Today Marvel Comics first family returns in Fantastic Four #1 – written by former Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and Ultimate Spider-Man artist Sarah Pichelli. The Fantastic Four hasn’t been a team since 2015’s Secret Wars. In that story, the team disbanded with Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm joining the ranks of the Inhumans/Guardians of the Galaxy while Reed and Sue Richards took their children along on their mission to rebuild the multiverse. Among Marvel Comics’ earliest superheroes, the legendary family has had years of iconic stories; however, over the last decade, the title has suffered instability in sales and readership. Some industry members attribute the FF woes to the lukewarm relationship between 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios.
Now that the team is reuniting as part of Marvel’s Fresh Start initiative, let’s celebrate this new chapter of the iconic super team with four pivotal story-lines that’ll either teach you what you need to know or get you really excited for the upcoming book in stores today. IT’S CLOBBERIN’ (or at least spotlightin’) TIME!
1. The Galactus Trilogy (Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #48-50)
The origin of this pivotal Fantastic Four story supposedly began during a brainstorming session between writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby when Kirby asked “ What if the Fantastic Four met God?”. Regardless if that story is true or who gets the credit for what, the three story arc set the standard for modern epic storytelling in comic books and became the essential Fantastic Four story. When Mr. Fantastic is warned by the all knowing Watcher about the arrival of the Silver Surfer and what it symbolizes, the Fantastic Four gathers all of Earth’s heroes to watch his master Galactus arrive and declare his intent to consume the planet and its energies. While Earth’s forces fail to derail his construction of the machines necessary to do such a thing, the Four discover a device that can could stop him: The Ultimate Nullifier. A confrontation between Mr. Fantastic and the omnipotent Galactus occurs and a truce is agreed upon although the entire situation would have repercussions for the Fantastic Four and other individuals involved for years to come. The Galactus Trilogy introduced or elaborated on characters who would become major influences in the Fantastic Four history and dozens of other noteworthy stories would continue, elaborate, or be inspired by this legendary story.
2. Hereafter (Fantastic Four Issue #509-513)
Writer Mark Waid and artist Mike Wieringo followed up their memorable story-line “Unthinkable” with this story of the Four in shambles after their latest battle with Doctor Doom has left them branded as terrorists, estranged from each other and grieving the death of their teammate Ben Grimm. Despite his scarred face and fall from grace, Reed Richards contacts Johnny and Sue with a crazy idea how to get Ben back. He hooks up Ben’s body which apparently still contains a glimmer of his consciousness to a machine and is able to track what remains of his soul to a new dimension. While they dance around the idea that this new dimension is “heaven”, the moment they arrive the Three are attacked by angels who warn them they shouldn’t be here and as they search for Ben, they face all sorts of obstacles that threaten or tempt to derail their mission. Along the way, the three characters address their feelings about each other and a lot of truth and pain is acknowledged. When they find Ben who initially doesn’t want to be saved but simply left to eternity, witnessing the mess his family is without him changes Ben’s mind as he realizes how much he truly misses them. Although all of this is one hell of a story, the real monumental moment is the Fantastic Four reaching the end of the realm where they meet their creator who looks like none other than Jack Kirby himself. Sitting in a relaxed studio, he discusses the mysteries of the universe, takes a call from Stan Lee, and with the help of his magical pencil he fixes Reed’s face and returns Ben to his original rocky demeanor. This story serves both as a conclusion and a soft reboot of the characters which was handled better than other noteworthy reboots at Marvel but honestly showed the famous family at their lowest point and how they overcame it together. Despite their powers, they can’t escape the feelings of anger, loss, regret, denial, sadness, and happiness that make them and more or less us human in the first place.
3. Wolf at the Door ( Marvel Knights Issue #1-7)
Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa had the daunting challenge of following up Mark Waid’s memorable run of the Fantastic Four and with artist Steve McNiven, he stepped up to the challenge with a story unlike any at that point. After the Fantastic Four celebrate Franklin Richards birthday, they are notified by their accountant that they are currently broke due to the United States cutting funding for scientific research, a rocky market and an embezzling money manager. Without the protection of the government, the City of New York issues an ultimatum that the Four must pay for the damaged inflicted on the city or turn over the Baxter Building and all its assets. Broke and now homeless, The Four manage to afford a cheap apartment and attempt to hold down regular jobs while Reed tries and fails to figure out a way out of their current situation. As the transition has mixed results with each member, the famous family do their best to make the best of their situation and that’s what makes this story one of the best and most accessible stories. We’re so used to seeing them battling foes in other dimensions or outer space that we forget that they are still human beings. They still have to pay bills, deal with relationship woes, handle rejection or struggle through hard times just like the rest of us. They can fight Doctor Doom, the Mole Man, or Annihilus to a standstill but they can’t pummel bankruptcy or taxes into submission. It’s nice seeing the Richard family give an attempt at normality with a camping trip in New Jersey although we know that something will and does go awry. Although the Fantastic Four would eventually bounce back from this rough patch, this story remains as one of their best and most grounded stories.
- Three ( Fantastic Four Issue 583-588)
Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four became one of the best-selling runs that the title had seen in years and Three stands as one of his most epic and most devastating story-lines. Hickman and artist Steve Epting tell an epic story with a grand scale of characters that even Jack Kirby would have appreciated. Old enemies like Doctor Doom, Galactus, and the Yancy Street Gang emerge to cause trouble along with new enemies from other dimensions who want to conquer or destroy Earth. Reed and Sue get caught in the middle of an Atlantean war. Ben Grimm reverts back to his original form and rediscovers what it means to be Ben and not the Thing. Dealing with all of this chaos causes the Four to split up to deal with each catastrophe and in the end, they suffer a defeat that would take years to recover from. Ben and Johnny face the forces of Annihilus and the Negative Zone and in order to prevent the ravenous hordes from getting to Earth, Johnny sacrifices himself so his friends can escape. His heroic loss was devastating to his family and the Marvel Universe at whole. Although his death would be clarified years later, his loss ushered a new chapter in the Fantastic Four. The Four asked Spider-Man to join their organization as Johnny’s replacement and the group changed their name to the Future Foundation out of respect. Hickman juggled old characters with new characters and pushed this classic family to new and yet tragic lengths while making everything clear and accessible. Some of our best stories unfortunately come from loss and how we comprehend them and what changes they make to our lives moving forward
So that’s just four of the Fantastic Four stories but there are hundreds of issues and dozens of trade paperbacks to choose from characters who’ve been exploring the unknown since 1961. They’ve been through ups and downs, together or at each other’s throats but at the end of the day, they find their strength individually pales to their power as a group or more importantly, a family. I’m excited to see where this new chapter in the Fantastic Four’s lives takes them and I hope you enjoy these stories and find your favorite Fantastic Four stories in the process.
Also enjoy this panel from Hereafter where “God” gets a call from his “collaborator”. Three guesses who it is.