Welcome to the Revival of the First Family of Comics
August 8, 1961 was the birthday of a singular creation. Born of the fertile imaginations of one Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, a team of legendary adventurers went into print locking their place in history as one of the first and most legendary new super-teams in comics, the Fantastic Four.
For the detail-oriented among us, the first newest superhero team which had no origins in previous comics eras goes to the Legion of Superheroes circa 1958, but this is not their article.
The Fantastic Four was a unique creation because its members had never been seen before. And unlike many teams, they were family members bound together by unbreakable bonds of filial love, duty and fidelity. But like most families it was fragile, often brittle, its members angry with one another at the oddest times.
It’s members, the absent-minded by brilliant Reed Richards, whose peerless intellect would guide these adventurers on a journey which would kindle their magnificent abilities and transform the future of the Earth, though they did not know this yet. Richards would become one of the singular thinkers, creators, inventors and adventurers of this new period in the Marvel Universe. He would lead his team toward the new and the fantastic. He became Mr. Fantastic. (Yes, yes, he could have become Dr. Fantastic but I believe the idea was he still considered himself a normal man, despite of his amazing abilities.)
Susan Storm, a strategic thinker, a tactical coordinator, a leader in her own right, started off in this quartet as a wallflower, invisible almost forgotten except for the devotion shown to her by Reed Richards. She would be transformed by their accident into the heart of this foursome, a fierce protector, a devastating defender and frankly the mightiest member of this super-team, at least until her son Franklin Richards is born. She would become the Invisible Woman.
Johnny Storm, hot-headed, adventuresome, handsome beyond measure, irresponsible beyond belief, was always in trouble with someone, somewhere and eagerly hoping the way out required a feat of daring of one sort or another. A ladies-man, he would have romantic relationships with a number of superheroic luminaries including the Inhuman Crystal, a member of the royal family of Attilan, future herald of Galactus, Frankie Raye, the Inhuman Medusa (simply scandalous) and Rogue of X-men fame. A wild child, he is transformed from a hothead, into a being of fiery plasma. A power which required, for the first time in his life, to exercise caution, lest he be more destructive than the foes they fight against. He became the Human Torch.
The bedrock of this foursome, was the winsome, craggy, benevolent Benjamin Grimm. Though he hid his soft heart under a gruff exterior, his transformation by the accident which changed them all, recreated him as he truly was, a giant whose strength was unmatched, his gentle nature expanded, and his ability to defend those he loved was now equal to his desire to do so. Ben Grimm became, in his mind, a hideous Thing, but like most heroes of the early Marvel Era, he was so much more than he appeared.
What made them the First Family was their love for each other. Their ability to accept each other with their flaws, Reed’s short temper, Susan’s secret desire for greater autonomy, Johnny’s complete abdication of anything resembling responsibility and Ben’s grim and brooding nature. These were played on like musical notes which individually had no meaning but collectively became a symphony which for over 650 issues had few equals.
The Fantastic Four became the heart of the Marvel Universe. They would travel to the ends of the Universe, battle cosmic beings beyond comprehension, save the Earth, easily once a year, and fight about whose turn it was to wash dishes or wax the Fantasticar at least once an issue.
Ben lifted equipment Reed needed to study. Susan would protect Ben when Reed’s equipment would unexpectedly (but often expectedly) run wild and Johnny would give Ben a hotfoot or light his cigar, depending on his mood.
No matter how far they went, no matter how long they were apart, they were always family. When the family grew, their challenges did as well. Franklin Richards was born a mutant, likely affected by the same radiations which created his parents.
He would become one of the most powerful mutants the world had ever seen at the tender age of six. The stories told about him, defy imagination and in some cases, he is believed to have created an entire Universe, somewhere, at least twice.
Reed would try and block his powers because Franklin’s ability was reality-alteration. Star Trek fans, can you remember Charlie-X? Whatever he wanted, happened. Even if he thought about it in passing. What a terrifying power in the hands of a six year old.
They would have another child and while her powers didn’t appear to manifest as visibly as Franklin’s her mind was potentially even greater than her father’s. Valeria Richards was the heir apparent to the Richard’s legacy in a way Franklin never would be. Valeria even forged a strange friendship with the Four’s most dangerous enemy, Victor Von Doom.
Doom, in his way was also a member of the First Family. He was their greatest adversary. A threat so great he would imperil the world again and again, sometimes for little more than the ability to lay intellectual claim to being the most intelligent being on the planet, a title he disputed belonged in the hands of his rival, Reed Richards.
Monarch of Latveria, Doom ruled with an iron fist, a strange, not always benevolent ruler, the people of Latveria wanted nothing to hear Doom tell it. But strangely enough, we rarely got to see just how well the Latverians were doing because of his leadership. Over time, we come to understand Doom. He is a complex man, a man whose past has haunted him. Not just because of his facial scarring which he mistakenly blames Richards for, but because he was driven to his madness seeking a unattainable perfection.
Doom, a master of technology built his atomic Doom armor, created his army of Doombots and a host of other technologies including a functioning time machine. Not to be outdone, Doom would also master magic and become an incredible sorcerer of no mean talent. Even the Sorcerer Supreme would eventually recognize him.
