Comics
Published August 8, 2023

Who Are the Fantastic Four? The Official Marvel Guide

An introduction to the characters and stories behind the ‘World’s Greatest Comic Magazine.’

Class is now in session and the topic is Fantastic Four 101! In this introductory Marvel Comics guide, we explore the earliest history of Marvel’s First Family of heroes, and how their first appearances way back in the swingin’ 60s—guided by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—laid the groundwork for the entire Marvel Universe! It’s true!

Cover to 4 (2004) #20.
Cover to 4 (2004) #20.

WHERE DID THE FANTASTIC FOUR COME FROM?

Even before the famous quartet headed for space, two of the greatest creators in comics joined forces to change the industry forever. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, the comic book landscape looked much different than it does today. Super heroes had had their day and while some were still kicking around, comic stands were filled with Western, Sci-Fi, Crime, Horror, and Romance books, most of which were aimed at a younger audience.

As Stan Lee related in 1974’s ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, he had grown a bit bored by the simplistic nature of the stories he had been churning out for two decades. According to Lee, two moments occurred around the same time. First, his wife Joan challenged him to focus more fully on making comics he would be proud of. Second, Marvel publisher Martin Goodman inferred that a super heroic team book could be a surefire hit, and that Marvel should get back into the spandex game.

FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was a revelation for readers when it hit shelves in 1961. Unlike so many other books on the market, the title emphasized the personal lives and personalities of the team’s individual members. Readers responded fantastically, and the title breathed new life into the publisher’s flagging line-up while also ushering in Marvel’s Silver Age.

[RELATEDStan’s Silver Age Hits]

The team faces cosmic stakes in the “Coming of Galactus” arc from FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #48.
The team faces cosmic stakes in the “Coming of Galactus” arc from FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #48.

HOW DID THE FOUR GET SO FANTASTIC?

Seeing the opportunity to make something completely different, Lee called upon artist Jack Kirby and the pair got to work. Their results introduced the world to Reed Richards, Susan “Sue” Storm, Ben Grimm, and Johnny Storm also known as Mister Fantastic, the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman), the Thing, and the Human Torch.

After briefly teasing what these characters could do, Lee and Kirby gave readers a look back at how they came to have their astonishing powers. Scientist Reed and pilot Ben worked together on an experimental space craft. To get to the stars before the Russians, the pair decided to sneak into the craft and launch without authorization. Sue—then engaged to Reed—and her little brother Johnny tagged along as well.

Initially, the flight went smoothly, until the four traveled through mysterious cosmic rays that changed them forever. They agreed to use these newfound powers for good and returned to Central City (which was soon changed to New York City). They came together to stop the Mole Man’s plan for surface world domination, marking just the first of their many strange, super-powered adventures.

The origin of the team in FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #1.
The origin of the team in FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #1.

MISTER FANTASTIC

Even before heading up in the rocket that would forever change his fate, Reed Richards was one of the planet’s most intelligent scientists. After being exposed to the cosmic rays, he developed the ability to control all the atoms in his body, stretching and shifting them every which way. He uses these powers out on the battlefield as well as in his many laboratories.

Richards became the de facto leader of the Fantastic Four, but also one of the most respected heroes in the community of do-gooders that kept growing in the wake of the Fantastic Four’s debut. Mister Fantastic has been a factor in nearly every major crisis faced by the denizens of Earth-616 (the prime Marvel Universe) as a member of both the FF and the secretive Illuminati, which worked behind the scenes to keep humanity safe.

Occasionally, Richards’ massive intellect will get in the way of his emotional intelligence, steering him in the wrong direction. Luckily for him, he always has his wife, children, and family around to help bring him back down the heroic path.

Protecting the fabric of Earth-616 in ULTIMATE INVASION (2023) #1.
Protecting the fabric of Earth-616 in ULTIMATE INVASION (2023) #1.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

Initially, Sue Storm told Reed that she was going up in the ship because she intended to go wherever he went. In her earliest issues, she was often placed in a less active, more captive role, even though she has one of the most far-reaching and complex power sets of the Fantastic Four.

