harder, and so did the scripts, including noteworthy events like Sue’s miscarriage (#267).
Byrne also experimented with new dimensions for the team – replacing the Thing with the She Hulk, turning the Invisible Girl to Invisble Woman, blowing up the Baxter Building, and even resurrecting Phoenix, whom Byrne had a hand in killing in Uncanny X-Men #137.
Byrne’s departure left a huge vacuum in the FF’s creative direction, as subsequent creative teams failed to sustain the quality, and soon, a major overhaul was needed in the form of the Heroes Reborn event.
Heroes Reborn (1996-1997)
Comprises: Fantastic Four (Vol. 2) #1-#13
Applying an “old is gold” approach, Jim Lee and the relatively unknown Brandon Choi succeeded in resurrecting interest in the First Family. As this event was set in a “Pocket Universe” manifested by Franklin Richards, the excitement was very much self-contained, and the hype fizzled out as soon as this event ended.
Heroes Return (1998-2003)
Comprises: Fantastic Four (Vol. 3) #1-#70, Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #500-#611
Like the void left behind by Byrne’s departure, the absence of Lee was sorely felt here. Super-team veterans Scott Lobdell (X-Men) and Alan Davis (Excalibur) lasted only three issues before being replaced by Chris Claremont and Salvador Larocca, who delivered a memorable run (#4-#32) that included the “blasphemous” Sue-Doom wedding and the birth of Valeria “Von Doom” Richards.
Still, it wasn’t until Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo came on board that the title finally got going again. The duo delivered a memorable 35 issue run (#60-#524 – the title was re-numbered back to #500 after issue #70), that included classic story Unthinkable – featuring the best Doom-FF showdown in ages!
After that, it reverted to another series of fill-in creative teams that didn’t have much lasting impact until a certain writer named Jonathan Hickman was hired.
Hickman took the team to a different intellectual level – in his first story, Solve Everything, he had Reed taxing his brain cells to the max to undo all wrongs. From a dead Galactus to a “dead” Human Torch, Hickman’s 50-plus issues (comprising #570-#611 and a 23-issue spin-off title simply named FF) is the modern day benchmark for all FF stories.
Into The Unknown Universes (2013-2014)
Comprises: Fantastic Four (Vol. 4) #1-#16
Reed discovers that his body (and his family’s) is breaking down at the molecular level – in other words, his family is dying.
With no possible cure known to mankind, Reed brings his family on a trip through time and space under the pretext of a family trip in order to find a cure.
Determined not to leave the planet unprotected in their absence, they assembled a back-up team to replace them comprising Scot “Ant-Man” Lang, Medusa, She-Hulk and Darla “Miss Thing” Deering.
This underrated series by Matt Fraction and Mark Bagley is actually a very worthy addition to the FF-mythos, as it masterfully retcons more depth into milestones ranging from Ben’s favourite Aunt Petunia to the Yancy Street Gang.
Hard luck Richards (2014-2015)
Comprises: Fantastic Four (Vol. 5) #1-#14 and Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #642-#645
Creators James Robinson and Leonard Kirk delivered the FF their worst spell of bad luck as the team loses their home, wealth, honour and even the kids!
If you thought it couldn’t get worse, Reed loses his self confidence, Sue reverts to her Malice persona, Ben goes to jail and Johnny loses his powers! Wait, there’s one more piece of bad news – Rob Liefeld’s Heroes Reborn Avengers makes a comeback here!
Unfortunately, what was a promising story was let down by the villain, a new character called Quiet Man, whose main reason for ruining the FF’s life is because of a college crush he had for Sue!
If this was the cause behind the FF’s poor sales, which eventually led to the title’s cancellation – the Quiet Man turned out to be quite the silent killer then!
Then, after all that was resolved, Secret Wars happened, and the FF was consigned to limbo. Hopefully with the new series, the Fantastic Four can go back to being, well, fantastic again.