The Fantastic Four is an internationally-renowned group of superhuman champions (often dubbed the world's premiere super hero team or the first family of super heroes) based in New York City and dedicated to the betterment of the world through scientific discovery and defense against evil.
It all started with a rushed test flight of an experimental spacecraft. Years before, while a student at Empire State University, Reed Richards began working on plans for one of the first vehicles capable interstellar travel. His roommate and best friend, Benjamin Grimm, jokingly promised to pilot the craft. But Reed, after studying to be an aeronautical engineer, finally realized his lifelong dream. Exhausting the majority of his vast inheritance, he funded the construction and launch of such a starship. Other financers, particularly the U.S. government, however, were losing interest and they threatened to cut him off from their funding of the project. Reed embarked on an immediate test flight, taking Ben Grimm with him who had become a successful Air Force pilot. Reed's longtime sweetheart and fiancée, Susan Storm, and her brother, Johnny, also joined them. Ben opposed the idea, warning that the ship's shielding might prove inadequate against intense forms of cosmic radiation. Nevertheless, Reed persuaded them all to accompany him, stealing into the launch facility, boarding the starship, and blasting off in pursuit of scientific glory. They intended to travel to another star system and back, but a solar flare temporarily boosted the intensity of the ionizing radiation in Earth's Van Allen belt.
The spaceship encountered a bombardment of cosmic radiation, causing both the mission to be aborted and the craft to crash. Emerging from the ruins of the spaceship, they discovered the radiation had mutated their bodies. Reed gained the ability to stretch his body and limbs, Johnny was able to fly and become engulfed in flame, and Sue was able to bend light around her body and become invisible. Ben, on the other hand, gained incredible strength and durability at the cost of being severely disfigured. All four decided to use their powers to better humanity and founded the Fantastic Four.
Setting Up Shop
Calling themselves Mister Fantastic, the Thing, the Human Torch and the Invisible Girl, the four established their headquarters atop the Baxter Building in midtown Manhattan - a building originally erected in 1949 by the Baxter Paper Company and since owned by a number of other corporations. Noah Baxter, a friend and fellow inventor, helped Reed Richards purchase the Baxter building. Then, financed by profits from the patents on Reed's inventions, the Fantastic Four set out to safeguard the world from any and all threats beyond the purview of conventional peacekeeping forces.
The team first put its abilities on public display when the subterranean Mole Man attempted to take revenge on the surface world by destroying Earth's power plants and unleashing an army of gigantic monsters to annihilate the human race. But the Fantastic Four turned back the Mole Man's threat. After this and many more public adventures, the Four soon became worldwide celebrities, and their exploits were recounted in newspapers, on television, and in comic books. The heroes also have been on the forefront of scientific discovery, such as the discovery of the parallel dimension known as the Negative Zone, the first public contact with alien races such as the Skrulls and Kree, the discovery of the hidden civilization of the Inhumans and the secret African nation of Wakanda, as well as being the first humans to step foot on the moon - alongside the Red Ghost.
The Roster Fluctuates
Months after their public appearance, Reed and Sue were married, which became a celebrity event. The two enjoyed a healthy marriage despite the Four's constant public scrutiny for many years. However, the two fell into an estrangement at one point, with Sue dissatisfied with the public life as a superhero celebrity. She briefly left the team and the Inhuman known as Medusa filled her spot on the team before Sue's return. In another membership shake-up, when Ben Grimm temporarily lost his powers, Reed Richards hired the mercenary Power Man to take over his place on the team, but this lasted only until Reed could finish an armored exoskeleton for Ben. Later, Reed and Sue had a son, Franklin. During Sue's maternity leave, the Four's long-standing ally (and girlfriend of the Torch), Crystal, joined the team, until an allergic reaction to Earth's pollutants pushed her to quit and forced the rest of the Inhumans to leave Earth. Sue soon returned to active duty.
At one point, the Fantastic Four were among the various heroes transported to a planet created by the alien Beyonder for the first of the so-called "Secret Wars". After defeating the Beyonder, the Thing refused to return to Earth with the heroes, happy to have found the ability to transform into his human form at will. His position on the team was filled by the She-Hulk, who had been similarly transported to the planet. When the Thing returned months later, he was distraught to find that his former girlfriend, Alicia Masters, had begun an affair with his teammate, Johnny Storm. The Thing quit the Fantastic Four to wander the country for a time, and She-Hulk remained in his stead.
A Stessful Place to Live
The Fantastic Four resided at the Baxter Building for many years, through various villain attacks, which often destroyed multiple floors and caused most of the other residents to abandon the building. However, one time, Kristoff Vernard - a youth who had been programmed to believe he was Doctor Doom - shot the building into space and destroyed it. Afterwards, instead of rebuilding the old building, Reed Richards designed and oversaw the construction of a new tower, named Four Freedoms Plaza.
