FIRST APPEARANCE: The Fantastic Four #1 (1961)
The story of the Fantastic Four was spurred into being by the scientific hopes and dreams of a man named Reed Richards. Hoping to demonstrate a spaceship of his own design, Reed was joined by his girlfriend, Susan, her younger brother Johnny and Reed’s best friend and pilot Ben to make an unauthorised test-flight.
However, once the group had left Earth’s atmosphere, their craft was bombarded by strange cosmic rays, that sent them crashing back down to Earth, where they realised they had all been mutated in some way to develop strange and miraculous powers. Reed had gained elasticity, Susan could turn invisible, Johnny could control fire, and Ben had become a grotesque rock monster.
Although the group faced some tension, as Ben blamed Reed for his transformation, the four realised that they had to stick together, as Reed promised he would one day cure his friend of his affliction. Until that day, the group decided that they would use their powers for the good of mankind; not as superheroes, necessarily, but as explorers and inventors. Their adventures have taken them across the galaxy and into different dimensions, as they strive to be at the forefront of every scientific discovery. Renowned on Earth as the ‘First Family’ of superheroes, the group truly did cement their family status when Reed and Susan got married, and later had two children, who showed that they too shared the Fantastic Four’s marvelous potential for good.
The leader of the Fantastic Four is Reed Richards, better known as Mister Fantastic. From the cosmic rays that granted them their powers, Reed gained the ability to stretch his body in strange and fantastical ways. His elasticity grants him greater durability than the ordinary human being, but in truth, his greatest asset is his mind. While his powers allow him to be more than capable in a fight, many of Reed’s contributions to the super-hero community come from his wealth of great inventions and scientific prowess.
Reed’s girlfriend, and later, his wife, Susan Storm, is essentially the grounding element in the team. Known as the Invisible Woman, Susan is arguably the most powerful of the four. Her most obvious ability is that she can turn herself and others invisible, but alongside that, she can also create and manipulate force-fields, which in essence grant her a form of telekinesis. But like Reed’s great mind, it’s Susan’s heart that is her most important contribution, as she has cemented the Fantastic Four as a family unit, and often keeps the group from squabbling amongst themselves.
Susan’s younger brother, Johnny Storm, is perhaps the second most powerful member of the team. Able to spontaneously combust, Johnny can use his fiery powers as the Human Torch to fly and manipulate fire and heat energy. At times, Johnny can be reckless, but his recklessness often demonstrates his passion for his new family. As such, he is also beloved by other members of the super-human community, and is one of the best friends of the spectacular Spider-Man. However, his recklessness and childish behaviour often leads him into squabbling with the final core member of the team…
Reed Richards’ best friend, Benjamin Grimm is the only member of the Fantastic Four not directly related to the others. However, despite that, the man known as The Thing is in some ways the soul of the team. Alongside this, he is also one of the strongest super-heroes in the world; able to go toe-to-toe with other heroes like the Incredible Hulk. But aside from being the strongest, Ben’s is also the saddest power-set, as his monstrous rocky hide has lead him to be shunned and feared by many (except his blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters), and his new physiology means that, while in his rocky form, he does not age, and thus will outlive the other members of his family.
Other members that really cement the Fantastic Four as a family are Reed and Susan’s children, Franklin & Valeria Richards. Due to their parents cosmic-imbued powers, the two children are miraculous in their own right. Franklin is one of the most powerful mutants alive, able to manipulate reality itself, alongside psionic powers that gift him telepathy and telekinesis. Conversely, Valeria has yet to demonstrate any powers, but follows after her father, in that, even as a child, she is one of the smartest people on the planet – smarter, even, than her dad.
The archenemy of Mister Fantastic and subsequently the Fantastic Four, Victor Von Doom is one of the most dangerous men to ever walk the Earth. A self-made man, the villain known as Doctor Doom is a genius, and as a result, has long served as Reed’s rival from when they attended the same university. On top of his nigh-unmatched scientific potential, Doom is also a highly capable sorcerer. Between his mind and his magic, Doom was able to ascend to the throne of his home country of Latveria, becoming its dictator and using its resources to further his designs on the planet. However, for all his power, Doom’s scarred visage leaves him unwilling to remove his metal mask and power-armour for anyone to see him, and his obsession with Reed will often lead to his downfall.
The oldest being in the universe, Galan of the planet Taa survived the death of his own universe, and in the ensuing crunch and big bang, was reborn as Galactus, the devourer of worlds. Immeasurably powerful, Galactus is a force of nature that operates on a cosmic scale, travelling from planet to planet to absorb their life force and nourish himself. To help him achieve this goal, he occasionally deploys ‘heralds’, beings taken from various planets, who have agreed to help him sustain himself. The most prominent of these is Norrin Radd, also known as the Silver Surfer, who offered his service to Galactus to save his own planet from the devourer’s wrath.
Annihilus is a bug-like alien from a pocket dimension called the Negative Zone – a dying antimatter dimension discovered by Reed Richards. Wielding an item known as the Cosmic Control Rod, Annihilus has managed to subjugate the remaining inhabitants of the N-Zone, although his desires lay elsewhere, as his true hatred for other living beings often drives him to escape into more populated universes. In recent years, Annihilus became a far greater threat, as he did just that, and his armies broke through into the Galaxy, wiping out several populated planets in the process. His invasion, and the events that followed, destabalised the entire galaxy, and plunged the majority of space-faring races into war. These attacks were the opening acts that led to the modern day Guardian of the Galaxy‘s creation.
Although the Fantastic Four do often work to protect the Earth from threats like Doom, Galactus and Annihilus, their adventures also often lead them to other planets and galaxies. As such, one of their recurring antagonists are a race of shape-shifters called the Skrulls, who often have designs on Earth, as they believe that the planet is their sacred right. The constant meddling by the Fantastic Four has led to them constantly trying to better themselves, using their advanced sciences to gift their warriors with the powers of various Earth heroes to create Super-Skrulls. The first, and most well known, Kl’rt, battled the Fantastic Four on many occasions, and his creation would later inspire the birth of an army of Super-Skrulls, who used their shape-shifting to infiltrate Earth’s population and attempt a ‘Secret Invasion’.
CURRENTLY APPEARS IN: Marvel Team-Up