The adventures of the First Family would reverberate through the Marvel Universe, establishing friendships with the Avengers, Spider-Man, the X-Men and pretty much any other super-team who would come to recognize the foursome’s unique pedigree as the consummate adventurers, well-traveled, experienced, wise and supremely intelligent, it was the rare time, this team gave you bad advice.
And such was the team’s adventures as they discovered the Mole Man and the hidden world of the Moloids. Richards would discover Pym Particles independently of Doctor Henry Pym, would open the door to the Negative Zone, a Marvel Universe-adjacent reality where the laws of physics were radically different.
They would discover the hidden Kingdom of Wakanda and the even more hidden world of the Inhumans. They would even repel the previously unstoppable scourge, the immeasurable might of the world devourer, Galactus. (With a little help from the Watcher – who deemed their plucky courage in the face of Galactus, a defining feature of our species, so he helps out, just a tiny bit.)
As the Fantastic Four grew and evolved, it would swap out members, gaining new team-mates with different agendas, but remaining true to the adventurous heart of the team. Such members included Namorita, Jennifer Walters, the fabulous She-Hulk, Crystal of the Inhumans, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, the Black Panther, King of Wakanda, Ororo Monroe, the mutant powerhouse called Storm, the Hero of Harlem, Luke Cage, the second Human Torch, and former herald of Galactus, Frankie Raye and the queen of the Inhumans, the Lady Medusa.
The cast of characters included some of the legends of the Marvel Universe, Agatha Harkness, Alicia Masters, Doctor Doom, the Silver Surfer, Thundra, Lyja, the Inhumans, Roberta (their robotic aide of the Baxter Building) the mighty aquatic mutant lord of the oceans, the Submariner, Wyatt Wingfoot and always gazing down from on high, in the Blue Spot on the Moon, Uatu, the Watcher.
The Fantastic Four went away for a time. At the end of the second Secret War against the Beyonders, the Fantastic Four were there to bring down God-Doom and rebuild the Universe anew with the help of the Molecule Man, Franklin and Valeria. Various other fates awaited our heroes, Johnny and Ben who returning to Earth without Reed and Susan, didn’t cope well. Ben spent some time in space and for a time, Johnny was dead (seriously he was presumed dead at the end of Fantastic Four #587. And then he wasn’t. Then he inherits the wealth of Reed and Susan and dies again, and is again revived by the Grandmaster in Avengers #689 This is comics, don’t ask why.
Suffice it to say, when the First Family left publication, there were heavy hearts all over the comic-reading world. We won’t discuss the politics, or why we think this happened, but we are happy to announce, the Fantastic Four, the legends of the Marvel Universe, its greatest heroes, and greatest super-family are back in print.
Fantastic Four #1 was released on the same day as its first volume, August 8, 2018.
It recounts pretty much everything I just did in a highly compressed format, showing Ben and Johnny still coming to grips with the loss of Reed and Susan. The two men are struggling to get on with their lives, one as the heir to the Richard’s fortune and responsibilities, the other seeking a deeper relationship with his long-time girlfriend and extremely talented sculptor the famed Alicia Masters.
While Ben has accepted the demise of his team-mates, Johnny has not. And nothing is going to change that. Nothing at all.
Except that Reed Richards is Mister Fantastic. The Fantastic Four are about symbols. Their allegorical relationship to the four elements, their family dynamics, their understanding of change and even their development as the Future Foundation all hinged on the Fantastic Four as symbols of change, rebirth and renewal.
The writing team has gone back those roots with symbolic representations of the team, what they stood for and what they meant to people. These people were standing in for the readers who felt abandoned and hoped the First Family could return to their halcyon days of adventure, a bit older, wiser, and yet still eager for the wonder of the unknown.
This first issue has three stories in it. A throwback to the old days of comics when there was a lead story, a backup and maybe something strange as a chaser.
“Signal in the Sky” by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelle appears to be the main story retelling a bit of history and a taste of things to come. Sara Pichella and Elisabetta D’Amico are responsible for the art credits and Marte Gracia does the colors.
“Our Day of Doom and Victory” by Dan Slott and Skottie Young reveal to us the return of Doom to Latveria. Gone is his Infamous Iron Man armor as we learn of his fall in the last issue of Iron Man.
Victor has returned to being hideously scarred and Latveria is in need of his leadership again. Gone is the post-Secret War Doom who seemed to be more reasonable and embracing his new heroism. Doom has taken on his old face with new vigor. The art credits go to Simone Bianchi and Marco Russo.
“What the Pop?!” By Dan Slott and Skottie Young recounts a new one-pager with the Impossible Man, a friendly but annoying ally of the Fantastic Four.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see where they end up. I want them to visit all their old stomping grounds before they head out into something completely new. Maybe thrash Blastarr and Annihilus just for kicks and maybe even a team up with America Chavez and the Ultimates, who for a time became finders of new places in need of heroes…
Welcome back, Family. We missed you.
Hey villains: It’s Clobbering Time!
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.