The More Things Change...
The three original members of the Fantastic Four later found the Thing in the Mole Man's realm, where they discovered the Mole Man trying to raise a continent in the Pacific and threatening to destroy California. The Thing rejoined the team after helping to stop the Mole Man, and She-Hulk left to other pursuits. Soon after, Reed and Sue Richards announced they were leaving the Four to raise their son in relative normalcy. The Thing became head of the group, and proved to be an able, levelheaded leader, despite the fact that Johnny had just married Alicia Masters (although it was later revealed that this Alicia had been replaced by the shape-shifting alien Skrull, Lyja). Ben and Johnny were joined by Crystal and Ms. Marvel, a hero the Thing had met during his time away from the Four. During one adventure, both the Thing and Ms. Marvel were subject to another shuttle accident, bombarding them both with cosmic rays. This mutated Ben further and turned Sharon into a She-Thing.
The Four Reassembled
When the villain Nanny and her Orphan-maker kidnapped Franklin, Sue and Reed were drawn into adventuring alongside Captain America (then known as the Captain) and a re-forming of the Avengers. But once the Avengers were re-established, Sue and Reed left and returned to the Fantastic Four once again. During this time, Ms. Marvel was lost on a mission to the European nation of Latveria, having been manipulated by Doctor Doom and other of the FF's villains, before finally leaving to seek refuge with Wyatt Wingfoot. Crystal also left, opting to return to her Inhuman family.
More Architectural Upheaval
Like its previous incarnation, Four Freedoms Plaza also had its share of attacks, culminating in a gamma bomb explosion set off by a of doppelganger Reed Richards during the "Infinity War", which blew the top floors off, including the giant number fours that surrounded the roof. Lacking the finances to fix it, the majority of the damage stayed for many years.
Later, Franklin was kidnapped by Nathaniel Richards, the time-traveling scientist and father of Reed Richards. Nathaniel believe that Franklin's powers were a threat to all existence, and so allowed him to age under his strict tutelage in a point in the distant future, returning him to his family moments after his abduction and aged to a teenager. Franklin was hard-pressed to reconcile with his family, and at the same time, he formed a sister team to the Fantastic Four - dubbed the Fantastic Force.
A Death on the Team
At one point, Doctor Doom lured a powerful alien entity to his nation of Latveria, coveting its power. The entity began laying waste to the countryside and the Fantastic Four arrived to investigate. Doom tricked the team into continue fighting the creature while he appropriated a portion of its energies to boost his own power. Confronting the alien directly, Doom eventually teleported the alien away, but was left soundly defeated and lay dying. Reed offered his aid, but Doom used the remaining power in his armor to disintegrate himself and his archenemy. Sue refused to believe her husband had died, although she nevertheless assumed leadership of the team. She also hired Ant-Man to supervise and care for the Four's equipment, and she formed an alliance with the Sub-Mariner so that the ranks of the Fantastic Four would not be weakened. During this time, Lyja had returned to attempt reconciliation with Johnny and Kristoff von Doom had been discovered to be alive. Both became staunch allies of the Four.
Revelations and Returns
Eventually, the team discovered that Reed and Doctor Doom did not die, but were snatched moments before death by the villain Hyperstorm. The Four had tracked them to Hyperstorm's dimension, discovering Doom and, later, Reed Richards. Doom was able to escape with the help of Kristoff and tried to siphon Hyperstorm's power for himself. Instead, Hyperstorm used his powers to return Doom to his proper place and time. The Fantastic Four managed to defeat the villain with the help of the planet-devouring Galactus. Upon the Four's return, Ant-Man, the Sub-Mariner, and Lyja soon parted company. Also during this time, Nathaniel Richards allowed Franklin to revert to his rightful age, and the Fantastic Force was disbanded.
Soon afterward, the Fantastic Four were caught up in a battle with the psychic being known as Onslaught. To defeat the villain, the active members of the Four, as well as their allies (which included the Avengers, the Inhumans, Doctor Doom, and others), seemingly sacrificed themselves to contain its energies. As a result, the Fantastic Four were believed dead. The government was inclined to appropriate the Four's equipment, but instead Nathaniel Richards used time-traveling devices to shunt all of it to the Negative Zone. Nathaniel also took charge of Kristoff and disappeared into the future. In reality, the Fantastic Four were saved by Franklin, who through his reality-altering powers bodily recreated them and others who died into an alternate dimension. Eventually, Franklin Richards was forced to bring his created world into true reality, thus bringing the Fantastic Four and the other heroes back to Earth.
