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History of the Fantastic Four

History of the Fantastic Four Part Four

Team members come as an impressive assemblage of creators lead the FF into the 90s

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 three of the History of the Fantastic Four

As the 1980’s came to a close and 90’s dawned, the Fantastic Four saw more than their fair share of change. FANTASTIC FOUR #301-340 represents a time in the title’s history that witnessed not only wild membership fluctuations, but also long periods of popular creative teams. Between the two, FF fans could never say that their favorite book approached anything resembling boring, as Ben Grimm became team leader, Reed traded off between disappearing and dying, Sue wrestled with new costumes and bad attitudes, and Johnny married a Skrull.

Writer Roger Stern and artist John Buscema finished up their short but enjoyable run with 1987’s FANTASTIC FOUR #302, making way for a stunning Thing time-travel tale by classic FF writer Roy Thomas in FANTASTIC FOUR #303. Then, writer Steve Englehart kicked off a long sojourn on the book by allowing Ben Grimm to take charge of the team in FANTASTIC FOUR #304. Englehart’s run also proved noteworthy with the inclusion of Crystal the Inhuman and Sharon Ventura, the second Ms. Marvel, in FANTASTIC FOUR #306. Reed and Sue went off on their own to wrap up the year, but Englehart had only just begun his own brand of FF fun.

FANTASTIC FOUR #310 saw monstrous changes for Sharon, from gorgeous gal to a She-Thing, and eventually into Ben’s girlfriend. A battle against Master Pandemonium beginning in FANTASTIC FOUR #315 set the new Fantastic Four on edge early, but it took a titanic twosome of tussles between The Thing and The Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR #320 and Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR #321 to bring 1988 to a fitting close.

An “Inferno” crossover with the Marvel Universe in FANTASTIC FOUR #322-324, ushered in 1989 and Englehart’s swan song on the book, one he wrapped up with a tale of The Silver Surfer, Kang and the willowy Mantis in FANTASTIC FOUR #325. Writer John Harkness took over the reins and brought back Reed and Sue in FANTASTIC FOUR #326, then ended the year with a multi-part “dream” epic in FANTASTIC FOUR #330-333. Then came a gent named Walt Simonson, and nothing would be the same ever again.

After a three-part “Acts of Vengeance” crossover, Simonson crafted one of the wildest Fantastic Four yarns ever, spread out over 1990’s FANTASTIC FOUR #337-346. When the dust cleared, readers witnessed the team’s time-sled Rosebud II, the might of the Black Celestial, the schemes of Nebula, a visit from Galactus and a screwed-up alternate timeline that plopped our heroes into the Mesozoic Age with a handful of U.S. soldiers for back-up. 1991 proved to be no more of a picnic for Reed, Sue, Johhny and Ben as Simonson, now writing and drawing, “killed” the team in FANTASTIC FOUR #347 and replaced them with the ersatz assemblage of Spider-Man, The Hulk, Ghost Rider and Wolverine over the next two issues. How could Simonson finish out 1991, you say? By putting the team on trial with a mind-boggling council that regulates time itself in FANTASTIC FOUR #353-354, that’s how.

Then came the undeniably prolific team of writer Tom DeFalco and artist Paul Ryan, who together nearly rivaled Lee and Kirby and John Byrne for a lengthy FANTASTIC FOUR stay. The creative duo would go on to produce over 50 FF epics, beginning with FANTASTIC FOUR #356 and a visit from the New Warriors.

FANTASTIC FOUR #357 introduced a female Skrull named Lyja, or, rather, informed readers that the Alicia Master poor Johnny Storm thought he’d married turned out to be one of the alien shape-shifters—and a pretty one, to boot. DeFalco and Ryan rolled out the team’s 30th anniversary in FANTASTIC FOUR #358 with a struggle against both The Puppet Master and The Super-Skrull, then ended 1991 with an appearance by a new Skrull menace, Devos the Devastator, in FANTASTIC FOUR #359.

Little Franklin Richards and his dampened mutant powers would come under increasing focus in the title, as seen in 1992’s FANTASTIC FOUR #363-365. The so-called “Infinity War” against Warlock and the Infinity Gems took center stage throughout FANTASTIC FOUR #366-370, which led to Sue’s unfortunate dealings with her dark Malice self and the introduction of an edgier attitude for the long-time heroine. DeFalco and Ryan brought Lyja back in FANTASTIC FOUR #371 to bedevil the Torch and lead everyone into the New Year.

Johnny Storm used his ultra-powerful “nova” ability and burned down his university, for which he found himself arrested in FANTASTIC FOUR #372. He soon escaped, but unfortunately the “new” FF of Spider-Man, Hulk, Ghost Rider and Wolverine came after him and the team in FANTASTIC FOUR #374, the culmination of which saw Wolverine and Ben locked in combat and The Thing hideously scarred by the mutant’s claws. Ben took to wearing a mask to hide his increased ugliness, while at the same time Doctor Doom busted out a new set of armor in FANTASTIC FOUR #375.

Franklin “grew up” in 1993’s FANTASTIC FOUR #376 and eventually fell under the control of Sue’s Malice persona. Doom, in a final act of vengeance, blew himself and Reed Richards up in FANTASTIC FOUR #381, and the team muddled on for many subsequent stories without their leader. The Invisible Woman shouldered much of the burden after her husband’s demise and stayed strong through Lyja’s pregnancy in FANTASTIC FOUR #3386, an appearance by Galactus in FANTASTIC FOUR #390-391, Ben’s payback to Wolverine in FANTASTIC FOUR #395 and the saga that brought the team to a landmark issue.

1995 saw Aron the Rogue Watcher cause a multitude of troubles throughout FANTASTIC FOUR #396-399, which caught up many players in its grasp, including Uatu the Watcher and Doctor Doom’s successor Kristoff, and came to an explosive conclusion as the Watcher warred against the Celestials in FANTASTIC FOUR #400.

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

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