As her codename implies, Sue can become completely unseeable, making her one of the greatest spies in the world. Beyond that, Storm can also manipulate invisible particles that have a physical impact on those around her. She can create floating platforms, hurl unseen rock-hard projectiles at attackers, and even make force fields big enough to protect her family or constrict vital internal organs.

Given her long tenure as a costumed hero, the Invisible Woman has also become a prominent member of the hero community outside the FF. Sue eventually married Reed in FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL (1963) #3 and the two have a pair of children with powers and abilities of their own named Franklin and Valeria. While her husband may be considered the brain of the Fantastic Four, Sue has always been the heart.

Showing off her incredible powers on the cover of INVISIBLE WOMAN (2019) #1.
Showing off her incredible powers on the cover of INVISIBLE WOMAN (2019) #1.

THE THING

On that fateful day the FF gained their powers, Ben Grimm went up into space as a flesh and blood man and returned as the self-proclaimed “monster” widely known as the Thing. While his FF compatriots can easily hide their abilities, Grimm cannot. Over the years, Ben has encountered some cures that have returned him to his human form, but they never last very long.

Since then, Ben has become one of the strongest (and hardest to defeat) heroes on the planet thanks to his super dense physiology. While he has often struggled with his appearance, the Thing seems far more comfortable in his stony skin than he was in those early days. He even married his longtime love Alicia Masters and they adopted two kids Jo-Venn (a Kree) and N’Kalla (a Skrull).

While most associated with the Fantastic Four, Grimm has gone on several of his own adventures. From 1974 through 1983, he headlined the prominent team-up title MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE! Over the course of the 100-issue run, he traded blows (and drinks) with the likes of Man-Thing, Spider-Man, Thundra, Stingray, and She-Hulk among others. Along the way, Ben met a lot of his fellow heroes, took on even more villains, and became one of the more beloved super-folks around, a distinction that he still carries.

Ben Grimm marries Alicia Masters in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018) #5.
Ben Grimm marries Alicia Masters in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018) #5.

THE HUMAN TORCH

In a case of cosmic coincidence, those wild space rays turned the member of the quartet with the hottest head into a literal man of fire! The youngest of the bunch, Johnny Storm struggled at times to balance his life as a school aged car enthusiast trying to date while also squaring off against the likes of Namor, the Skrulls and Doctor Doom.

Borrowing the name Human Torch from an android hero who could also burst into flames back during World War II, Johnny could generate incredible levels of heat, toss that fire around, fly, and go Supernova on occasion (imagine becoming your own personal sun). A year after debuting, Human Torch also began starring in STRANGE TALES (1951) with issue #101 where he was eventually joined by the Thing as they went on adventures without Reed and Sue.

As the team’s most eligible single, Johnny has found himself in a number of unique relationships. He’s dated royal Inhuman sisters Crystal and Medusa at various points, not to mention Namorita, the cousin of Namor who has long been enamored with Johnny’s sister, Sue. He even thought he married Alicia Masters, but she had been replaced by a Skrull named Lyja. They have since dated even after the ruse was revealed! Another of Johnny’s girlfriends, Frankie Raye, became a Herald of Galactus and recently, his relationship with Kaila of Spyre came to an end when he cheated on her with Doctor Doom’s righthand enforcer Victorious. We’re sure the Human Torch will eventually settle down, it’s just tough because his dating pool appears to be every habitable planet in known space (and probably a few unknown ones).

[RELATEDJohnny Storm’s Romantic Relationships and Beloved Bonds]

Johnny’s hotheaded powers in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018) #36.
Johnny’s hotheaded powers in FANTASTIC FOUR (2018) #36.

And there you have it, the basics on the heroes that proved popular enough to build up the Marvel Comics universe! Of course, given the Fantastic Four’s 60-plus year history, many other elements have been woven in and out of the team’s tapestry. For more starter stories starring Marvel’s First Family, check out our top picks that you can read now on Marvel Unlimited!

To read your Marvel comics digitally, download the Marvel Unlimited app for iOS and Android devices. Gain an expansive catalog of 30,000+ comics spanning Marvel Comics history, plus access your entire digital library including comics redeemed from print.

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