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, writing 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?'"
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 used it from then on; the Marvel Method became standard for the company within a year.
Kirby recalled events somewhat differently. Challenged with Lee's version of events in a 1990 interview, Kirby responded: "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 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 1950s, 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." The chest insignia of a "4" within a circle, however, was designed by Lee. The characters wear no uniforms in the first two issues.
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 does not assert its place in the creation: "[W]e 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 "more likely Kirby's creations than Lee's". But Harvey notes that the Marvel Method of collaboration allowed each man to claim credit, and that Lee'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". Comics historian Mark Evanier, a studio assistant to Jack Kirby in the 1970s, 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 release of The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961) was an unexpected success. Lee had felt ready to leave the comics field at the time, but the positive response to Fantastic Four persuaded him to stay on. The title began to receive fan mail, and Lee started printing the letters in a letter column with issue #3. Also with the third issue, Lee created the hyperbolic slogan "The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!" With the following issue, the slogan was changed to "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" and became a fixture on the issue covers into the 1990s, and on numerous covers in the 2000s.
Issue #4 (May 1962) reintroduced Namor the Sub-Mariner, an aquatic antihero who was a star character of Marvel's earliest iteration, Timely Comics, during the late 1930s and 1940s period that historians and fans call the Golden Age of Comics. Issue #5 (July 1962) introduced the team's most frequent nemesis, Doctor Doom. These earliest issues were published bimonthly. With issue #16 (July 1963), the cover title dropped its The and became simply Fantastic Four.
While the early stories were complete narratives, the frequent appearances of these two antagonists, Doom and Namor, in subsequent issues indicated the creation of a long narrative by Lee and Kirby that extended over months. Ultimately, according to comics historian Les Daniels, "only narratives that ran to several issues would be able to contain their increasingly complex ideas". During its creators' lengthy run, the series produced many acclaimed storylines and characters that have become central to Marvel, including the hidden race of alien-human genetic experiments, the Inhumans; the Black Panther, an African king who would be mainstream comics' first black superhero; the rival alien races the Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls; Him, who would become Adam Warlock; the Negative Zone; and unstable molecules. The story frequently cited as Lee and Kirby's finest achievement is the three-part "Galactus Trilogy" that began in Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966), chronicling the arrival of Galactus, a cosmic giant who wanted to devour the planet, and his herald, the Silver Surfer. Fantastic Four #48 was chosen as #24 in the 100 Greatest Marvels of All Time poll of Marvel's readers in 2001. Editor Robert Greenberger wrote in his introduction to the story that "As the fourth year of the Fantastic Four came to a close, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby seemed to be only warming up. In retrospect, it was perhaps the most fertile period of any monthly title during the Marvel Age." Daniels noted that "[t]he mystical and metaphysical elements that took over the saga were perfectly suited to the tastes of young readers in the 1960s", and Lee soon discovered that the story was a favorite on college campuses. The Fantastic Four Annual was used to spotlight several key events. The Sub-Mariner was crowned king of Atlantis in the first annual (1963). The following year's annual revealed the origin story of Doctor Doom. Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965) presented the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm. Lee and Kirby reintroduced the original Human Torch in Fantastic Four Annual #4 (1966) and had him battle Johnny Storm. Sue Richards' pregnancy was announced in Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967), and the Richards' son, Franklin Richards was born in Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968) in a story which introduced Annihilus as well.
Marvel filed for a trademark for "Fantastic Four" in 1967, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued the registration in 1970.
Kirby left Marvel in mid-1970, having drawn the first 102 issues plus an unfinished issue, partially published in Fantastic Four #108, with alterations, and later completed and published as Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (April 2008), Fantastic Four continued with Lee, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman as its consecutive regular writers, working with artists such as John Romita Sr., John Buscema, Rich Buckler and George Pérez, with longtime inker Joe Sinnott adding some visual continuity. Jim Steranko also contributed several covers during this time. A short-lived series titled Giant-Size Super-Stars starring the team began in May 1974 and changed its title to Giant-Size Fantastic Four with issue #2. The fourth issue introduced Jamie Madrox, a character who later became part of the X-Men. Giant-Size Fantastic Four was canceled with issue #6 (Oct. 1975). Roy Thomas and George Pérez crafted a metafictional story for Fantastic Four #176 (Nov. 1976) in which the Impossible Man visited the offices of Marvel Comics and met numerous comics creators. Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard crafted a multi-issue storyline involving the son of Doctor Doom which culminated in issue #200 (Nov. 1978). John Byrne joined the title with issue #209 (Aug. 1979), doing pencil breakdowns for Sinnott to finish. He and Wolfman introduced a new herald for Galactus named Terrax in #211 (Oct. 1979).
