Fantastic Four Starter Stories

Fantastic Four began the Marvel Age of Comics, but that doesn’t mean that it’s had as much luck with its movies as other Marvel properties. The ugliness brought on by less-than-stellar films and the fallout from contract disputes led to the comic book getting cancelled before 2015’s Fant4stic. The FF’s omission spread to other projects like Marvel: Dice Masters. I’m still waiting for the Fantastic Four set we were supposed to get shortly after launch.

Anyway. With Disney buying out Fox that should all change. Heck, the Fantastic Four comic book was relaunched in August 2018, so positive things have already happened. This is only the beginning.

Your uncle Geekly’s sure Marvel’s first family will make its Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in the not-so-distant future, and it may be a good time to catch up with some of the stories new fans will want to read to get to know Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny better. These are good stories for new fans.

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The Galactus Trilogy Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #48-50 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; 1966)

Uncle Geekly could’ve started with the Fantastic Four’s origin story, and that would be a good enough place to begin, but it’s been covered in film and cartoon a lot. Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #1 is as good as any of the reboots and relaunches, but I talk about origins all the time with these starter stories. Let’s start with something different. Let’s begin with the ultimate in Fantastic Four required reading: Galactus.

First, the Galactus story came out in the middle of Lee and Kirby’s collaboration, so they’re at the height of their storytelling powers. You’ll see more of this in the next entry.

Second, the peerless pair didn’t hit the brakes once after this story got started. Silver Surfer arrives. Uatu warns the family. Galactus looms large above Earth, preparing to eat it. It was loud and bombastic. This story was one of the longest comic book stories at the time. The pacing worked, and it led to comic books adopting longer story arcs.

Finally, the legend of how this story came about is telling of the pair’s storytelling technique and of Galactus. Kirby asked Lee “What if the Fantastic Four met God?” I’m not sure if this conversation ever happened, but presumably Lee responded with a “yes, and.” One would get the ball rolling and the other would always add to original idea, and the original idea of Galactus was an enemy that was above good and evil: a force of nature.

The idea of a villain that was neither good or evil was novel, and “The Galactus Trilogy” remains one of the best Fantastic Four stories.

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This Man, This Monster! Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #51 (written by Stan Lee/art by Jack Kirby; June 1966)

Just in case you missed the details of the last entry and this one, you’ll notice that Galactus was followed up immediately with “This Man, This Monster!.” Like the story it followed, “This Man, This Monster!” introduced more elements to superhero storytelling: focusing on a character’s humanity and interpersonal relationships.

The Thing’s powers are a blessing and a curse and no story by Lee and Kirby does a better job of illustrating that than this one. It’s a single-issue story that explores what happens when Ben Grimm loses his powers and culminates with him making a tragic personal sacrifice. It’s one of Lee and Kirby’s best and shows the pair’s range.

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The Trial of Reed Richards Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #262 (story and art by John Byrne; June 1984)

I’m not going to sugar coat this. The 1970s weren’t a good decade for Fantastic Four stories. John Byrne did a lot to reinvent and reinvigorate the team. “The Trial of Reed Richards” represents the best Byrne had to offer.

Reed must stand trial for allowing Galactus to live and devour more planets. This single-issue tale does a great job of exploring morality, catches readers up on what Galactus was doing for the past decade, and questions what the universe would be like without a force of nature that can eat entire planets. Byrne does a great job of defending Galactus’s right to exist.

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Fantastic Four: Unthinkable (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 1998)

I’ve gone long enough without a Doctor Doom story, and that’s because I wanted to wait for the best Doctor Doom story “Unthinkable.”

Waid and Wieringo’s run on Fantastic Four captured the boundary pushing adventures of the FF’s past and is considered one of the best runs on the series. “Unthinkable” does a lot to solidify that claim. Unable to beat Reed as a scientist, Doom turns to the one “science” Reed was never able to comprehend: magic.

“Unthinkable” forced the Fantastic Four, and especially Reed, to stretch their capabilities. Doom reached new levels of villainy here that included dark arcane powers, a suit made of flesh. Despite Reed’s efforts, Doom still magically disfigured Reed and set him on a path that would lead to Ben’s death.

If a reader wants to know the depth of Doom’s hatred for Reed and the rest of the FF, look no further than “Unthinkable.”

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Fantastic Four: Hereafter (written by Mark Waid/art by Mike Wieringo; 2004)

I did it with Lee and Kirby and here I go again—sort of—with Waid and Wieringo. “Hereafter” follows “Authoritative Action” which happened because of “Unthinkable.” Let’s just say that Reed didn’t handle Ben’s death well, and it led to some ugliness in Latvaria. Reed decides to put his trust in something greater than himself in “Hereafter.” The surviving members of the Fantastic Four storm the gates of Heaven to rescue Ben. This story doesn’t question existence as much as exploring one’s consequences.

Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben don’t save the world in “Hereafter.” They don’t battle a huge villain or overcome a cosmic threat. This story focuses on love, friendship, and hope.

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Fantastic Four: Three (written by Jonathan Hickman/art by Steve Epting; 2010-2011)

What is with the Fantastic Four and wanting to be a trio? Hickman had a great run with Fantastic Four in the 2000s, and “Three” might be the best of his stories. Annihilus—an often-overlooked FF villain—poses the threat here, but the crux of the story comes in the form of Ben losing his powers and not being able to help his best friend Johnny during an invasion from the Negative Zone.

Johnny gets overrun by the Annihilation Wave as Ben seals the portal from the outside. Ben gets his wish of being normal, but he struggles with losing Johnny. If readers want to learn more about Johnny and Ben’s unique bond, give “Three” a read.

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Fantastic Four: 1234 (written by Grant Morrison/art by Jae Lee; 2011)

Grant Morrison likes to bend reality with his stories, so a Fantastic Four mini-series was inevitable. “1234” splits the family with four individual stories. Each member must suffer through a series of personal misfortunes and many of the team’s greatest enemies make appearances.

All the madness in “1234” leads to the team’s greatest adversary Doctor Doom. “1234” is a great showdown between two of the smartest men in the Marvel Universe. This is a battle of will, wits, and intelligence.

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Fantastic Faux (written by Matt Fraction/art by Mike Allred; 2012-2014)

It may not look like it, but many heroes have donned the Fantastic Four uniform. The oddest group to wear Fantastic Four tights must be the team of Fantastic Faux.

Following Jonathan Hickman’s great run on Fantastic Four, Fraction took over both Fantastic Four and its sister title FF. The results were the team being sent through space and time, which left a vacancy in the Baxter Building for a substitute team to fill.

Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and the newly introduced Ms. Thing (Johnny’s pop-star girlfriend Darla Deering who wore a mechanical Thing suit) were left in charge of the Future Foundation’s group of advanced science students. As Allred and Fraction are wont to do, they dial the sci-fi bizzarroness up to 50. A Voltron-style Doc Doom/Annihilus/Kang mash-up villain named Kang the Annihilating Conqueror, a one-eyed future Johnny, and the odd alien Foundation’s students graced this 16-issue run.

But like most great FF runs, “Fantastic Faux” challenges the idea of family. Not only are we born into a family, we have family that we choose.

That’s my list for readers who are new to Fantastic Four comics. If I didn’t get the list right, I’m sure it’s right in some alternate reality. I’ll have to ask Reed which one or you could let me know in comments.