- Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
- Ben Grimm/The Thing
- Johnny Storm/The Human Torch
- Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Woman)
Dr. Reed Richards, expert in every field of science and engineering, builds a ship intended to travel to distant stars. Desperate to beat the communists into space, however, he tries to coax his best friend, Ben Grimm, to pilot it on its maiden voyage. Grimm furiously refuses, knowing there hasn’t been time to learn more about mysterious cosmic rays that lurk in outer space, nor to equip the ship with adequate safeguards against the possible effects of them. Reed’s fiancé, Susan Storm, implores Ben, reiterating the importance to the country of not allowing Russia or China to be the first to pioneer outer space. When she calls him a coward, Ben’s temper flares and causes him to irrationally agree to fly the ship. Along with Susan’s younger brother, Johnny, the four sneak onto the airbase, for the launch has not been approved, and fly off.
Once in space, however, Ben’s warning proves prophetic as the Geiger counter goes haywire and their bodies are penetrated by the powerful cosmic rays. Incapacitated by the effects of the radiation, Ben manages to set the ship on autopilot and it crash lands in a remote wooded clearing.
As the four emerge from the wreckage, one by one, they begin to manifest strange new powers. Susan begins to turn invisible. Ben’s body begins to grow and distort, taking on an orange, rocky countenance. Blaming Reed for their misfortune, Ben rips up a tree and swings it at him in rage. But Reed’s body suddenly stretches wildly out of shape and out of the way of Ben’s attack. Reed then wraps his arms around Ben’s enormous body like serpents, incapacitating him. In his mounting excitement, Johnny’s body begins to smoke, then inflames, and he flies into the air trailing a tail of fire. Landing and extinguishing his flame a short time later, Johnny joins the other three, who all agree that they must use their new powers to help mankind. Reed calls himself Mr. Fantastic, Sue, The Invisible Girl, and Johnny, The Human Torch. Ben mockingly calls himself The Thing.
And so is born…The Fantastic Four!
Unlike traditional superheroes, the four wear no costumes at first, do not conceal their true identities, and are more scientific explorers and adventurers than typical crime fighters. And they are a family.
Based out of the Baxter Building in Manhattan, the group is funded by Dr. Richards’ personal fortune accumulated by the many patents he has produced. The team’s exploits have made them famous around the world and beyond.
The story behind the creation of the Fantastic Four is now legendary in comics history.
The story goes that Stan Lee, pushing forty and growing tired of the comics industry, was considering looking for a different line of work, complaining to his wife about how tired and hackneyed all of the stories they were putting out had become. When his boss, Martin Goodman, had told him to create a superhero team to compete with DC Comics’ The Justice League of America, Lee’s wife, Joan, told him he should do one last story and do it the way he had always wanted to do it. After all, if he was leaving anyway, what could Goodman do?
Lee enlisted the help of one of Timely Comics’ best artists, Jack Kirby, and together they created a unique group of heroes the likes of which had not been seen before. They were a family, for one, instead of a group of strangers thrown together because they all had powers. And they constantly bickered among themselves, they had real emotions – anger, melancholy – things that hadn’t been seen from a superhero before.
They were flawed.
And they didn’t wear costumes or hide their true identities. Instead, they became celebrities, living out their, some would say glamorous, lives between adventures on the top floor of a mid-Manhattan skyscraper called the Baxter Building, from which Reed Richards performed all of his scientific experiments which funded the group and, quite often, created the basis for their adventures.
The teenager in the group wasn’t a sidekick. The leader’s girlfriend wasn’t a damsel in distress. They both shared equal membership in the group.
The strongest member wasn’t handsome with leading man good looks or a bodybuilder physique. Instead, he was a misshapen gargoyle, strong beyond belief, but hideous to behold, or so we are informed.
All of this was so fresh and new that it not only attracted the attention of the younger kids who normally bought the comic books, but also appealed to an older, more intellectual crowd who found the unusual depth of character as well as the invigoratingly dynamic artwork of Kirby irresistible.
The creation of The Fantastic Four is a seminal event in the annals of comic book history. Had Lee gone a different direction, say merely bringing back some of the characters the company had put out in the forties and fifties and putting them together instead, lazily copying what DC Comics had done with their team book, it is fair to say that the history of Marvel Comics, and in fact, the comics industry itself, could have turned out completely different.
That is how significant an event it was.