Bill Mantlo briefly followed Wolfman as writer of the series and wrote a crossover with Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #42 (May 1980). Byrne wrote and drew a giant-sized Fantastic Four promotional comic for Coca-Cola, which was rejected by Coca-Cola as being too violent and published as Fantastic Four #220-221 (July–Aug. 1980) instead. Writer Doug Moench and penciller Bill Sienkiewicz then took over for 10 issues. With issue #232 (July 1981), the aptly titled "Back to the Basics", Byrne began his run as writer, penciller and inker, the last under the pseudonym Bjorn Heyn for this issue only.
Byrne revitalized the slumping title with his run. Originally, Byrne was slated to write with Sienkiewicz providing the art. Sienkiewicz left to do Moon Knight, and Byrne ended up as writer, artist, and inker. Various editors were assigned to the comic; eventually Bob Budiansky became the regular editor. Byrne told Jim Shooter that he could not work with Budiansky, although they ultimately continued to work together. In 2006, Byrne said "that's my paranoia. I look back and I think that was Shooter trying to force me off the book". Byrne left following issue #293 (Aug. 1986) in the middle of a story arc, explaining he could not recapture the fun he had previously had on the series. One of Byrne's changes was making the Invisible Girl into the Invisible Woman: assertive and confident. During this period, fans came to recognize that she was quite powerful, whereas previously, she had been primarily seen as a superpowered mother and wife in the tradition of television moms like those played by Donna Reed and Florence Henderson.
Byrne staked new directions in the characters' personal lives, having the married Sue Storm and Reed Richards suffer a miscarriage, and the Thing quitting the Fantastic Four, with She-Hulk being recruited as his long-term replacement. He also re-emphasized the family dynamic which he felt the series had drifted away from after the Lee/Kirby run, commenting that, "Family—and not dysfunctional family—is the central, key element to the FF. It is an absolutely vital dynamic between the characters." [emphases in original]
Byrne was followed by a quick succession of writers: Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, and Roy Thomas. Steve Englehart took over as writer for issues 304–332 (except #320). The title had been struggling, so Englehart decided to make radical changes. He felt the title had become stale with the normal makeup of Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, so in issue #308 Reed and Sue retired and were replaced with the Thing's new girlfriend, Sharon Ventura, and Johnny Storm's former love, Crystal. The changes increased readership through issue #321. At this point, Marvel made decisions about another Englehart comic, West Coast Avengers, that he disagreed with, and in protest he changed his byline to S.F.X. Englehart (S.F.X. is the abbreviation for Simple Sound Effects). In issue #326, Englehart was told to bring Reed and Sue back and undo the other changes he had made. This caused Englehart to take his name entirely off the book. He used the pseudonym John Harkness, which he had created years before for work he didn't want to be associated with. According to Englehart, the run from #326 through his last issue, #332, was "one of the most painful stretches of [his] career." Writer-artist Walt Simonson took over as writer with #334 (December 1989), and three issues later began pencilling and inking as well. With brief inking exceptions, two fill-in issues, and a three-issue stint drawn by Arthur Adams, Simonson remained in all three positions through #354 (July 1991).
Simonson, who had been writing the team comic The Avengers, had gotten approval for Reed and Sue to join that team after Engelhart had written them out of Fantastic Four. Yet by The Avengers #300, where they were scheduled to join the team, Simonson was told the characters were returning to Fantastic Four. This led to Simonson quitting The Avengers after that issue. Shortly afterward, he was offered the job of writing Fantastic Four. Having already prepared a number of stories involving the Avengers with Reed and Sue in the lineup, he then rewrote these for Fantastic Four. Simonson later recalled that working on Fantastic Four allowed him the latitude to use original Avengers members Thor and Iron Man, which he had been precluded from using in The Avengers.
After another fill-in, the regular team of writer and Marvel editor-in-chief Tom DeFalco, penciller Paul Ryan and inker Dan Bulanadi took over, with Ryan self-inking beginning with #360 (Jan. 1992). That team, with the very occasional different inker, continued for years through #414 (July 1996). DeFalco nullified the Storm-Masters marriage by retconning that the alien Skrull Empire had kidnapped the real Masters and replaced her with a spy named Lyja. Once discovered, Lyja, who herself had fallen for Storm, helped the Fantastic Four rescue Masters. Ventura departed after being further mutated by Doctor Doom. Although some fans were not pleased with DeFalco's run on Fantastic Four, calling him "The Great Satan", the title's sales increased over the period.
Other key developments included Franklin Richards being sent into the future and returning as a teenager; the return of Reed's time-traveling father, Nathaniel, who is revealed to be the father of time-travelling villain Kang; and Reed's apparent death at the hands of a seemingly mortally wounded Doctor Doom. It would be two years before DeFalco resurrected the two characters, revealing that their "deaths" were orchestrated by the supervillain Hyperstorm.
The ongoing series was canceled with issue #416 (Sept. 1996) and relaunched with vol. 2, #1 (Nov. 1996) as part of the multi-series "Heroes Reborn" crossover story arc. The yearlong volume retold the team's first adventures in a more contemporary style, and set in a parallel universe. Following the end of that experiment, Fantastic Four was relaunched with vol. 3, #1 (Jan. 1998). Initially by the team of writer Scott Lobdell and penciller Alan Davis, it went after three issues to writer Chris Claremont (co-writing with Lobdell for #4-5) and penciller Salvador Larroca; this team enjoyed a long run through issue #32 (Aug. 2000).
