"Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four run
the Mount Olympus of comic book storytelling.
Nothing else can touch it in its innovation, sustained excitement,
consequential events, and unprecedented character development."
(Mark Engblom in Comic Coverage: March 21, 2009)
"Stan and Jack's Fantastic Four
was, at its peak, almost unarguably
the richest and most imaginative comic in the history of the medium."
(Mark Waid's Fantastic Four Manifesto, in "Comics Creators on Fantastic Four" page 202.)
"For about twenty Issues, on either
side of 50, it was possibly
the best comic book ever done."
"The general wisdom is that the
Stan and Jack Fantastic Four is
the greatest run of any comic book, ever."
(Bob Reyer, comics expert on talkingcomicboks podcast 89)
||Reed is #1
2010-2025 is The Great Reboot,
when everything is reset in a big way.
The various soft reboots are the shadowed areas in the time line
The story was published over 27 years, but only takes around half that time. There are four ways to approach the problem:
is Mr Fantastic: As the name suggests, Reed wants
to be perfect at everything. The story is of how he fails, and
learns to see what was invisible to him. His domineering approach
infantalizes those around him, reducing their effectiveness of the
team. The story ends when he accepts them as equals and finally
follows Sue's advice, to focus on his family.
Sue Storm (later Susan Richards) is the Invisible Girl (or Invisible Woman): as the name suggests, her significance to the team is usually invisible. She makes alliances with the Atlanteans, Inhumans and others. as such she has more impact than her more flashy male counterparts. Sue is a heroine straight from classic literature: all she ever wanted was a normal life, but she is thrust into danger by men who are blind to her situation. Her one power, invisibility, is useless against most of their enemies: they all have either high technology (Doom) or enhanced senses (Namor, Mole Man). Through quiet fortitude she finally persuades her husband to cease his suicidal tendencies and see that her soft power is more effective than his hard power.
Ben Grimm is The Thing. As the name suggests, his story is a quest for identity. In Act 1 he competes with Reed. In Act 2 Reed wins beats him down, emotionally. In Act 3 he accepts his role as the tragic figure. In Act 4 Reed has his own crises and is less able to dominate Ben, who finds a kind of status quo, but this doesn't address his underlying issues, and finally Alicia forces him to face his demons. In Act he achieves peace, takes his natural place as leader, and he becomes the man Alicia always knew he could be.
Storm is The Human Torch. As the name suggests
this hot headed youth wants excitement! But his shallowness and
womanizing is a facade. He lacks confidence when junior to the
team, has had relatively few girlfriends, and is unable to keep
them. Finally Alicia teaches him to mature. He has more potential
than any other team member, but that potential cannot be met while
living in the shadow of the sister who raised him, and of the
greatest heroes who ever lived. Johnny is the prince in waiting.
is the driving force behind it all.
Doom, the Mole Man, Paste Pot Pete each have their own story
And we must never forget the greatest hero of them all, Lockjaw!
The super powers represent their personalities: Reed stretches
his mind, Ben never gives up, Sue is often overlooked, and Johnny
is a hotshot. The team represents the full range of family
relationships: parents, lovers, children, siblings and friends.
And of course their powers and technology mean they can interact
in almost any conceivable time and place. So the story telling
potential is unlimited.
The success of the Fantastic Four spawned a whole universe of comics: It is much harder to place those other comics in the real world, This is why:
Of course, fans of other comics are free to disagree. They may argue that their comics really are realistic, despite all appearances. After all, plenty of people reject the Fantastic Four as unrealistic - perhaps I'm missing something in other comics. Perhaps somebody much smarter than me will find an ingenious way to explain it all. Until that happens, I will conclude that only the Fantastic Four are realistic (yes, really).
You only have to read one title for the full story: just the
Fantastic Four. The 27 year epic story is self contained.
However, there are other titles that may be of interest. Thanks to Modern Alchemy for this time line (click for a more extensive version).
"Strange Tales" featured the early adventures of the Human Torch. Some were written by Stan Lee, but most fans consider them poorly written. That is true, but I find them charming and fascinating as an insight into the early days. They contain the first appearance of a few characters who turn up in the main book, but they are not essential reading. They demonstrate clearly that the Torch loves being a superhero, and feels overshadowed by Reed and Sue, but we already know that from the main title.
"Marvel Two In One" featured The Thing and various guest stars, but is not by the regular writer of the FF. It demonstrates clearly that Ben is highly efficient and well balanced when away from Reed, but we know that already.
Perhaps most interesting is "The Thing" (the 1983-1986 series), particularly issues 1-4 by John Byrne, the regular writer of the FF. These issues expand on Ben working through his personal demons. In the Battleworld issues (11-22) Ben's demons become visual. The results are summarized in FF294 and elsewhere, but are interesting if you want more depth about Ben Grimm at this turning point in his life. Of special interest is issue 3, the controversial issue where we learn that Lockjaw can talk (more about Lockjaw here), and issue 7 ("Goody Two Shoes"), the clearest examination of the principle of the unreliable narrator.
Reference is sometimes made to other comics, e.g. cross-overs
with the Hulk, the Avengers, etc. But everything you need is
within the title itself. It could be argued that no other titles can be considered canonical:
this is because The FF is founded
on realism above all else. This means they are written as if
they exist within our real world. How do you then explain the
existence of Fantastic Four comics within our real world? Simple:
the FF have public identities and meet the comic writers for story
conferences. This is not true of any other comics, so, within the
world of the Fantastic Four, other comics are largely made up. so
according to the comics themselves, the events in other Marvel
titles are largely made up. So according to the Fantastic Four,
only the Fantastic Four is reliable.
Masterworks are top quality reprints, with introductions by the original writers where possible. Each volume reprints around 14 issues. Volume 15 (up to FF163) is due out September 2013.
Essentials are lower priced. Each volume reprints around 20 issues in black and white. Volume 9 (up to FF207) is due out August 2013.
As far as I can tell, you can't buy FF1 to 321 direct from Marvel.com. I wish you could! But you can buy issues 1-30 as digital downloads.
You can buy back issues from eBay, Amazon, comic shops, etc. If
you're lucky then your local library can order some collections
from other libraries.
If you're very lucky you might find a "GIT corp" DVD: an authorized product that has all the comics on one disk, but it's no longer produced.
Where possible buy from Marvel. We need Marvel to make money from The Great American Novel. Then they might decide to start time moving forward again: Reed can then remember that he fought in WWII, Franklin can grow up and have his own kids, Johnny and Crystal can marry, and we can find out what happens next!