By Nick Authenrieth
The Fantastic Four are quite possibly the most renowned superhero squad of all time. Sure, other teams flirt with such fame, but at the end of the day, the Fantastic Four run the show. Given incredible powers and transformed by their run-in with cosmic rays while in space, the Fantastic Four are a force to be reckoned with. We're all familiar with at least one of their members. The super-genius Reed Richards, otherwise known as pliable Mr. Fantastic, his wife Sue Richards, the aptly named Invisible Woman, her brother Johnny Storm, the flying ball of flame known as the Human Torch and the super strong, orange-skinned ever-lovin' Thing have enthralled audiences for years with their heroic deeds, cosmic travel and uncanny knack for saving the world.
Their rivalries with enemies of all shapes, sizes and motives such as Dr. Doom, Mole Man and Galactus have provided some of the most epic battles and storylines in the Marvel Universe. And each time it looks as if these bad-to-the-bone people will win, the Fantastic Four find a way to put an end to their tyranny.
Outside the pages of Marvel Comics, the Fantastic Four have been featured in their own television series, movies, video games and toy lines. And once again, fans and newcomers the world over will be able to enjoy the Fantastic Four's return to the silver screen with the release of The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer on June 15.
But forget what you thought you knew to be the Fantastic Four. As any comic buff will tell you, the Fantastic Four's lineup has not been as static as you may remember. They aren't quite the Van Halen of the comic book world (though Reed Richards can probably rock harder than Sammy Hagar), but they have been through their fair share of changes.
Like any sports team, you need solid players on your bench. Luckily, Marvel has quite a pool of heroes who've been more than willing to fill in for missing members and step it up in the name of an end to the scourge that is villainy.
For various reasons, from the original Secret Wars to Reed and Sue's desire for a normal life, the FF's original members have been forced to play musical chairs. However, the only time every original member was replaced was when the squad went by the name the New Fantastic Four. In Fantastic Four issues #347-#349, the founding members were thought dead after a run-in with a rather nasty bunch of monsters unleashed by a vigilante Skrull. Four new heroes, including Spider-Man, Hulk (as Joe Fixit), Ghost Rider (Daniel Ketch) and Wolverine were tricked by the same Skrull to become the New Fantastic Four and "right" these wrongs.
While Spider-Man had initially wanted to become a member of the Fantastic Four back in 1962, he turned down the gig when he found it didn't pay. And when he finally joined the rainks, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. Much like any group, personalities clashed. Wolverine and Hulk, who have gone toe to toe numerous times, just couldn't seem to get along. And Ghost Rider's quest for vengeance doesn't exactly lend itself to camaraderie. Luckily for the temporary team, it never came to blows and their run only lasted three issues.
In 1993, during a precursor to the Secret Defenders series, Dr. Strange briefly got the New Fantastic Four back together in Fantastic Four #374-#375 to arrest Johnny Storm after he went nova and blew up half of New York University. Finally, the New Fantastic Four reappeared in 2000's Wolverine #148 during the "Age of Apocalypse" storyarc, in which they fought enemies such as Annihilus, while donning the classic blue "4" suits. Some looks never go out of style.
Scott Lang, the second person to be known as Ant-Man, was inducted into the group first as an electronics expert and then as an official member in Fantastic Four #385 when the group thought Mr. Fantastic had died. Unfortunately for Lang, Richards made his way back to the team, making Ant-Man's presence rather academic. If he'd stayed with the FF, perhaps he wouldn't have been killed during "Avengers Disassembled." Poor Scott.
The Inhuman queen Medusa, the warrior woman with the ability to control her hair (somebody give Phil Spector her number), took over for the Invisible Woman through part of the 1970s in Fantastic Four #132-159 while Sue looked after her omega level mutant son Franklin. Interestingly, in 1968, Medusa's sister Crystal had a stint with the Fantastic Four, beginning in Fantastic Four #81 when Susan Storm left after giving birth to Franklin. Both Crystal and Sharon Ventura, the superheroine sometimes known as Ms. Marvel joined Thing and the Human Torch as FF members after Mr. Fantastic left to be with his wife in Fantastic Four #306.
The funny thing about this particular lineup was the fact that it was essentially a double date. Johnny Storm dated Crystal for a time, while Thing dated Ms. Marvel. Ms. Marvel later came to be known as She-Thing due to her eventual transformation into a creature much like Ben Grimm after being exposed to similar cosmic rays. Of course, Dr. Doom got involved and offered to cure her in return for her destruction of the Fantastic Four. Typical Victor.
As he is wont to do, the Thing lost his powers for some time during the '70s. While he was working on a solution to Ben's problem in the form of a giant exoskeleton, Mr. Fantastic hired Harlem's finest mercenary-for-hire Luke Cage, then known as Power Man, to serve as Thing's replacement. His tenure lasted from Fantastic Four #168-#170.
Going into Secret Wars, Ben Grimm was having issues dealing with his human and Thing forms. Believing Battleworld allowed him to change back and forth at will, he stayed on the alien planet to forge a new life. Thing actually stayed on Battleworld for quite a while, and during his absence the Jade Giantess, She-Hulk, was brought on board. These things happen.
Possibly the most ill-received move in the Fantastic Four's history came out of NBC's 1978 animated series. The Human Torch was completely replaced by H.E.R.B.I.E., Reed Richards' assistant robot. Fans are still angry to this day. H.E.R.B.I.E. was initially conceived for television and then written into the comic continuity afterwards. Some rumors persisted that NBC demanded the Human Torch be excluded from the group so young viewers wouldn't set themselves on fire. Kids will do any number of stupid things, but self-immolation is probably low on the list. Interestingly enough, around that time, it's rumored that Human Torch was possibly set to star in his own movie which was never made.
Most recently, however, CIVIL WAR, which has touched nearly every facet of the Marvel universe, has greatly affected the Fantastic Four. Tired from the constant infighting and in need of a romantic vacation, Reed and Sue Richards left the squad in FANTASTIC FOUR #544 and were replaced by another Marvel power couple: the recently married heroes Storm (of the X-Men) and the Wakandan emperor Black Panther, who are no strangers when it comes to combating the forces of evil.
Various other members have come close to gaining membership in the Fantastic Four but have fallen short of this lofty goal. Some of these include Lyja, the shape-shifting Skrull who attempted to infiltrate the Fantastic Four, Frankie Raye, the second superhero to go by the name Nova (basically a female Human-Torch/Silver Surfer hybrid!) and Wyatt Wingfoot, one of the Fantastic Four's closest allies and member of the Keewazi tribe of Native Americans.
The Fantastic Four have been around for 45 years and with that much history, comes plenty of ups and downs. Lineup changes and Civil Wars won't be enough to stop the group from eventually coming back to their roots. The first family of comics has had their moments of dysfunction or times when they're missing a member, much like everyone's family. This is what makes them all the more endearing to their readers. Granted, when someone's parent leaves on business, they're usually not immediately replaced by the emperor of Africa's most advanced nation. But then they wouldn't be quite that fantastic, would they?
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