Following the run of Claremont, Lobdell and Larroca, Carlos Pacheco took over as penciller and co-writer, first with Rafael Marín, then with Marín and Jeph Loeb. This series began using dual numbering, as if the original Fantastic Four series had continued unbroken, with issue #42 / #471 (June 2001). At the time, the Marvel Comics series begun in the 1960s, such as Thor and The Amazing Spider-Man, were given such dual numbering on the front cover, with the present-day volume's numbering alongside the numbering from the original series. After issue #70 / #499 (Aug. 2003), the title reverted to its original vol. 1 numbering with issue #500 (Sept. 2003).
Karl Kesel succeeded Loeb as co-writer with issue #51 / #480 (March 2002), and after a few issues with temporary teams, Mark Waid took over as writer with #60 / 489 (October 2002) with artist Mike Wieringo with Marvel releasing a promotional variant edition of their otherwise $2.25 debut issue at the price of nine cents US. Pencillers Mark Buckingham, Casey Jones, and Howard Porter variously contributed through issue #524 (May 2005), with a handful of issues by other teams also during this time. Writer J. Michael Straczynski and penciller Mike McKone did issues #527-541 (July 2005 - Nov. 2006), with Dwayne McDuffie taking over as writer the following issue, and Paul Pelletier succeeding McKone beginning with #544 (May 2007).
As a result of the events of the "Civil War" company-crossover storyline, the Black Panther and Storm temporarily replaced Reed and Susan Richards on the team. During that period, the Fantastic Four also appeared in Black Panther, written by Reginald Hudlin and pencilled primarily by Francis Portela. Beginning with issue #554 (April 2008), writer Mark Millar and penciller Bryan Hitch began what Marvel announced as a sixteen-issue run. Following the summer 2008 crossover storyline, "Secret Invasion", and the 2009 aftermath "Dark Reign", chronicling the U.S. government's assigning of the Nation's security functions to the seemingly reformed supervillain Norman Osborn, the Fantastic Four starred in a five-issue miniseries, Dark Reign: Fantastic Four (May–Sept. 2009), written by Jonathan Hickman, with art by Sean Chen. Hickman took over as the series regular writer as of issue #570 with Dale Eaglesham and later Steve Epting on art.
In the storyline "Three", which concluded in Fantastic Four #587 (cover date March 2011, published January 26, 2011), the Human Torch appears to die stopping a horde of monsters from the other-dimensional Negative Zone. The series ended with the following issue, #588, and relaunched in March 2011 as simply FF. The relaunch saw the team assume a new name, the Future Foundation, adopt new black-and-white costumes, and accept longtime ally Spider-Man as a member. In October 2011, with the publication of FF #11 (cover-dated Dec. 2011), the Fantastic Four series reached its 599th issue.
In November 2011, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fantastic Four and of Marvel Comics, the company published the 100-page Fantastic Four #600 (cover-dated Jan. 2012), which returned the title to its original numbering and featured the return of the Human Torch. It revealed the fate of the character of Johnny Storm after issue #587, showing that while he did in fact die, he was resurrected to fight as a gladiator for the entertainment of Annihilus. Storm later formed a resistance force called Light Brigade and defeated Annihilus.
Although it was launched as a continuation of the Fantastic Four title, FF continues publication as a separate series. Starting with issue #12, the title focuses upon the youthful members of the Future Foundation, including Franklin and Valeria Richards.
In the graphic novel Fantastic Four: Season One, the Fantastic Four is given an updated origin story set in the present day instead of the 1960s. The hardcover compilation debuted at number four on The New York Times Best Seller list for graphic novels.
As part of Marvel NOW! Fantastic Four ended with #611, ending Jonathan Hickman's long run on FF titles, and the title was relaunched in November 2012 with the creative team of writer Matt Fraction and artist Mark Bagley. In the new title with its numbering starting at #1, the entire Fantastic Four family explore space together, with the hidden intent for Reed Richards to discover why his powers are fading.
Writer James Robinson and artist Leonard Kirk launched a new Fantastic Four series in February 2014 (cover dated April 2014).
Robinson later confirmed that Fantastic Four would be cancelled in 2015 with issue #645, saying that "The book is reverting to its original numbers, and the book is going away for a while. I'm moving towards the end of Fantastic Four. I just want to reassure people that you will not leave this book with a bad taste in your mouth." In the aftermath of the "Secret Wars" storyline, the Thing is working with the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Human Torch is acting as an ambassador with the Inhumans. With Franklin's powers restored and Reed having absorbed the power of the Beyonders from Doom, the Richards' family are working on travelling through and reconstructing the multiverse, but Peter Parker has purchased the Baxter Building to keep it "safe" until the team is ready to come back together.
Ancillary titles and features spun off from the flagship series include the 1970s quarterly Giant-Size Fantastic Four and the 1990s Fantastic Four Unlimited and Fantastic Four Unplugged; Fantastic Force, an 18-issue spinoff (November 1994 – April 1996) featuring an adult Franklin Richards, from a different timeline, as Psi-Lord. A 12-issue series Fantastic Four: The World's Greatest Comics Magazine ran in 2001, paying homage to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's legendary run. A spinoff title Marvel Knights 4 (April 2004 – August 2006) was written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and initially illustrated by Steve McNiven in his first Marvel work. As well, there have been numerous limited series featuring the group.
In 1996, Marvel launched Fantastic Four 2099. The series was part of the company's Marvel 2099 imprint, which explored an alternate future of the Marvel Universe. The four protagonists inexplicably find themselves in 2099, with the world believing them to be clones of the original members of the Fantastic Four. The series ran for 8 issues (Jan. - Aug. 1996), serving as a companion to Doom 2099—an original Marvel 2099 title which featured an individual claiming to be the original Victor von Doom.
In 2004, Marvel launched Ultimate Fantastic Four. As part of the company's Ultimate Marvel imprint, the series re-imagined the team as teenagers. The series ran for 60 issues (Feb. 2004 - Feb. 2009). In 2008, Marvel also launched Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four, an out-of-continuity series aimed at younger readers.
Although it was launched by Marvel as a continuation of the Fantastic Four title in 2011, FF continued publication as a separate series after the regular series resumed in 2012. From issues #12, the title focused upon the youthful members of the Future Foundation, including Franklin and Valeria Richards. A second volume was launched as part of Marvel NOW! by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred depicting a substitute Fantastic Four team starring Scott Lang, Medusa, She-Hulk, and Ms. Thing.
The Human Torch was given a solo strip in Strange Tales in 1962 in order to bolster sales of the title. The series began in Strange Tales #101 (October 1962), in 12- to 14-page stories plotted by Lee and initially scripted by his brother, Larry Lieber, and drawn by penciller Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.
Here, Johnny was seen living with his older sister, Susan, in fictional Glenview, Long Island, New York, where he continued high school and, with youthful naiveté, attempted to maintain a "secret identity". In Strange Tales #106 (March 1963), Johnny discovered that his friends and neighbors knew of his dual identity all along, from Fantastic Four news reports, but were humoring him. Supporting characters included Johnny's girlfriend, Doris Evans, usually in consternation as Johnny cheerfully flew off to battle bad guys. She was seen again in a 1973 issue of Fantastic Four, having become a heavyset but cheerful wife and mother. Ayers took over the penciling after ten issues, later followed by original Golden Age Human Torch creator Carl Burgos and others. The Fantastic Four made occasional cameo appearances, and the Thing became a co-star with issue #123 (Aug. 1964).
The Human Torch shared the split book Strange Tales with fellow feature Doctor Strange for the majority of its run, before being replaced in issue #135 (August 1965) by Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.. The Silver Age stories were republished in 1974, along with some Golden Age Human Torch stories, in a short-lived ongoing Human Torch series.
A later ongoing solo series in Marvel's manga-influenced Tsunami imprint, Human Torch, ran 12 issues (June 2003 – June 2004), followed by the five-issue limited series Spider-Man/Human Torch (March–July 2005), an untold tales team-up arc spanning the course of their friendship.
The Thing appeared in two team-up issues of Marvel Feature (#11-12, September–November 1973). Following their success, he was given his own regular team-up title Marvel Two-in-One, co-starring with Marvel heroes not only in the present day but occasionally in other time periods (fighting alongside the World War II-era Liberty Legion in #20 and the 1930s hero Doc Savage in #21, for example) and in alternate realities. The series ran 100 issues (January 1974 – June 1983), with seven summer annuals (1976–1982), and was immediately followed by the solo title The Thing #1-36 (July 1983 – June 1986). Another ongoing solo series, also titled The Thing, ran eight issues (January–August 2006).
The Fantastic Four is formed when during an outer space test flight in an experimental rocket ship, the four protagonists are bombarded by a storm of cosmic rays.
In the first issue the crew talks about Reed Richards' rocketship flying to the stars. In Lee's original synopsis of the comic the original plan is flying to Mars but Stan Lee writes that due to "the rate the Communists are progressing in space, maybe we better make this a flight to the STARS, instead of just to Mars, because by the time this mag goes on sale, the Russians may have already MADE a flight to Mars!"
Upon crash landing back on Earth, the four astronauts find themselves transformed with bizarre new abilities. The four then decide to use their powers for good as superheroes. In a significant departure from preceding superhero conventions, the Fantastic Four make no effort to maintain secret identities or wear super-hero costumes (until issue 3), instead maintaining a high public profile and enjoying celebrity status for scientific and heroic contributions to society. At the same time they are often prone to arguing and even fighting with one another. Despite their bickering, the Fantastic Four consistently prove themselves to be "a cohesive and formidable team in times of crisis."
