What Marvel’s First Family Is So Special
I think the beauty of the Fantastic Four began before they even existed. As the story goes, Stan Lee was thinking of quitting the company at the same time that DC Comics introduced the very first issue of the Justice League of America (I’m sure that went nowhere); tasked with creating a team book that could rival that of the JLA, Stan’s wife gave him the wisdom to create the book he always wanted to make since he was quitting anyway it doesn’t really matter how it turns out. However, the universe had other plans as this marked the birth of the Fantastic Four!
What has made the series so successful, even with its first issue, is that yes, they are a team, but to call them a team of superheroes is doing them a disservice; they are a team in the same way you and your family are a team. When I first started getting into comics, I always found that to be the most unique idea that the series presented, unlike Spider-Man who fights villains every week; or Iron Man, who is forced to take on the corporate struggles that any billionaire superhero faces, the FF look for one thing and one thing only, adventure.
One of the earliest FF books I read and the most important to me came with my very first Mr. Fantastic action figure. A reprint of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Fantastic Four #489. In it, a publicist is tasked with spending the week with the FF to find a way to make them more marketable. At first, the publicist thinks they are just superheroes who act as such, but by the end of the week learns that they are so much more than that; his experiences culminate into one page that I have always taken as the gospel for what the Fantastic Four are and need to be.
I have always been in a tiny minority in that I absolutely love the FF, where most of my friends only really care if Doctor Doom or Galactus are involved. Many people want big and extravagant battles or a meeting of the minds; or just awesome locations. While this is all true and on-brand for the characters, only about 25% of what they truly are as characters. Sure they fight Doom, but they’re fighting him because he wants to rip a hole into spacetime; sure, there are a meeting of the minds, but that is because Reed and his kids have to make sure they can create a bounce house that is bigger on the inside, and yeah there are awesome locations. Still, even that is because the Fantastic Four had time to spare exploring a new dimension before going to the movies that evening.
It’s important to have them clobber and save galaxies but what truly makes them fantastic is that family comes before everything else. We even see that grow over the decades as the first few stories see a group exploring for the simple reason that they can until children become involved years later and force the team to reevaluate how they live their lives, and now? Now we have an entire family of imaginauts who are ready to see what tomorrow holds today. But no matter what, they do it together. Many movies and cartoons have warped what makes the FF special and a large part of that is because they miss that crucial family component and, by default, the team’s adventurous side.
One of the things that I have always compared the Fantastic Four to (and maybe this is because I watched the Hanna-Barbera cartoon a lot as a kid) are the astronauts of the 60s. Real Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin types whose desire is to always go further than they did yesterday. Granted the team was born around this time as well so the comparison feels very natural. However, I also couple that comparison with a typical dysfunctional family who happens to have their own set of problems, like Doctor Doom ruining their vacation or the team coming down with a space flu. While that does sound pretty obvious, I feel like this is the stuff people care about the least when it comes to the FF.
So what really makes the FF so special? To me, it is that they subvert the expectations of the modern superhero comic. Fans don’t read about them because they want a huge battle, they read the book because they know that not only will there be an adventure that makes your mind wander in a similar way to an astronaut looking at the night sky, but there will also be enough heart to keep your feet planted while your mind is in space. Some of the best examples of this include both Mark Waid’s and Johnathan Hickman’s run on the series.
I hope that the Fantastic Four’s future will show them, in media, as the caring and daring adventurers they are and the first family that we know and love before being heroes. They are a family that holds onto ideals that many people need nowadays, and just because they aren’t like the Avengers doesn’t make them any less entertaining, and with a new film on the way, this could be the time for the FF to shine. I hope you enjoyed reading about my love of the FF and why they are so special, and maybe you see Marvel’s first family in the same way I do, or as Mr. Fantastic would say: