As you might’ve heard already, the new Fantastic Four movie has not been well received by critics and fans alike. It seems like “Marvel’s first family” can’t catch a break when it comes to breaking onto the big screen. But don’t write off the Fantastic Four completely! What you mightn’t be aware is that the Fantastic Four is important to comics in many ways and had some fantastic, if you’ll excuse the pun, stories and celebrated creative runs.
In this post I’ll highlight four of these celebrated runs that you should be reading – all of which are of a significant length, critically celebrated and much adored by fans. I’ve mixed things up by going with two classics runs and two which are a bit more contemporary in order to give a good spread of storytelling and ideas. I hope you enjoy these comics and you’ll learn that The Fantastic Four is better than the sum of 3 lousy movies.
The Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Run
Written by Stan Lee. Art by Jack Kirby.
Runs Through: Fantastic Four #1-102 and Fantastic Four Annual #1-6
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s run on the Fantastic Four is not only the original run of the superhero family it’s also has legendary status and has influenced the Marvel Universe and superhero comics for more than 50 years. Over the 102 issues and 6 annuals they worked on together, the pair introduced so many ideas and characters that are still used today and have rippled throughout Marvel Comics. Characters such as the Doctor Doom, Galactus, Silver Surfer, Black Panther and The Inhumans would not only become Fantastic Four staples but would be used regularly in other Marvel comics or in many cases spin out into their own franchises. Characters such as the Hulk, The X-Men and others would appear in stories and because of it created the foundations that Marvel is built upon today of multiple franchises co-existing in the same universe.
Brimming with influential ideas, there’s plenty of fantastic stories in Lee and Kirby’s legendary run. These stories would drenched in exploration, adventure and action – as seen in stories such as Prisoner of Doctor Doom, The Galactus Trilogy and Within the Tortured Land – and would become the benchmark for superhero stories of the era moving forward. While these stories were fun it’s not until about halfway through their run until you get to the truly great stuff. With the introduction of Galactus we get a new kind of villain, one who isn’t inherently evil but must eat planets in order to survive. While the doesn’t sound all that revolutionary today back in the 1960’s this was rather fresh.
If you are new to comics I would suggest reading some of the more contemporary stories on this list first and then coming back to this. This is not because of any quality concerns but mostly due to comics from the 1960’s differently to those today and have dated a bit. But do read them eventually!
The Fantastic Four – Fantastic Four #1
Prisoner of Doctor Doom – Fantastic Four #5
The Galactus Trilogy – Fantastic Four #48-50
This Man, This Monster – Fantastic Four #51
The John Byrne Run
Written and art by John Bryne.
Runs Through: Fantastic Four #232-295
In the decade after Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had moved on from the title Fantastic had become a little stale. The stories weren’t terrible, but they just didn’t have the same excitement as earlier issues. That’s until John Bryne took over! Already making a name for himself with his work on Uncanny X-Men, John Byrne injected new life into the series with some fresh ideas, while still respecting what had come before.
Byrne took what was already at his disposal and turned them into great stories. This is evident with Galactus which he would use frequently and find new ways to explore the character in different kinds of stories. Another character that would also be explored during his run was Franklin Richards, the son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, suggesting he was one of the most powerful beings in the universe. John Byrne was also not afraid to shake up the team dynamic, introducing different characters to the team throughout his time. One of the most notable was She-Hulk who replaced The Thing for a period of time.
There was also plenty of thought provoking points and character moments throughout as well. Byrne found a way for Galactus, a character relentless in his motivation to stay alive through the destruction of planets, to appeal to his humanity and give him a more human edge. Speaking of Galactus, there was also a moment in which his life was in the hands of Mr Fantastic and whether he should continue to live. But the most gut-wrenching of all stories would have to be Fantastic Four #285. This tells the story of Johnny Storm considering if he should continue being the Human Torch after a fan of his sets himself on fire in an attempt to imitate him.
Back to Basics! – Fantastic Four #232
Terrax the Untamed/Shall Earth Endure?/Beginnings and Endings – Fantastic Four 242-244
Cityscape – Fantastic Four #252
The Trial of Reed Richards – Fantastic Four #262
The Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo Run
Written by Mark Waid. Art by Mike Wieringo, Hoard Porter and Mark Buckingham.
Runs Through: Fantastic Four #60-70 (Volume 3) Fantastic Four #500-524 (Reverting to original numbering)
Mark Waid is the kind of writer that’s famous for taking a character or concept from a classic period and translating it into something fresh and modern, making something completely new but still honours what has come before. He’s been doing it for the past few years on Daredevil and before that he did it with Fantastic Four, with Flash collaborator Mike Wieringo joining him for the ride.
The first story in his run, Inside Out, is proof of his method which explores Mr Fantastic and why he decided to call the team The Fantastic Four. This one-issue story looks into the teams history as far as the Lee and Kirby era and uses it to look towards the future. The teams also had a great grip on what makes the team great with plenty of adventure and fun.
The team faced all kind of challenges throughout the run from the scientific to the more grounded. On the scientific side, Waid and Wieringo had the team up against a living equation, giant insects and unstable molecules. On the more grounded side we see Johnny Storm attempt to become CEO of the teams business side as well as his antics with the Thing. While the series historically had a more scientific angle to it, the team also introduced magic into the mix – in particular Doctor Doom’s involvement with it.
On the art side of things, the lion share of the work was done by the late Mike Wieringo who made a name for himself collaborating on The Flash with Waid. His art is is a fresh take for comics of the time, which were still to a degree seeing some remnants of the 90’s, with not a sharp edge in sight and very animated. His art matched the tone perfectly helping to add to the fun and light-hearted nature of the the run. Filling in for a total of issues were Howard Porter and Mark Buckingham who complemented Wieringo with their own clean but detailed styles.
Inside Out – Fantastic Four #60 (Volume 3)
Unthinkable – Fantastic Four #67-#70 (Volume 3) and #500 (Reverting to original numbering)
The Jonathan Hickman Run
Written by Jonathan Hickman. Art by Dave Eaglesham, Nick Dragota and Steve Epting.
Runs Through: Fantastic Four #570–588, FF #1-23, Fantastic Four #600–611
Before making waves with Avengers/New Avengers, which would eventually lead up to Secret Wars, Jonathan Hickman wrote a well loved run of Fantastic Four. This run featured Hickman’s signature huge science fiction ideas, but at the same time grounded the series with human interactions and remembering that the Fantastic Four, and by extention the Future Foundation, are a family.
In the middle part of Hickman’s run there’s a chunk where the series changes direction slightly with main title being replaced with a series called FF, which has always been ambiguous as to whether this stood for Fantastic Four or Future Foundation. While it featured on the team (minus one member who is presumed dead and replaced with Spider-Man), the series focused on the Future Foundation which focuses on using science for helping the world. This lead to the introduction of new characters, which expanded the family and put some fun back into the franchise after the tragedy that had happened before.
If you’ve read any of Hickman’s previous work you’ll know that he likes to build up grand science fiction ideas and Fantastic Four is no exception. There’s parallel universes, multiples Reed Richards from different universes working as a council in order to solve everything, a deeper exploration of the Inhumans and much more. While there might be a lot of moving parts much of it pays off in the end when it all comes together.
Prime Elements – Fantastic Four #575-578
Three – Fantastic Four #583-588