While there have been a number of lineup changes to the group, the four characters who debuted in Fantastic Four #1 remain the core and most frequent lineup.Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), a scientific genius, can stretch, twist and re-shape his body to inhuman proportions. Mr. Fantastic serves as the father figure of the group, and is "appropriately pragmatic, authoritative, and dull". Richards blames himself for the failed space mission, particularly because of how the event transformed pilot Ben Grimm. Stan Lee said the stretch powers were inspired by DC's Plastic Man, which had no equivalent in Marvel.
Invisible Girl/Invisible Woman (Susan Storm), Reed Richards' girlfriend (and eventual wife) has the ability to bend and manipulate light to render herself and others invisible. Stan Lee did not want Sue to have superstrength, "to be Wonder Woman and punch people", so eventually he came to invisibility, inspired by works such as The Invisible Man. She later develops the ability to generate force fields, which she uses for a variety of defensive and offensive effects.
The Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue Storm's younger brother, possesses the ability to control fire, allowing him to project fire from his body, as well as the power to fly. This character was loosely based on a Human Torch character published by Marvel's predecessor Timely Comics in the 1940s, an android that could ignite itself. Lee said that when he conceptualized the character, "I thought it was a shame that we didn't have The Human Torch anymore, and this was a good chance to bring him back". Unlike the teen sidekicks that preceded him, the Human Torch in the early stories was "a typical adolescent — brash, rebellious, and affectionately obnoxious." Johnny Storm was killed in the 2011 storyline "Three", before being brought back and rejoining the reformed Fantastic Four.
The Thing (Ben Grimm), Reed Richards' college roommate and best friend, has been transformed into a monstrous, craggy humanoid with orange, rock-like skin and super-strength. The Thing is often filled with anger, self-loathing and self-pity over his new existence. He serves as "an uncle figure, a long-term friend of the family with a gruff Brooklyn manner, short temper, and caustic sense of humor". In the original synopsis Lee gave to Kirby, The Thing was intended as "the heavy", but over the years, the character has become "the most lovable group member: honest, direct and free of pretension". Lee said his original pitch to Kirby stated that The Thing was "someone who turned into a monster", and is bitter because unlike the other three he cannot change back to a normal appearance.
The Fantastic Four has had several different headquarters, most notably the Baxter Building, located at 42nd Street and Madison Avenue in New York City. The Baxter Building was replaced by Four Freedoms Plaza at the same location after its destruction at the hands of Kristoff Vernard, adopted son of the team's seminal foe Doctor Doom. (Prior to the completion of Four Freedoms Plaza, the team took up temporary residence at Avengers Mansion.) Pier 4, a waterfront warehouse, served as a temporary headquarters after Four Freedoms Plaza was destroyed by the ostensible superhero team the Thunderbolts shortly after the revelation that they were actually the supervillain team the Masters of Evil in disguise. Pier 4 was eventually destroyed during a battle with the longtime Fantastic Four supervillain Diablo, after which the team received a new Baxter Building, courtesy of one of team leader Reed Richards' former professors, Noah Baxter. This second Baxter Building was constructed in Earth's orbit and teleported into the vacant lot formerly occupied by the original.
A number of characters are closely affiliated with the team, share complex personal histories with one or more of its members but have never actually held an official membership. Some of these characters include, but are not limited to: Namor the Sub-Mariner (previously an antagonist), Alicia Masters, Lyja the Lazerfist, H.E.R.B.I.E., Kristoff Vernard (Doctor Doom's former protégé), Wyatt Wingfoot, governess Agatha Harkness, and Reed and Sue's children Franklin Richards and Valeria Richards.
Several allies of the Fantastic Four have served as temporary members of the team, including Crystal, Medusa, Power Man (Luke Cage), Nova (Frankie Raye), She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel (Sharon Ventura), Ant-Man (Scott Lang), Namorita, Storm, and the Black Panther. A temporary lineup from Fantastic Four #347-349 (December 1990-February 1991) consisted of the Hulk (in his "Joe Fixit" persona), Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider (Daniel Ketch).
Other notable characters who have been involved with the Fantastic Four include Alyssa Moy, Caledonia (Alysande Stuart of Earth-9809), Fantastic Force, the Inhumans (particularly royal family members Black Bolt, Crystal, Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton, and Lockjaw), Reed's father Nathaniel Richards, the Silver Surfer (previously an antagonist), Thundra, postal worker Willie Lumpkin, and Uatu the Watcher.
Author Christopher Knowles states that Kirby's work on creations such as the Inhumans and the Black Panther served as "a showcase of some of the most radical concepts in the history of the medium".
