Countdown to Avengers #8: The Fantastic Four*

According to legend, the story of the Fantastic Four does not begin on the outer space adventure that changed the lives of those four explorers, granting them their “fantastic” powers. Rather it is said to have begun on a golf course, where Julius Schwartz, the publisher and editor of DC Comics, and Martin Goodman of Marvel Comics were having a friendly game of golf back in 1961. During their game Schwartz bragged about the success of the Justice League book. Goodman went back and told Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to come up with a “team-book,” and thus the Fantastic Four was born.

The Fantastic Four

The Fantastic Four

By his own admission, Stan Lee had not read the Justice League books so he was not concerned about making his book “just like” the JLA. Unlike The Avengers, the Justice League, or even the X-men, where they may be a team, and in some cases regard each other as friends, the Fantastic Four has one aspect that makes them the most unique super team. They actually are a literal family unit. The team consists of scientist Reed Richards, his wife Susan Storm-Richards, Susan’s younger brother Johnny, and Reed’s long-time friend Benjamin J. Grimm. Much later, Reed and Sue add to their family with the additions of their children Franklin and Valeria Richards.

The opening of every Fantastic Four comic book begins with this description: “The Fantastic Four-a team- and family of adventurers, explorers and Imaginauts, the Fantastic Four lead lives both ordinary-and extraordinary.” It is this explorer aspect that granted them their powers in the first place.  One day Reed Richards detected a strange phenomenon in outer space. A form of cosmic radiation was heading for Earth and he wished to investigate it, believing it held unknown scientific potential. Upon entering the cosmic storm their lives were changed. The ship was bombarded by these rays and it transformed the four passengers.

Each character gained a power that seemed to go hand in hand with their personality traits. Leader of the team is Reed Richards better known as Mr. Fantastic, one of the smartest men in the universe. Dr. Doom describes him as the only man who was his scientific equal. The two had been friends back in college and once a year they declare a brief truce to try and complete a chess game, a game that they can play with out a board in front of them.

Reed’s goal is to always push the boundaries and stretch himself beyond his limits. He was even willing to use the first privately funded space craft, instead of the US space program to study this phenomenon. To him, this knowledge would be for the betterment of humanity and should not be hindered by government bean counters who would demand it be cost efficient. Knowledge to him should be explored at all costs, even personal.

 As such he gains the power of elasticity. He can stretch his body to extraordinary lengths. Most of the time he’ll use what fellow member Human Torch describes as “Five Dollar Words’ “ that go over the heads of everyone else. This leaves the Thing often times saying, “Can you run that by me again, in English?” Once he even asked for it in Swahili. When Sue pointed out he didn’t speak Swahili, Ben replied, “I’d understand it more then what he just said.”

Often times his obsession with science and continually pushing those boundaries puts him at odds with the member of the team who his most important to him, Susan Storm-Richards, his beloved wife. This often times leaves her feeling invisible to him, and she’ll even resort to saying a few out of place remarks in conversation in hopes of arousing his attention. When the rays consume her, she gains the ability to become physically invisible, thus becoming the aptly named Invisible Woman.

She also cares deeply about protecting and holding her family together. This is not just limited to her teammates but her children. She may seem like the weak member, but if some one tries to harm Reed, Johnny, or her children she will make them pay. Nothing matters more to her then her family and she’s willing to do what she can to keep them all together.

Along with her invisibility, she can project force fields around the rest of them.  She has even used the shields to break herself free from Dr. Doom’s lair. She possesses an intelligent mind and can figure out a solution to a problem she is facing and can even use her charm and good looks to defuse a bad guy and keep him talking. She is not willing to sit by idly and wait for any one to save her. She is smart, beautiful and resourceful and will do what is necessary.

Next in line is Sue’s younger brother, Jonathan “Johnny” Storm. In the first movie, he complains that she tries too hard to act like his mother and many times he gets fed up with this roll. Both of their parents died and Sue was forced to take care of Johnny. It is a daunting task as Johnny is young, brash, impulsive and nothing short of a hot shot. Ben Grimm complains that he even managed to crash land a flight simulator.

He gained the ability to become a living being of flame, capable of generating temperatures as high as 4000 degrees Kelvin, or as hot as a supernova. When Sue points this out he responds with his cavalier attitude with two thumbs down, “Got it, Supernova. Bad.” He is the only member of the Fantastic Four that actually seems to enjoy being a hero, even going so far as to try and push a public image, gain product endorsements for their uniforms and trying to urge everyone else to become a rock-band.

He feels that they had been given the powers for a reason, so they may as well enjoy them. This often time puts him at odds with the final member of the Fantastic Four, Benjamin J. Grimm. Ben had been a longtime friend of Reed’s often like a brother, looking out for him and serving as his body guard. He is rock solid, steady and if any one tries to harm Reed, it is time for a fight.

