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History of the Fantastic Four

History of the Fantastic Four Part Three

John Byrne ushers in a bold new era for the First Family of Marvel

By Jim Beard

On November 23, the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine reaches an historic milestone as FANTASTIC FOUR #600 arrives in stores. In anticipation of this giant-sized issue written by Jonathan Hickman and featuring the artistic talents of Steve Epting, Leinil Yu, Farel Dalrymple and more, we’ll be recapping the full saga of Marvel’s First Family in a special six-part retrospective series.

From their first encounter with Doctor Doom to the heroic sacrifice of The Human Torch as well as all points before, after and in between, we present the History of the Fantastic Four!

Read part two of the History of the Fantastic Four 

FANTASTIC FOUR #201-300: not since the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had 100 issues of been so dominated by a singular creative vision. Nearly three-fourths of the book’s third hundred stories fell under the auspices of Canadian creator John Byrne, early on as artist, but later for a legendary run taking the writing reins as well. He returned the title to its basics, playing with the building blocks set down by Lee and Kirby, and crafting a new structure that’s still being built upon to this day.

It all began as 1978 ended, with writer Marv Wolfman pitting the team against their own headquarters in FANTASTIC FOUR #201. The evil living computer Quasimodo and the Skrulls followed in short order to kick off 1979, but the year really hits its groove with a stunning space saga in FANTASTIC FOUR #208-213. Therein, Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny gained not only a new member, H.E.R.B.I.E., but went in search of Galactus, ducked during the battle between the world devourer and the mighty Sphinx, tangled with Terrax and grew old!

Wolfman ushered in 1980 by saddling The Human Torch with the duty of finding a cure for his aged teammates in FANTASTIC FOUR #214, and then nudging the quartet into a new struggle with Negative Zone baddie Blastaar. It’s during this time that John Byrne’s art on the book really made fans sit up and take notice, especially when H.E.R.B.I.E. went berserk in FANTASTIC FOUR #217. The Frightful Four—and the original logo—returned in FANTASTIC FOUR #218, and then Byrne first took on both scripting and penciling duties in FANTASTIC FOUR #220-221.

1981 presented an odd string of new menaces for the Fantastic Four, as writer Doug Moench throughout FANTASTIC FOUR #226-231 introduced us to the Samurai Destroyer, the Brain Parasites, Ego-Spawn, the Ebon Seeker and Stygorr of the Negative Zone. With FANTASTIC FOUR #232, though, John Byrne began his triumphant writer-artist stint and would stick around for more than 60 issues and roughly five years. His first tale of the year, “Back to Basics!” brought a new scheme of Diablo’s and from there Byrne recognized no limits to what the Fantastic Four might achieve. Quiet tales mingled with bold, operatic sagas; in one issue Doctor Doom might show up, such as in FANTASTIC FOUR #236, or we might head out to pay a call on the Thing’s Aunt Petunia and Uncle Jacob, as in FANTASTIC FOUR #238-239.

Byrne burnt through 1982 with the Inhumans' city of Attilan being relocated to the Moon in FANTASTIC FOUR #240, the return of Terrax in FANTASTIC FOUR #242-243, the transformation of Johnny’s girlfriend Frankie Raye into a herald for Galactus in FANTASTIC FOUR #244, and a big walloping for the team by the alien Gladiator in FANTASTIC FOUR #249.

The creator had no intention of allowing his readers a respite, for in 1983 he began one of his most famous stories, the Negative Zone saga in FANTASTIC FOUR #251-256. When the four returned to Earth, they contended with Annihilus’ subjugation of their Baxter Building and then a deadly skirmish with Doctor Doom in FANTASTIC FOUR #259-260 that left the villain seemingly dead. Sue, Ben and Johnny then watched in horror as the Skrulls put Reed Richards on trial for the devouring of their home world by Galactus—one need only peruse FANTASTIC FOUR #261-262 for all the startling details.

How could 1984 and John Byrne possibly top the previous year for Fantastic Four chills and thrills? How about a Mole Man attack in FANTASTIC FOUR #263-264, the savage She-Hulk joining the team in Ben’s place in FANTASTIC FOUR #265, the horrible loss of Sue’s baby in FANTASTIC FOUR #267, the onslaught of the alien Terminus in FANTASTIC FOUR #269-270 and the introduction of Reed’s father, Nathaniel Richards in FANTASTIC FOUR #272-273? Yeah, we thought that’d catch your attention!

The Thing returned from the planet of the so-called “Secret Wars” in 1985’s FANTASTIC FOUR #276, just in time to witness his girlfriend Alicia fall in love with his best friend Johnny Storm, The Human Torch. Reed and Sue had to deal with none other than Mephisto himself in FANTASTIC FOUR #276-277 and then an innocent little boy brainwashed into believing himself to be Doctor Doom in FANTASTIC FOUR #278-279. The personal tribulations of the team didn’t end there, as Sue Richards faced malicious mind manipulation by a new Hate Monger in FANTASTIC FOUR #280, creating a divergent personality called Malice and leading Sue to change her super heroic codename to the Invisible Woman in FANTASTIC FOUR #284.

Alas, 1987 would see the end of John Byrne’s long tenure on the title, but not before he told a few more titanic tales. The year began with the return of the X-Men’s Phoenix in FANTASTIC FOUR #286, and then Doctor Doom himself came back in FANTASTIC FOUR #287-288 to fight the near-omnipotent Beyonder. Annihilus and Blastaar stirred up more trouble from the Negative Zone in FANTASTIC FOUR #289-290, which in turn kicked off a fantastic time-travel adventure for the team and Nick Fury in FANTASTIC FOUR #291-292.

Byrne began what would be his final story in FANTASTIC FOUR #293, but it fell to the more-than-capable team of writer Roger Stern and artist Jerry Ordway to finish it, in FANTASTIC FOUR #294-295. Stern finished out the year with a double-sized FANTASTIC FOUR #296 and a tale of The Thing going to live with the Mole Man. Hey, we don’t make this stuff up!

1998 brought a scuffle between Ben and She-Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR #299, on the eve of Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters’ wedding in FANTASTIC FOUR #300. How did that work out, you ask? That’s a story for another day…and another article.

Read part four of the History of the Fantastic Four
Check out FANTASTIC FOUR on Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!

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