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The Fantastic Four Reading List

Catch Up With Marvel's First Family

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • February 25, 2024

4 times the action. 4 times the adventure. 4 times the fantastic.

In 1961, writer-editor Stan Lee, along with artist Jack Kirby, ushered in the Marvel Age of Comics with the creation of The Fantastic Four. This team of four superheroes broke from the mold of stoic, noble figures of the past, like Superman and Wonderwoman. As Lee put it, he wanted to portray characters he could "personally relate to" adding that "they'd have their faults and foibles, they'd be fallible and feisty."

The group is led by Mister Fantastic, aka Reed Richards, a scientific genius who can stretch his body to incredible lengths and shapes. The Invisible Woman is Sue Storm, Reed's girlfriend (and later wife). Sue's younger brother, Johnny Storm, is the Human Torch, capable of generating and propelling himself by fire. Reed's college roommate, Ben Grimm, is The Thing, a skilled pilot who possesses superhuman strength and durable stone-like flesh. The foursome, who developed their superpowers as the result of cosmic rays during an interstellar mission, are portrayed as a somewhat dysfunctional, yet loving, family.

The new movie 

On Valentine's Day, Marvel studios revealed the cast of the new Fantastic Four movie with "internet daddy" Pedro Pascal leading up the cast as Mister Fantastic. Vanessa Kirby will take up the mantle of The Invisible Woman, with Joseph Quinn from Stranger Things portraying the Human Torch and The Bear's Ebon Moss-Bachrach as The Thing. With a release date slated for summer of 2025, that gives us plenty of time to catch up on the past iterations of this groundbreaking franchise.

The comics

Since the original 1970s volumes by co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there have been several integral Fantastic Four iterations by subsequent contributors.

The new movie will likely draw a lot of inspiration from the current run by Ryan North. Beginning in 2022, these volumes have been praised for excellent storytelling and accessibility to new readers, so this series would be a great place to start. Our supplies are limited in past volumes, but here are some of the key runs from the history of the franchise.  

  • 1981–1986: John Byrne's issues #232–295, are some of the most beloved by fans. He made some major changes to the story, fleshing out the characters, and adding important plot elements.
  • 1989–1991: Issues #334 to #354 by Walt Simonson added some fun elements of community interaction, including The New Fantastic Four with guest appearances by Wolverine, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Ghost Rider.
  • 2002–2005: Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo offered an accessible take on the series for new readers with issues #500–524.
  • 2009–2012: Jonathan Hickman's run, from #570–588, shook things up a bit with the introduction of some revolutionary sci-fi ideas.

Galactus and Silver Surfer

The Fantastic Four franchise has introduced a number of popular side characters including Galactus and the Silver Surfer, both of whom are expected to be featured in the new movie. First introduced as a part of the original series, Galactus is a god-like villain who sustains his life force by draining living planets of their energy. The Silver Surfer first appears as Galactus's herald, but, after meeting The Fantastic Four, he turns on his master to save Earth. Both characters have become staples of the Marvel universe, showing up in several key episodes, including The Infinity Gauntlet.

The past movies (including the one that was never released)

The Fantastic Four has been the subject of a number of popular TV shows and movies. Unfortunately, the first film adaptation was made without the approval of Marvel Studios and was, subsequently, quashed by the studio. Although the film was completed in 1994, Marvel bought the rights and prevented its official release. (Apparently bootleg versions may be available.) Here's a book all about that.

Finally in 2005, Tim Story's Fantastic Four came to theaters. It was followed by the 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Both films feature Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba as Sue Storm/Invisible Woman, Chris Evans as Johnny Storm/Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm/The Thing. A 2015 reboot is directed by Josh Trank and stars Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Bell.

The Fantastic Four is credited with shaping the Marvel Era as we know it. With the new movie coming out next summer, now is the perfect time to start exploring this seminal series.

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