Writers and artists over many years have created a variety of characters to challenge the Fantastic Four. Knowles states that Kirby helped to create "an army of villains whose rage and destructive power had never been seen before," and "whose primary impulse is to smash the world." Some of the team's oldest and most frequent enmities have involved such foes as the Mole Man, the Skrulls, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Doctor Doom, Puppet Master, Kang the Conqueror/Rama-Tut/Immortus, Blastaar, the Frightful Four, Annihilus, Galactus, and Klaw. Other prominent antagonists of the Fantastic Four have included the Wizard, Impossible Man, the Red Ghost, the Mad Thinker, the Super-Skrull, the Molecule Man, Diablo, Dragon Man, Psycho-Man, Ronan the Accuser, Salem's Seven, Terrax, Terminus, Hyperstorm, and Lucia von Bardas.
The Fantastic Four's characterization was initially different from all other superheroes at the time. One major difference is that they do not conceal their identities, leading the public to be both suspicious and in awe of them. Also, they frequently argued and disagreed with each other, hindering their work as a team. Described as "heroes with hangups" by Stan Lee, the Thing has a temper, and the Human Torch resents being a child among adults. Mr. Fantastic blames himself for the Thing's transformation. Social scientist Bradford W. Wright describes the team as a "volatile mix of human emotions and personalities". In spite of their disagreements, they ultimately function well as a team.
The first issue of The Fantastic Four proved a success, igniting a new direction for superhero comics and soon influencing many other superhero comics. Readers grew fond of Ben's grumpiness, Johnny's tendency to annoy others, and Reed and Sue's spats. Stan Lee was surprised at the reaction to the first issue, leading him to stay in the comics field despite previous plans to leave. Comics historian Stephen Krensky said that "Lee's natural dialogue and flawed characters appealed to 1960s kids looking to 'get real'".
As of 2005, 150 million comics featuring the Fantastic Four had been sold.
The Fantastic Four stories have been collected into several trade paperback and hardcover editions.
As part of the Essential Marvel range:
As part of the Marvel Masterworks series:
The Fantastic Four has been published in translation around the world, beginning in the late 1960s in Mexico as Los Cuatro Fantásticos published by La Prensa until the mid-1970s, then by Macc Division until 1980, and finally by Novedades Editores from 1980 to 1982 and French-speaking Canada as Les Fantastic Four, from 1969–1986, after which the title was merged with the Spider-Man title for three more years. Mexican translators were not consistent in their translations of the characters' code names; The Thing was called Coloso (Colossus) in the first series, La Mole in the second and the third (which was the name used for The Hulk in the first series). The other three main characters had more stable translated names: Mister Fantástico (sometimes translated as Señor Fantástico), La Chica (or La Mujer) Invisible, and La Antorcha Humana. Dr. Doom was Doctor Destino and She-Hulk was La Mujer Hulk in her run in the Fantastic Four. In the movie, and in current appearances in Mexico, Mister Fantastic is referred to as "El Hombre Elástico" (Elastic Man). Canada rarely translated character names from their English version, although sometimes switching back and forth between English and French names in the same issue (The Thing / La Chose, Mister Fantastic / Monsieur Fantastic, Invisible Girl / Fille (or Femme) Invisible, Human Torch / Torche Humaine). The names of Dr. Doom and She-Hulk were not translated into French for the Canadian reprints.
British publication of the series began in the black and white anthology title Mystic in the 1960s. In 1972, the Fantastic Four's adventures were published starting with issue 1 of the US comic in Mighty World of Marvel alongside Spider-Man and Hulk reprints when Marvel Comics began its imprint Marvel UK. In 1976 the feature was moved to Marvel UK's The Titans to revive flagging sales, starting with issue #27. But after just a few months the feature was removed from The Titans (replaced by The Avengers) to form part of the line up of the new Captain Britain Weekly for its first issue in October 1976. After the demise of Captain Britain Weekly the FF went with Captain Britain into the merged Super Spiderman and Captain Britain Weekly in July 1977. A few months after the merger a new title The Complete Fantastic Four was launched in September 1977 starting with the story from the US Fantastic Four #133. Unusually The Complete Fantastic Four reprinted an entire issue of the US publication at a time when stories were always broken up into several installments. As a back up strip it started serializing the FF's adventures from US Fantastic Four 1, but this was replaced by The Invaders towards the end of the run. In 1978 that series merged into Mighty World Of Marvel returning the FF to their original home alongside the Hulk. Their last adventure in that title was issue 329, when they were moved out so that the comic could be relaunched as Marvel Comic in early 1979. Their adventures briefly moved back into Spider-Man Comic before stopping shortly after John Byrne took over pencilling chores on the strip. In March 1980 Marvel UK launched the Fantastic Four Pocketbook reprinting Lee and Kirby stories. After cancellation of the Pocketbook in July 1982 the classic Fantastic Four strips continued in a short lived weekly title that began in October 1982. During 1985 the Fantastic Four and other Marvel titles such as The New Mutants, The Avengers, and The X-Men were included in the Secret Wars II reprint title. This mostly focused on issues which crossed over into the Secret Wars II maxi series. From 2005, around the release of the Fantastic Four film, the super-team appeared in Fantastic Four Adventures, published by Panini Comics. The title ended in February 2010.
