"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.)
"Those fifty issues [FF25-75] were, simply put,
the best super-hero comics ever done
and nobody, let me repeat that, nobody, has done it better"
"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 talkingcomicbooks podcast 89)
Important: the writers never intended thisReaders of this site often say "but the writer never intended...." and that is true. This site is about the Fantastic Four as printed, and not what individuals writers planned. Like all epics, the whole is much bigger than its parts, and the stories are a lot deeper than the writers intended.
To say that the Fantastic Four is about Reed versus the Negative Zone is like saying Les Miserables is about Jean Valjean versus Javert. That is true: it is the simplest conflict to remember, the one that runs through most of the pages. But really, Les Miserables is about the poor. It's all in the title. Similarly, the Fantastic Four is about a diverse family with amazing potential. It's all in the title. And really, Les Miserables is about France at its turning point, and the Fantastic Four is about America at its turning point, winning the Cold War.
With so many plots and sub-plots to choose from, this web site begins with Susan Storm. Hers is the easiest one to summarise (as, being private, she has the least dialog), and the one that people most often miss. She is the one who drives the action (see below). She is the mother figure, the core of the family (the team cannot function when she is absent). She simply wants to keep her family safe. Her plot can be summed up in one line:
The boys' story arcs are re-active. In contrast, as the star of the novel, Sue is pro-active:
"In Marvel’s greatest comics,
Lee and Kirby were full collaborators who, like Lennon and
McCartney, really were more than the sum of their parts, and
who derived their greatness from the push and pull of
incompatible visions. Kirby always wanted to drag the Four
into the Negative Zone – deeper into psychedelic science
fiction and existential alienation – while Lee resolutely
pulled them back into the morass of human lives, hormonal
alienation, teenage dating problems, pregnancy, and
unfulfilled longings to be human and normal and loved and not
to have the Baxter Building repossessed by the City of New
York. Kirby threw at the Four an endless series of ponderous
fallen gods or whole tribes and races of alienated antiheroes
with problems no mortal could credibly contemplate. Lee made
certain the Four were always answerable to the female
priorities of Sue Storm – the Invisible Girl, Reed Richards’s
wife and famously ‘the weakest member of the Fantastic Four’.
She wanted a home for their boy Franklin, she wanted Reed to
stay out of the Negative Zone, and she was willing to quit the
Four and quit the marriage to stand up for what she believed.
[...] If you (I mean, I) accept my premise that the mid-to-late 1960s Fantastic Four were the exemplary specimens, the Revolver and Rubber Soul and White Album of comics, and if you further grant that pulling against the tide of all of Kirby’s inhuman galactacism, that whole army of aliens and gods, was one single character, our squeaky little Sue, then I wonder: Invisible Girl, the most important superhero of the Silver Age of comics?"
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.
Until 2015 Marvel also published lower priced black and white compilations, taking us to FF207. These are gradually being replaced by full color "Epic Collections".
Digital copies are gradually being made available from Marvel.com.
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.
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! Also, if
MArvel sees this site as an ad for their comics they are less likely to
shut it down for copyright infringement. (But please note that I am
careful to almost never show a complete page, ounlike many comic sites.)
You only have to read one title for the full story: just the
Fantastic Four. The 28 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.
After FF333 the original team is replaced by a different team. This web site is mostly about the original 28 year story.