This web site is about making sense of the Fantastic Four. This means rejecting suspension of disbelief, ignoring what the writers intended, and focusing on the text as if it was a report of actual people in the real world. The result is amazing. The Fantastic Four is not what we think. From 1961 to 1989 it formed a single powerful story about survival:
An alien soldier realizes he is on the wrong side. While on a mission to Earth he escapes. But he knows that as punishment this whole planet will be destroyed. So he devises a plan to save this world by creating the ultimate weapon.
The story is a metaphor for America in the Cold War. It begins the month when the first man entered space,
and ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. We see the era
through the eyes of elite men (Reed), ordinary workers (Ben), youth
women (Susan). On a deeper level this is a metaphor for humans and our
discovery of technology: does our future lie in war or peace?
The story follows the classic five act structure:
The story ends with four possible futures for America:
ranging from peace and love to nuclear armageddon. After the story ends
(after 1989) we have a child's confused memories of the story, known as
the Franklinverse. It features a clone team.
The Fantastic Four is available in several formats from any good book store:
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, unlike 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.
"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.