Publication history in France started with the reprinting of the first 10 pages of Fantastic Four #50 in 1967 in an anthology title called "Les Chefs-d'Oeuvres de la Bande Dessinée" [Comic Book Masterpieces]. In 1974, the first 4 issues of the title were published, one page at a time, in the daily newspaper "France Soir". But primarily, rights to the Fantastic Four in France were held by a company called Editions Lug, which began publishing Fantastic Four first in an 1969 anthology title called Fantask, along with Spider-Man and Silver Surfer, then in another anthology called "Marvel". The censors objected to the content of the book, and citing "nightmarish visions" and "terrifying science fiction" as the reasons, forced their cancellations after respectively 7 and 13 issues. Although other anthologies featuring Marvel strips continued, notably "Strange" (featuring the X-Men, Iron Man, and the Silver Surfer), the Fantastic Four remained unpublished in France until 1973. Editions Lug created a format aimed more for adults; an 80-page series called Une Aventure des Fantastiques debuted where the old series left off, with the stories that introduced the Inhumans and Galactus. That series lasted over 15 years, coming out four times a year. In the mid-1970s, a title called Spidey was released by Editions Lug. Primarily featuring reprints from the juvenile "Spider Super Stories", it also featured a similarly themed FF series produced in France. These original stories had art that closely resembled the work of Jack Kirby or John Buscema, but the storylines themselves included watered-down super-villains, the FF on vacation, and even Santa Claus. This series was replaced by 1960s era X-Men reprints when Marvel demanded the same royalties for Editions Lug's original stories that they did for the US reprints. Eventually, a regular monthly series began publication in France, and the Fantastic Four took over the headlining position in the pocket format anthology "Nova" (sharing the title with Spider-Woman, Peter Parker, She-Hulk, and Silver Surfer)and lasted until Marvel began publishing its own titles under the newly-formed "Marvel France" line in the late 1990s. Fantastic Four shared space in the Silver Surfer's own book until the Heroes Reborn storyline created their own title, supported by Captain America. "Fantastic Four" then appeared in the anthology "Marvel Legends" and currently appears in "Marvel Icons", sharing that title with The Avengers.
Two different French companies held rights to Marvel Comics at the same time in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lug (which eventually changed its name to Semic) published Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men, Daredevil, and Iron Man, and most related series, while Aredit held the rights to Avengers, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Sub-Mariner and many of the 1970s-era modern series like Ghost Rider, Man-Thing, Power Man, and the first She-Hulk series. Often, crossovers would force one company to publish another's title, i.e. the Marvel Two-In-One and Fantastic Four annuals that crossed over into the Invaders story would have to be published by the "other" company, and in fact that particular cross-over was published twice, once by each company. This resulted in different translations of the characters' names — Susan Storm Richards was called Jane in her own title by Editions Lug (presumably because the name "Sue" is a form of the verb "to sweat" in French), and Reed was called Red, a combination of letters easier to pronounce than the double E sound. When Aredit published a Fantastic Four appearance they kept the traditional US names. Generally speaking, their names in France were: Monsieur Fantastic (although Mister was often used as well), L'Invisible, La Chose, and La Torche. (Rarely was "Humaine" used in the French editions.) Dr. Doom was called Docteur Fatalis, and She-Hulk was called Miss Hulk.
"Die Fantastischen Vier" First appeared in Hit Comics, a weekly title that rotated the main feature with other Marvel titles. Williams Comics eventually obtained the rights to Marvel's line and began publishing (for the first time in color) in the mid-1970s. Fantastic Four was backed up with Daredevil, and began with issue #1. No annual was published by Williams and some early numbers were left out (5, 6, 10, 12, 21 and 44). Condor Comic carried the title in the 1980s and 1990s, and published a series of 47 pocket format books at about 168-196 pages each. It also published a paperback series in a similar format to the Marvel Graphic Novels with 12 issues of 52 pages each. Marvel Deutschland (later Panini Comics Deutschland) publishes "Die Fantastischen Vier". Since 2008 the series is named with its original title "The Fantastic Four". The German names of the characters are Das Ding (The Thing), Die Fackel or Die menschliche Fackel (The Human Torch), Die Unsichtbare (The Invisible One), and Mr. Fantastisch (Mr. Fantastic). Silver Surfer and She-Hulk retained their english names. Some early Williams editions refer to Dr. Doom as "Doktor Unheil". In one Williams publication Dr.Doom is also referred to as "Doktor Untergang". Later they call him by his original US name.
Corno initially published I Fantastici Quattro in Italy (first with Captain Marvel as backup feature, then rotating with other backup features). Star Comics published the title in the 1990s, followed by Marvel Italia. Character names are typically translated as "la Cosa" (Thing), "la Torcia Umana" (Human Torch), "la Donna Invisibile" (Invisible Woman) and "Mister Fantastic". Dr. Doom is "Dottor Destino"; She-Hulk and Silver Surfer keep their English names. Also released in Italy was the series I Fantastici Quattro Gigante, an oversized magazine reprinting in chronological order all the super-team's appearances including the Human Torch solo series from Strange Tales.
