History of the Fantastic Four
Best Selling Fantastic Four Merchandise
"The Fantastic Four are a group of super heroes who have experienced some of the wildest adventures ever depicted in comic books, but perhaps the root of their appeal is the extent to which they embodied the ideal family, warts and all. Bound together by the strange powers that each acquired while manning an experimental rocket, they are also joined by legal and blood relationships. Reed Richards and Sue Storm were engaged when the series began in 1961 and married a few years later; Johnny Storm is Sue's younger brother. The odd man out is Ben Grimm, ostensibly just a friend of the family, but really the heart and soul of the team.
Reed Richards developed a flexible, elastic body and became Mr. fantastic, but remained a brilliant and aloof scientist, more at home with his work than with people. Sue Storm, transformed into The Invisible Girl (later Woman), maintained the air of middle-class matron. These two rather restrained characters were the symbolic parents of the group, while the adolescent Johnny, an updated version of The Human Torch, functioned as their spoiled son. Ben Grimm, who turned into the hideous but powerful Thing,appeared to be the family's gruff but lovable uncle, one who came from distinctly less privileged background.
In the original synopsis that writer-editor Stan Lee gave artist Jack Kirby, Lee proposed making the Thing into 'the heavy.' Deformed, underprivileged and argumentative, Ben actually became the most lovable group member: honest, direct and free of pretension. He brought humor and pathos to the stories, while his emotional responses and frequent tantrums suggested that he might really be the baby of the household. The others sported spiffy uniforms, he wore a big blue diaper. The perfect balance of this original family unit, with its staid parents, privileged older son and squalling, uninhibited infant, has made The Fantastic Four a uniquely appealing team.
Over the years, the balance of the Fantastic Four has shifted on several occasions. More than one member has walked out in a huff, and even been apparently replaced, but with the passage of time, the status quo has always reasserted itself. The ties of blood and loyalty are as strong for misfits as they are for mortals.
"In creating The Fantastic four and the groundbreaking books that followed it, Lee and Kirby established that the personalities of the heroes, rather than the plots, should be of paramount importance. 'I was really interested in the characters as people,' Kirby says. 'I have a genuine feeling for real people and what I do is recreate them in a fantastic formula.'
'Characterization is the most important thing in any story,' says Lee. 'first I thought of the kind of character I wanted, then I figured out what kind of super power he'd have.' in a field where gimmicks were usually considered to be most important, the approach was revolutionary
The Fantastic Four acquired their amazing powers after their experimental rocket passed through a storm of cosmic rays. For their leader, Lee envisioned 'the worlds greatest scientist, who is also a little bit of a bore. He talks too much, he's too ponderous and he drives the others crazy.' this was Reed Richards, who took the name Mr. Fantastic after he acquired the somewhat absurd ability to stretch his body into any conceivable shape. there had been other "stretch" characters in comic books before-notably Jack Cole's Plastic Man from Quality Comics- and Timely had published a few tales about Flexo the Rubber Man in 1940. Yet the contrast between the flexibility gimmick and the rigid stuffiness of Richards made Mr. fantastic fresh and interesting.
'I thought we also had to have a girl,' continues Lee, 'but with a new twist: she's not just a girlfriend who doesn't know what the hero does.' (In fact, The Fantastic Four didn't bother with secret identities; all the other characters knew about their powers.) Sue Storm, a full fledged member for the team and Richards' fianc?, was able to transform herself into The Invisible Girl (later The Invisible Woman). She also learned to project a force field as a defensive weapon.
The third member of the group was Johnny Storm, Sue's kid brother. He was a teenager, but quite different from the stereotyped worshipful sidekick. Instead, Johnny was a show-off and a bit of a troublemaker; he used his powers to attract attention, and often displayed more interest in girls and fast cars than fighting the forces of evil. "I thought it was a shame that we didn't have The Human Torch anymore," says Lee, "and this was a good chance to bring him back." So Johnny Storm was given the name and the incendiary powers of the fiery hero Carl Burgos had created in 1939 for the original issue of Marvel Comics.
The individual in the group who represented the greatest degree of innovation also became the most popular - with his creators as well as with the fans. The cosmic rays turned Ben Grimm, a tough test pilot, into an ape-shaped, orange-skinned, craggy monster known as The Thing. Ben's tragic plight was dramatized by the occasion when he temporarily reverted to human form, but his belligerent sense of humor was his most endearing trait. "I wanted something really different," says Lee, "and I realized there was no monster, no funny, ugly guy who's a hero. All these characters have powers they like, but when this guy becomes very powerful, he also becomes grotesque. It had a touch of pathos." The Thing, who griped and bickered continuously, became the prototype for a number for Marvel's later heroes who were irritable roughnecks."
MARVEL Five Fabulous Decades Of The World's Greatest Comics, p. 84-86., Fantastic Four Hero Profile. 1991 Marvel Entertainment Group. Published by Harry N. Abrams Inc. Times Mirror.