Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Although the group’s membership has occasionally changed temporarily, the team usually consists of four friends who gained superpowers after being exposed to cosmic rays:
- Mister Fantastic, the leader of the group, a scientist who can stretch his body.
- The Invisible Woman (originally known as The Invisible Girl), his wife, who can become invisible at will and create transparent force fields.
- The Human Torch, her brother, who can surround himself in flames and fly.
- The Thing, their grumpy friend, who possesses superior strength and whose body is made of craggy orange rock.
Since their introduction, the group has been portrayed as a dysfunctional superhero family of sorts. They squabble and even hold some deep animosity towards one another, but ultimately truly love and care for one another.
The team launched the revival of Marvel Comics in the early 1960s, giving them pivotal place in the history of American comic books. They have remained more or less popular since and have been adapted into other media.
Legend has it that in 1961, Timely publisher Martin Goodman was playing a round of golf with rival publisher Jack Liebowitz of DC Comics. Liebowitz told Goodman about the success that DC had recently been having with Justice League of America, a new title that featured a team comprised of several of DC's superhero characters.
Based upon this conversation, Goodman decided that his company should begin publishing its own series about a team of super-heroes. He gave the order to writer Stan Lee who was recently finding the medium of comic books restrictive. Intending to leave the medium, Lee and artist Jack Kirby produced a ground-breaking book featuring a family of super-heroes who were far more fallible and human than anything seen in the medium to date.
To forestall possibly upsetting DC, (which, in addition to being a competing publisher, also owned Marvel's distributor) Lee and Kirby deliberately avoided making the new book look like a competing superhero comic book; the new characters appeared on the cover without costumes and had no secret identities. Lee's intended swan song was phenomenally successful, and Lee and Kirby stayed together on the book and began launching other titles together from which the Marvel Universe grew.
The Fantastic Four acquired their superhuman abilities after an experimental rocket designed by the scientist Reed Richards passed through a storm of cosmic rays on its test flight. Upon crash landing back on Earth, the four occupants of the craft found themselves transformed and possessed of bizarre new abilities.
Richards, who took the name Mister Fantastic, was now able to stretch his body into nearly any shape he could imagine (similar to the earlier Plastic Man). His fiancee, Susan Storm, gained the abilty to become invisible at will and named herself the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman). She later developed the ability to project force fields, create invisible objects, and turn other objects visible/invisible. Her younger brother, Johnny Storm, was posessed with the incendiary powers of the Human Torch, enabling him to control fire, project burning bolts of flame from his body, and fly. Finally, pilot Ben Grimm was transformed into an orange-skinned craggy monster with incredible strength and a nearly invulnerable hide. Filled with self loathing and self pity, he dubbed himself the Thing.
The four characters were all modelled after the four classical Greek elements--earth (The Thing), fire (The Human Torch), wind (The Invisible Girl) and water (the pliable and ductile Mr. Fantastic). These same four elements also inspired Jack Kirby's earlier creations, the Challengers of the Unknown.
The team of adventurers have used their fantastic abilities to protect humanity, the earth and the universe from a number of threats. Propelled, for the main part, by Richards' innate scientific curiosity the team have explored space, the Negative Zone , the Microverse, other dimensions and nearly every hidden valley, nation, and lost civilization on the planet.
They have had a number of headquarters, most notably the Baxter Building in New York city. Pier 4, a warehouse on the New York waterfront, served as a temporary headquarters for the group after the Baxter Building was condemned, due to the actions of another superhero team, the Thunderbolts. Later, Four Freedoms Plaza was built on the site of the second Baxter Building when the latter was shuttled into space by Kristoff, a version of the Fantastic Four's seminal villan Doctor Doom. Most recently, an orbiting satellite version of the Baxter Building has been used.
Comic book within a comic book
Early issues of Fantastic Four included a gimmick that seemed to suggest that the characters either knew they were comic book characters, or that the comics were supposed to be seen as accounts of "real-life" events (with the Fantastic Four having sold Marvel a licence to use their likenesses). One early Doctor Doom story included Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as characters. Such self-reference faded out as the Marvel Universe developed, but was occasionally revived, most notably with the character She-Hulk in the 1990s.
Over the years, there have been three short-lived TV animated series and one feature-length film adaptation of the Fantastic Four comic book series. The first series was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions in the late 1960s. It lasted for 15 episodes, and it is favorably remembered as one of the better cartoon adaptations of a Marvel comic book series. This Fantastic Four series was rerun as part of the continuing series Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure.
The second series was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises in the mid-1970s. It is infamous for starting a long-running urban legend that persists in comic book and animation fandom to the present day. The 1970s Fantastic Four series replaced the character of the Human Torch with a "cute" robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. A long-lasting rumor persisted that this change was made by the TV network (NBC) because they supposedly did not want young viewers to imitate the Human Torch by setting themselves on fire. However, this rumor was false; the true reason for the change was because of merchandising concerns. (A movie featuring the Human Torch was in the early stages of production at the time, though the film was never completed.) Ironically enough, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises would become known as Marvel Enterprises, Ltd. (now Marvel Studios) in 1980.
In the mid-1990s, Marvel Productions syndicated a new Fantastic Four animated series as part of the "Marvel Action Hour". The first half of the hour was an episode of Iron Man; the second half an episode of Fantastic Four (many episodes of which were direct recreations of episodes from the original 1960s series). During the first season, Stan Lee was featured speaking before each show about characters in the following episode and what had inspired him to create them. Both Fantastic Four and Iron Man were radically retooled in their second seasons, sporting new opening sequences, improved animation and more mature writing, though noticeably missing the introductions by Stan Lee. The "Marvel Action Hour" lasted two seasons before being cancelled.
A movie adaptation of The Fantastic Four was completed in 1994 by famed b-movie director/producer Roger Corman. While this movie was never released to theaters or video, it has been made available from various bootleg video distributors. The film was made on a shoestring budget and is largely mocked by fans of the comic book foursome for what they see as poor acting and disappointing special effects (at one point, The Human Torch turns into an obvious cartoon).
It was ultimately revealed by Stan Lee that unbeknown to the cast and crew, this movie was never intended to be released in the first place. It was only because the studio who owned the rights to make a Fantastic Four movie would have lost the rights if they did not begin production by a certain date.
In addition, the title characters of The Incredibles parody The Fantastic Four in many respects.
- Bibliography of Fantastic Four titles
- Ultimate Fantastic Four
- Ultimate Marvel
- Fantastic Four (movie)
- A review of the 1997 FF Film
- The IMDb entry on the 2005 feature
- A detailed site concerning the comic book and its featured characters
- A site looking at the critical history and media of the Fantastic Four
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