As such he becomes the big rock monster known as The Thing, a being who can even match The Hulk and Thor blow for blow in a fight. He was partially created as at the time monster books were very popular so Stan Lee and Jack Kirby figured that they would put a monster in the group. Back in the late 1950s and early 60s superhero books seemed to be on the decline because of public back-lash, and nothing was a sure bet. They figured that if the book was canceled they could just reuse the Thing elsewhere in a monster title.

  The Thing is often fond of saying such catch phrases as “it’s clobberin’ time” and “One for the money, two for the show, you’re gonna get it you big dumb, shmo!” However despite his fighting spirit and gruff exterior, he is a really sensitive soul. Often times because of his rock monster appearance he feels a great deal of pain and rejection, even over things a normal human would take for granted. This is handled really well in the 2005 Fantastic Four movie when his fiancé breaks up with him, and he can’t even pick up the ring she placed on the ground. To make matters worse, pigeons use him for target practice.

 It isn’t until Ben meets a beautiful blind sculptress named Alicia Masters that he finds true love. She is able to “see” past his exterior and into his heart and soul and see that he is a good man.  Despite this, the public status of the Fantastic Four is often a burden for him. He even tells Sue that he would love to be invisible.

While most superhero teams have an unlimited roster, the Fantastic Four is limited to just that core group of the family. It leads them to having firmly established personalities and team dynamics, at times the best in the genre. They are about as close as any family can be, perhaps closer because of the shared experience that granted them their powers.
It also means that Reed feels a great sense of guilt over what had happened to the family, in particular Ben. In the 2005 film he promises that he will not eat or sleep and with even his very last breath he will try to find a way to restore Ben, brining him to the point of exhaustion. This also means he is unwilling to risk their lives again, often saying he will go on an adventure on his own. This is seen in the comic books during their first encounter with the Red Ghost.

Reed uncovers an experimental rocket fuel that can get him to the moon and back. He is willing to test the fuel, but wants to do it alone, saying it is too dangerous. The fuel has not been tested yet and as they learned on their first adventure, anything can and will go wrong. He doesn’t want to risk their lives anymore. Johnny and Sue both object, but Ben sums it up perfectly:

 “This is the Fantastic Four, not a solo act! We’re goin’ with ya! …
Trouble with you is, we’ve let you boss us around so much that
You’re beginnin’ to think you can get along without us! But we
got a big investment in you! We ain’t gonna let you go somewhere
alone where you might hurt your adorable self.”

Because of their shared experiences, and their loyalty to one another it means that the bonds are not easily severed.   When Reed and Sue discuss leaving the team, Ben and Johnny are hurt and even angry as they feel they are rejecting them.  Ben and Johnny may argue but if any one harms him, he will clobber them.  He is also not above complimenting the little “Bic head” as he calls him when Johnny does a good job, or trying to cheer him up when he losses his girl friend Crystal.
This means that the loss of one member is a blow to all of them. When Dr. Doom uses mind control on Ben to try and kill the rest of the team, Reed is forced to kill his friend. This severs the team, and Reed falls headlong into depression over what he did and the team disbands. He builds a strange machine that takes them all the way to the gates of Heaven where they find Ben, who cannot go past the gates as he isn’t sure if he is ready to go. When it looks like Ben is going to stay Johnny is seriously enraged, feeling like Ben is quitting. The family engages in a fight, and Reed falls down a crevasse. Ben catches him and makes his choice to stay with the family. They are given the offer to stay, but they know that their family still has more to explore together.

In a similar way when Johnny is killed of in a recent story arc, they discover he has left a will. Among his wishes is that their long-time friend Spider-Man take his place and that they go on. They honor his wishes, and soon discover that Johnny is still alive and trapped within the Negative Zone. They risk everything to save him and bring him back. When Dr. Doom invites Reed over for a game of chess in their annual truce, the rest of the team stands ready to go to Reed’s rescue. They don’t trust Doom any farther then they can throw him, and they aren’t about to let Doom kill Reed.
When the Superhuman Civil War divides the Fantastic Four, their bond, though tested, still stand strong. Sue doesn’t even leave Johnny’s side while he is convalescing in the hospital after being attacked by an angry mob due to his powers being not all that dissimilar from the young punks that devastated the town of Stanford. When Sue joins Captain America’s Secret Avengers she sends Reed a note, saying that despite being on opposite sides she still loves him but she cannot go on imprisoning good superheroes. When lives are in jeopardy, the Thing who has been on the sidelines plunges into action with the rest of the Four saying, “What you think I was just gonna sit around eating croissants? We got lives to save, Suzie.”

During a huge battle when a villain takes aim at Sue, Reed still takes a bullet for Sue, even if it costs him his life. They are still husband and wife. They still love each other and he will not let some thug kill her. It takes more then a political argument to break them up completely. As it is seen in their many adventures not even death or other dimensions can destroy their bonds. They  have their tensions,  like any normal family. Once the Thing resigned and was replaced with She-Hulk. Following the Superhuman Civil War, Reed adn Sue took some time off, and Superhereos Storm and Black Panther took their place. However these moments are usually fleeting, and often times such events are ignored by other writers and fans. The reason being, when it comes to the Fantastic Four, you cannot beat their family dynamics.

