Episode 19 of the podcast brought us to another team. A group of scientists, who, on a mission to outer space were bombarded with cosmic rays. These rays affected each of the four in different ways, giving them different powers and abilities. This group of misfit scientists became the Fantastic Four.
Created in 1961 for Fantastic Four #1, the team was the brainchild of the power duo Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. As with many creations of the time, who exactly came up with the idea has been a point of many arguments over the years. Lee always said he had the idea, whereas Kirby insisted the idea was his, with Lee providing the dialogue. Whatever the truth, they created four characters who would be a mainstay of the Marvel universe.
Reed Richards was a child prodigy. By the age of 22, he had multiple degrees, had PhDs in Physics and electrical engineering and was working as a military scientist. All the while, he had been designing a spaceship capable of hyperspace travel. A few years later, in his mid-twenties, Reed had moved to Central City with Susan Storm and was working full time on his spaceship project. His old university friend, Ben Grimm, was set to be its pilot.
All was well until the government told Reed they were withdrawing his funding. His project was to be scrapped. Convinced the project was too important to be left un-used, Reed, Sue, Ben and Sue’s younger brother Johnny, all agreed to steal the ship and immediately put it to use. The required tests had not been fully completed, but Reed was convinced all would be ok.
Taking off on their unauthorised mission, it seemed to be working at first. However, when the craft passed through the Van Allen belt, they were bombarded by cosmic radiation. Reed had failed to correctly calculate the shielding required and the team were forced to abandon the mission.
Crashlanding back on Earth, they were thankfully unhurt. They quickly realised they had not returned unchanged. Reed’s body had been affected by the cosmic rays and was stretchy like elastic. He could transform himself into any shape and he was practically invulnerable.
The team decided to use this strange turn of events for good, they would serve mankind as the Fantastic Four, with Reed being their leader as Mr Fantastic.
Susan Storm grew up with her younger brother, Johnny, and their parents Mary and Franklin. On one tragic night, Susan’s parents were in a car accident that left Mary fighting for her life. Franklin, a surgeon, attempted to save her, but there was nothing he could do. Struck with loss and guilt, Franklin swirled into a pit of drug and alcohol addiction, ultimately leading him to be imprisoned for the accidental murder of a loan shark. The two siblings moved in with their aunt, with Susan becoming the prime carer of her younger brother.
It was at the Aunt’s house that Susan first met Reed, who was attending college nearby. When she moved to California to pursue acting they met again and struck up a relationship.
Through this relationship, Reed told her of his plans to take the spaceship on its risky mission. Rather than try to dissuade him, she in fact convinced him that she and her pilot brother should join them to help.
After the accident, Susan found she could manipulate cosmic rays to her own use. Using this power she was able to make herself and other objects completely invisible. Later, having learnt greater control of her power, this extended even further. With great concentration, she learns she can manipulate the waves into a forcefield of sorts, showing her to be a very powerful character.
The Human Torch
After the tragedy of his childhood, Johnny Storm was effectively raised by his older sister, Susan. He quickly became good friends with her fiancé, Reed, becoming interested in his work in travelling faster than light. Feeling that he was destined for greatness, he worked tirelessly to join Reed in his work. It was through this determination that he became NASA’s youngest ever pilot. It was as a backup pilot that he agreed to be part of the crew of Marvel-1.
Following the accident, Johnny found he could envelop his body in flames at will. He could, at will, make some parts of his body hotter or colder or even create shapes composed entirely of fire. Using his ability to control flames he can also effectively fly, using the high heat to generate plasma and streams of hydrogen as propulsion.
Although a valuable member of the team, he also has a highly volatile personality. He regularly finds himself in arguments with the other members of the team and has, in fact, left and re-joined on multiple occasions.
Ben Grimm was no stranger to danger and the life of a superhero. As a test pilot for the Marine Corps, he had previously been sent on missions for Nick Fury, alongside some of the worlds greatest heroes. This led him to become a pilot for NASA, in their quest to reach the moon.
It wasn’t until many years later that his old school friend, Reed Richards, convinced Ben to fly his experimental spacecraft. After being bombarded with cosmic rays, Ben’s skin has been transformed into a thick, orangey hide like substance. Along with the change in appearance, he has developed superhuman strength and durability. In a moment of self-pity, he identifies himself as ‘The Thing’. Unlike the others in the group, he cannot change to a normal appearance, leading to constant self-loathing. He quickly sets himself out as the kind-hearted joker of the group, however, and uses his immense strength to protect his new family unit.
The First Family
Singularly, they are each powerful but not well rounded. Together, they form a formidable team that can take on almost any challenge. Since their introduction in the ’60s, they’ve tackled dozens of the rogues in Marvels gallery. Anyone from Namor The Submariner, Doctor Doom, Miracle Man (not that one) or Galactus The World Eater. They are a pivotal part of the Marvel Universe, and one of the main reasons it hasn’t been destroyed, earning them the title ‘First Family of Marvel’. They’re so well-loved, calling them the fantastic four is actually a bit misleading. Over the years more than twenty people have been invited to temporarily join the team.
As ever this is just a basic introduction to the team, to really do them justice would require an encyclopaedia. Luckily, we have someone on the podcast with near encyclopaedic knowledge! To find out more head over and give the episode a listen. We find out more about their stories, the foes, the twenty-plus members and so much more!
Steve‘s Reading List:
- Essential Fantastic Four – Volumes 1 – 9
- Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four – Volumes 19, 20, and 21