In the meantime, believing the FF dead, the Thunderbolts took over residency of Four Freedoms Plaza. When the Four finally returned, they gave up their home for a new warehouse headquarters, called Pier 4. Shortly after, however, the Fantastic Four were confronted by lawyers representing the Gideon Trust, a consortium of investors who inherited the actions and debts of the late Gregory Gideon, an early adversary of Four. The Trust hoped to buy Pier 4 and all its inventions and technology, which would thus save the stock of Richards Inc., as it had been losing value during the time the Fantastic Four were believed dead. The Richards agreed, although yet again they were forced to move when a villain, this time Diablo, destroyed Pier 4. However, during negotiations with the Gideon Trust, Reed revealed he had commenced work on an all-new Baxter Building with the help of Noah Baxter. With Pier 4 destroyed, the team brought the new Baxter Building online and teleported it in place of the old Four Freedoms Plaza.
Learning the Ways of Magic
More recently, Doctor Doom abandoned his technological prowess for the study and mastery of magic in order to defeat the Fantastic Four. Doom was able to capture the Four and to trap the Richards' son Franklin in Hell itself. He tortured the Four while leaving Reed imprisoned in an arcane library. Hoping to humiliate his rival, Doom forced Reed to find an escape by using the magic available in the library. The spirit form of Doctor Strange appeared and helped Reed escape, then gave him a magical device capable of breaching Doom's defenses. In the final battle, Reed succeeded in freeing his son from Hell and trapping Doom inside.
To Hell and Back
Reed then embarked on a plan that would completely rid the world of Doom's weapons of mass destruction and free his oppressed people of Latveria. The United Nations warned Reed not to take international law into his own hands, but when met with Reed's indifference, the UN sent a multinational strike force to undo Reed's coup d'etat. Reed also neglected to fully explain his plans to the other members on the team, which alienating them in turn. Reed, for his part, was completing the second part of his plan to ensure that Doom would remain trapped from Earth's dimension forever. Reed hoped to exile himself into the same pocket-dimension prison as Doom so that he could personally make sure Doom would never escape. However he kept his true agenda a secret from his family, and in the end, the rest of the Fantastic Four entered the dimension as well. This allowed Doctor Doom to escape using his mind-swapping abilities, hitching a ride back to Earth in the body of the Invisible Woman. Doom continued to switch bodies among the Four during the battle that raged between the Four, Doom, and the UN as well. Doom ultimately transferred his mind into the Thing's rocky form. Doom then manipulated Richards into obliterating his enemy the only way possible: by killing the Thing.
The trauma of the Thing's death tore the family apart. Richards, however, determined a spark of life remained in the Thing's body and led the remaining members of the Fantastic Four into Heaven itself in hopes of retrieving his friend's soul. Ultimately, the Thing agreed to return from Heaven rather than allow Richards to blame himself for Ben's death.
In addition, Richard's involvement with Latveria nearly branded the team as traitors. With its public relations severely undercut, Richards forfeited his patents to the government to avoid imprisonment. This left the team broke and virtual social pariahs. The Fantastic Four continue to explore the ordinary and the extraordinary, to fight evil and to adventure, while also starting from scratch to rebuild their fortune and their good name.
...A Little Help From their Friends
Over the years the Fantastic Four have earned many friends and have relied on many family members to lend them assistance, or in the case of the witch Agatha Harkness, baby-sitting. Their list of heroic friends includes Black Panther, Black Bolt, Wyatt Wingfoot, Thundra, the Silver Surfer, Tigra, and even a very brief, and unofficial, replacement FF consisting of Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. Some of their super-powered family members have also joined them in their adventures, including Valeria Richards (believed for a while to be an alternate-timeline child of Sue Storm and Victor Von Doom, reverted to an infant).
A Laundry List of Foes
Though the Fantastic Four have made many friends, they potentially made even more enemies. They have fought, and won, against the worse that the galaxy has to offer; villains like Doctor Doom, an alternate future version of Doom, Annihilus, the Wizard, the Skrulls, including the Super Skrull and Paibok the Power Skrull, Blastaar, the Mole Man, and the world-devouring Galactus and his many heralds.
In the End...
They have traveled across the planet, saving the world in their various versions of the Fantasticar, as well as across the entire universe, the Negative Zone, and into many different alternate universes and futures. The Fantastic Four have also come across, and survived meeting, beings of immense power; such as the Molecule Man, the Beyonder, and Uatu The Watcher. They have participated in the beginning of the universe, stood in the presence of entities beyond human comprehension, and even destroyed an ancient member of the mysterious race of eternal beings known as the Celestials.
Yet through this all they remain close friends and, most importantly, a family.