There have been four The Fantastic Four animated TV series and three released feature films. The Fantastic Four also guest-starred in the "Secret Wars" story arc of the 1990s Spider-Man animated series, and the Thing guest-starred (with a small cameo from the other Fantastic Four members) in the "Fantastic Fortitude" episode of the 1996 The Incredible Hulk series. The Fantastic Four also appeared in the 2012 series, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
There was a short-lived radio show in 1975 that adapted early Lee/Kirby stories, and is notable for casting a pre-Saturday Night Live Bill Murray as the Human Torch. Also in the cast were Bob Maxwell as Reed Richards, Cynthia Adler as Sue Storm, Jim Pappas as Ben Grimm and Jerry Terheyden as Doctor Doom. Other Marvel characters featured in the series included Ant-Man, Prince Namor, Nick Fury, and the Hulk. Stan Lee narrated the series, and the scripts were taken almost verbatim from the comic books. The radio show was packaged into five-minute segments, with five segments comprising a complete adventure. The team appeared on the Power Records album Fantastic Four: "The Way It Began" book and record set, an audio dramatization of Fantastic Four #126.
The Fantastic Four has been the subject of four animated television series. The first, Fantastic Four, produced by Hanna-Barbera, ran 20 episodes on ABC from September 9, 1967 to March 15, 1970. The second Fantastic Four series, produced by DePatie-Freleng, ran 13 episodes from September 9, 1978, to December 16, 1978; this series features a H.E.R.B.I.E. Unit in place of the Human Torch.
The third Fantastic Four was broadcast as part of the The Marvel Action Hour umbrella, with introductions by Stan Lee. This series ran 26 episodes from September 24, 1994 to February 24, 1996. The fourth series, Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, debuted on September 2, 2006, on Cartoon Network and ran for 26 episodes.
In 1979, the Thing was featured as half of the Saturday morning cartoon Fred and Barney Meet the Thing. The character of the Thing received a radical make-over for the series. The title character for this program was Benji Grimm, a teenage boy who possessed a pair of magic rings which could transform him into the Thing. The other members of the Fantastic Four do not appear in the series, nor do the animated The Flintstones stars Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, despite the title of the program.
Different Fantastic Four members appear briefly and with little or no dialogue and are mentioned various times throughout the first season of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. The most expansive appearances are in the episode "The Private War of Doctor Doom", in which the Avengers team up with the Fantastic Four to battle the titular supervillain, and in the final episode of season two, in which the groups team up to battle Galactus. The Thing becomes a member of the New Avengers in episode 23 of season 2.
The Fantastic Four appear in the Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. episode "Monster No More." The Agents of S.M.A.S.H. assist the Fantastic Four into thwarting the Tribbitite Invasion.
A film adaptation of the characters, The Fantastic Four, was completed in 1994 by producer Roger Corman. The film was not released to theaters or on home video, but it has since been made available through bootleg video distributors. It was made because Constantin Film owned the film rights and would have lost them if it failed to begin production by a certain deadline, a tactic known as creating an ashcan copy. According to producer Bernd Eichinger, Avi Arad had Marvel purchase the film for a few million dollars.
In 2005, the second film adaptation, Fantastic Four directed by Tim Story, was released by 20th Century Fox. Despite mixed reviews from critics, it earned US$155 million in North America and $330 million worldwide. The sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, directed by Story and written by Don Payne, was released in 2007. Despite mixed-to-negative reviews, the sequel earned $132 million in North America and a total of $330.6 million worldwide. Both films feature Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards / Mr. 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 / Dr. Doom. Stan Lee makes cameo appearances as the mailman Willie Lumpkin in the first film and as himself in the second film.
A reboot directed by Josh Trank (also titled Fantastic Four, but stylized as Fant4stic) was released on August 7, 2015. The film stars Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm and Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom. It is based on Ultimate Fantastic Four. It earned poor reviews and box office results.
In 1985, the Fantastic Four starred in Questprobe #3 The Fantastic Four, an adventure game from Adventure International for the Atari 8-bit series. In 1997, the group starred in the Fantastic Four video game. The team appeared in the Spider-Man: The Animated Series video game, based on the 1990s Spider-Man animated series, for the Super NES and Sega Genesis. The Thing and the Human Torch appeared in the 2005 game Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
All of the Fantastic Four appear as playable characters in the game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance with Doctor Doom being the main enemy. The members of the Fantastic Four are also featured in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, although the team is separated over the course of the game.
The Human Torch has an appearance in a mini-game where the player races against him in all versions of Ultimate Spider-Man, except on the Game Boy Advance platform. The Fantastic Four star in tie-in videogames based on the 2005 film Fantastic Four and its sequel. The Fantastic Four are also playable characters in Marvel Heroes and Lego Marvel Super Heroes.
The Fantastic Four starred in their own virtual pinball game Fantastic Four for Pinball FX 2 released by Zen Studios.