Yet at the same time, because they are a family it means that even in the face of Armageddon, they bicker like a family heading on a road trip to Disney World. It is the kind of thing that happens in not only a family, but in a group of people. Though the following exchange never happened in comic books, it is not hard for fans to imagine the following:

 Ben: Reed, Sue, Johnny’s flamin’ me again.
Sue:  Johnny.
Johnny: I am not.
Ben: Are too.
Johnny: Well even if I did, you started it.
Ben: How?
Johnny: By being ugly.
Ben: Why you little….
Reed: Don’t make me reach back there!

Fantastic Four

International Poster for the 2005 movie The Fantastic Four, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans as Reed Richards, Sue Storm, The Thing and The Human Torch

The Fantastic Four is a superhero team unlike any other because they are, first and foremost, a family. They have the most normal family dynamics, but they are anything but normal. After all what family ahs a rock monster, a person who can physically become invisible, a person who can strech any part of his anatomy to great lengths, or someone who can become a living being of fire? However, despite this they demonstrate what Reed Richards sums up perfectly at the end of the movie Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. “Who says you have to be normal, to have a family?”

 
Sources:

Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto and David Marquez Fantastic Four Season One. March 2012. Marvel Comics.
Claremont, Chris and Salvador Larrocaa Fantastic Four vol. 3 #15 March 1999
Hickman, Jonathan and Steve Epting. “Forever” Fantastic Four  600-604. Janurary-May 2012. Marvel Comics
Evanier, Mark. Kirby: King of Comics.2008. Abrams Books.
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. “The Fantastic Four, versus The Red Ghost and his indescribable Super-Apes.”Fantastic Four #13 April, 1963
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. “The Origin of the Fantastic Four!” Fantastic Four #1. November, 1961.
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. Fantastic Four Annual #6.  November, 1968.
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. Fantastic Four #94. January 1970.
Lee, Stan ( interview) “Stan Lee’s Soapbox”. 2005. Beuna Vista Home Entertiainment.
Lee, Stan and Kevin Smith. “Stan Lee’s Mutants, Monsters &Marvels”. 2002. Creative Light Video/ Sony Pictures.
Loeb, Jeph, Rafael Marin and Carlos Pacheo.  Fantastic Four vol. 3 #50 February 2002.
Millar, Mark and Steve McNiven. Civil War. 2007. Marvel Comics.
McDuffie, Dwayne and Casey Jones “My Dinner With Doom” Fantastic Four Special February, 2006
Shooter, Jim and Michael Zeck. Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars.1985. Marvel Comics.
( film) Story, Tim. Fantastic  Four.  Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian MacMahon.
( film) Story, Tim. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Ioan Gruffod, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Doug Jones, Laurence Fisburne, and Julian MacMahon.
(TV  show) Various writers. Fantastic Four. 1994-1995.
Waid, Mark, Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel “Hereafter” Fantastic Four 509-511. 2004 Marvel Comics

 

The Fantastic Four are created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

 

*Due to distribution rights, The Fantastic Four are not part of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” of films that encompass Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avengers. However, due to their status in the Marvel Comics Universe as a whole, their films, and their importance in the comic books origins of the Avengers, The ever lovin’ FF need some recognition.

 

Disclaimer:
This Blog is not endorsed, approved, affiliated or prepared for by any persons involved in the creation, or ownership of the Fantastic Four . The views and opinions in this blog are strictly those of it’s author and do not reflect the views or ownership of Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Entertainment or 20th Century Fox.

 

Photo Credits:
2004. Marvel Comics. 2005 Marvel Studios/20th Century Fox.

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About jonathondsvendsen

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Somehow you stumbled upon it. Whatever brought you around, I'm glad you're here. I am a free-lance writer and independent scholar of pop-cultural mythology, living and working in Minnesota. An aspiring mythmaker, I dream of voyages through space, fantastic worlds, and even my own superhero or two. I am also an established public speaker and have guest-lectured for college classes on the topic of comic book superheroes. I graduated from Bethel University in 2007 with a degree in Literature and Creative writing. I also write for the website NarniaFans.com. Head on over and you can check out my book reviews , a few fun interviews and even my April Fools Day jokes.
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2 Responses to Countdown to Avengers #8: The Fantastic Four*

  1. Always had a soft spot for the fantastic four. The first movie was alright, second not great (but silver surfer was sweet.) But the biggest problem with those movies in my opinion. Jessica Alba as Sue Storm. Worst casting ever.

  2. I felt the Surfer was what made the second movie. I have to agree, she just wasn’t convincing in the roll. However, Reed, Ben and Johnny were pitch perfect.

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