When I was a lad, the only place to get comics was at the local drug store. One of the first comics I remember picking out was issue 241 of the Fantastic Four.
Up until that point, I was primarily a DC man. I don't remember a whole lot about the issue other than my young self wondering why Nick Fury was Reed Richard's identical twin aside from the eyepatch and having odd thoughts about the Invisible Woman being naked and invisible.
A few years later, after being disappointed with my first mail-order comics subscription, the Justice League during the abysmal Detroit era, I scraped six bucks and spent a week deciding which Marvel book I was going to subscribe to. I almost went with Captain America but after a last minute whim, probably after reading an issue of Marvel Team-Up featuring the Human Torch, decided on the Fantastic Four. After an issue or two, I was hooked.
The first issue I got in the mail was near the tail end of Steve Englehart's run, something I hope to review issue by issue in the future. Ben Grimm was human and She-Thing was taking his place in the lineup. From there, I followed the Fantastic Four across the time stream, through multiple crossover events, both self-contained and company wide, until Reed and Doctor Doom disappeared at the end of issue 381. For a few years, that's where I left things.
Sometime around the turn of the century, I got back into super hero comics and pretty soon I picked up where I left off with Marvel's First Family. Not only did I start buying the issues after I left my subscription lapse, I started going in reverse, buying up most of John Byrne's epic run and many of the Steve Englehart issues I missed.
The family dynamic of the Fantastic Four was one of the draws for me. Reed was the father figure, Sue the mother, and Torch and the Thing the bickering siblings. However, I was also really interested in the non-standard line-ups, like when Crystal filled in for Sue, She-Hulk for The Thing, or even Englehart's non-standard line-up of The Thing, Ms. Marvel, Crystal, and the Human Torch. The exploration aspect was also a big attraction. What other teams regularly went to such exotic locales as the Negative Zone, Attilian, or the Blue Area of the Moon?
And I can't forget the villains! The Mole Man! Doctor Doom! The Frightful Four! The Puppet Master! Blastaar! Annihilus! Galactus! All were first introduced in the pages of The World's Greatest Comics Magazine! The Fantastic Four also brought Namor back into the fold, introduced the Silver Surfer and the Inhumans and countless others.
The modern age of comics has seen the addition of the Future Foundation to the Fantastic Four mythos, almost all of the core members dying and coming back, and the Fantastic Four temporarily being replaced by the substitute, but still very enjoyable, team of Ant-Man, She-Hulk, Medusa, and Ms. Thing.
These days, the Fantastic Four don't even have their own book. While many point to the fact that Marvel doesn't have the movie rights to the FF, stagnation is probably also a factor. The Fantastic Four has had the least amount of turnover of any super-team in history. Part of that is that their iconic origin links them together. Another factor is that Marvel likes to hit the reset button to keep their characters in a static, license-friendly state.
What could be changed to freshen things up? I have some ideas.
- Let Reed and Sue fade into the background to take care of their kids and be part of the supporting cast. The Future Foundation would be a good platform for them to still be involved with the rest of the Fantastic Four but focus on being parents and the future of humanity. Seriously, they are some of the shittiest parents around.
- Split Reed and Sue up. Imagine the tension in the group if Sue and Namor hooked up and Namor joined the Fantastic Four in Reed's place? The Fantastic Four has always had a family dynamic but times have changed from the 1960's family ideal. Maybe it's time for a blended family feel to the FF?
- Phase out two of the originals in favor of new blood. As long as a couple of the core members remain, the Fantastic Four will still have linkage to the original group. Stagnation is the enemy of good storytelling, despite what Marvel's marketing department might think.
Until the time is right to bring them back, I'll have to satisfy myself with re-reading the back issues and read some of the ones I've yet to experience for the first time.