Comics

Over 50 Years of Fantastic Four Firsts

To celebrate Fantastic Four #1, Walt Hickey gives an infographic look at the history of the team!

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In their souls, the Fantastic Four aren’t just Super Heroes; they’re explorers, adventurers, and scientific pioneers. If there’s an edge of the Marvel Universe, it’s Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben who have been pushing it further and further. They’re the glue that brought the world of Marvel together in the Silver Age and they’re the family that holds it together still.

It’s been over two and a half years since the First Family of Marvel was together as a team, but today, in Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli’s FANTASTIC FOUR #1, the World's Greatest Comic Magazine is back. After several years working on solo projectsincluding (but not limited to) dating Medusa, palling around with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and reconstructing the very fabric of the multiverseBen Grimm, Johnny Storm, Reed Richards, and Sue Storm are set to have one of the most eagerly awaited family reunions in comics. I wanted to zero in on why this homecoming is so momentous, so I pulled every Fantastic Four comic ever and found just how much of the Marvel Universe we have the Four to thank for giving us.

Try this on for size: there are only about 550 characters and teams that have appeared in at least 100 Marvel Comics. Forty-five of those top-tier characters were introduced in a Fantastic Four book; that means we have the FF to thank for over eight percent of Marvel's most enduring characters.

Fantastic Four Infographic

No other group or explorer or batch of characters did more to single-handedly expand the frontier of Marvel. They were the welcome wagon for dozens of races and species, some of whom fundamentally altered the path of the universe. They were the first responders to myriad threats and villains, and they were the family that held the whole world together in its darkest hours, and they disappeared from the narrative for years to stitch it all back together.

And now they’ve returned. To welcome them home, here are the places, people and characters of Marvel that wouldn’t exist if not for the Fantastic Four.

The Four are responsible for a massive chunk of the Marvel Universe. Their books introduced hundreds of characters, dozens of heavy hitters, and over 15 entities that would at some point hit the level of importance that commanded their own line of solo books. Of the 100 characters who appear most frequently in Marvel Comics, 13 were introduced through the Fantastic Four.

Conservatively, something like five percent of all characters in the main Marvel Universe came into being through the Four. Without characters like Galactus or Black Panther or Adam Warlock or Medusa or Black Bolt, the Marvel Universe is essentially unrecognizable. That’s not even mentioning one of the greatest villains of all timeor, for our many Latverian readers, the greatest hero of all timeDoctor Doom. Real-world people like Stan Lee and Ronald Reagan made their way into the comics through the FF.

The Fantastic Four also brought heroes that had previously only appeared in the Golden Age into the present. Before there was a Marvel Universe as we know it, there were stories: a merman fighting a golem engulfed in flames, a patriotic man breaking up fifth columnists in Brooklyn and punching Nazis in France, a girl named Patsy trying to get through her teens and meet nice boys. Each of those people attended Sue’s and Reed’s wedding. One of them actually tried to date Sue for a bit there. It’s complicated.

And even if they weren’t introduced in a Fantastic Four book, lots of Marvel characters owe them for absolutely essential components of their lives or powers. Spider-Man wouldn’t have a job if the Daily Bugle wasn’t introduced in a Fantastic Four book, Captain America wouldn’t have the Vibranium in his shield, and the Silver Surfer would probably have some questions regarding how he got that name if not for his board.

It’s impossible to overstate how important the Four have been to expanding the frontier of the Marvel Universe. As explorers, they’ve discovered dozens of new lands and people, from Wakanda to Monster Island to Latveria to the Negative Zone and more. They’ve seen or visited over a hundred other alternative realities; worlds where the Super Hero Civil War was averted or ended in conquest and disaster, worlds where Galactus won, worlds where men or women took over, old-timey worlds and worlds of the far-flung future.

FF Infographic

As explorers, they’ve encountered over three dozen new alien races, serving as mankind’s first ambassadors. This has had, admittedly, somewhat mixed results. They were the first to tangle with the Skrulls, an inescapable shape-shifting threat to mankind and an empire that has long been at odds with people of Earth. They were also the first to make contact with the Inhumans. Inhuman characters like Black Bolt, Medusa, Ms. Marvel, Quake, and Crystal only exist thanks to the Four. And they gave Marvel a sincere dose of the weird, whether it was introducing Moloids below the earth or giving us the Flb’Dbi, whichno jokeare a race of communist arachnoids.

Reed Richards has personally altered the fate of the universe on multiple occasions, but it’s as an inventor where he shines the most. His Universal Translator means that the heroes of Earth can communicate with alien species beyond their comprehension; his Bridge allowed him to both foresee the Incursions that led to the calamity before Secret Wars; the Unstable Molecules he discovered are the basis for the entire field of durable costume design in the world; and his Fantasti-Car, well, I don’t know, I guess it made bathtubs have representation in comics and also made the Thanoscopter not feel terrible about its mediocre design. They can’t all be winners.

And the guy made a robot secretary, which would certainly motivate me if I were a Doombot trying to take down the Four.

FF Infographic

Most Marvel heroes are judged about the threats they tangle with and the people they protect. Ben, Johnny, Reed, and Sue have tangled with every threat and literally protected all life in the Multiverse, on multiple occasions. They are in a class all by themselves. They directly introduced like one out of every 20 characters in the mainstream Marvel Universe, one out of every eight heavy hitters, and indirectly laid the groundwork for several thousand Inhuman, Skrull, Wakandan, and Latverian characters.

And hey, we all should be thrilled to have Franklin Richards, the sentient cosmic cube we know and love, back in the picture. How else will our finest writers be able to wave away minor continuity errors? In short, I think I can we can all agree that the Fantastic Four are a Hugely Essential Recurring Brood of Introductions and Exposition, or, in short, H.E.R.B.I.E.

Read FANTASTIC FOUR #1, by Dan Slott and Sara Pichelli, out now!

Walt Hickey is a data journalist and writes the daily morning newsletter Numlock News. His work has previously appeared on FiveThirtyEight and Business Insider.