The Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family,” dates all the way back to 1961 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the creators of nearly every Marvel character that you like, created the group as part of a response to DC Comics’ Justice League of America. From that spark came one of the cornerstones of the Marvel Universe and the longest-running Marvel series up until it ceased publication in April of this year.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Fantastic Four were flawed and often bickered, much like a real family would. Though the group would often fight among themselves, and even had a breakup or two, in the end, they’d all come back together, stronger than before. They were a family rather than just a team. It’s this idea of them as much more than a team that makes for the best stories. When the characters, rather than whatever external action, really drive the story, Fantastic Four is at its best.
While Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four hasn’t been quite the success that anyone wanted, the Fantastic Four are still worthwhile. Their creation arguably started the “Marvel Age of Comics,” signaling Marvel’s eventual ascendance to their current No. 1 spot among comics publishers. Kirby and Lee would create a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, something that would at times influence basically every other hero and book at Marvel. If the movie left you disappointed, just know that the Fantastic Four are still worth your time, and read on to find some comics that might be a better place to start.
Where better to start than Fantastic Four #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? The first part of this issue introduces the Fantastic Four and their origin story to readers. Though their origins would be updated throughout the years, the general concept would stay the same, with the group being explorers first and superheroes second. This issue also introduced the Mole Man and his Subterranean army, who would play large roles in later stories. Finding a paper reprint of this won’t be too hard (the original is, of course, out of this stratosphere price wise), but digital is probably easiest. Same goes for any of these old issues, really.
Fantastic Four #5 features the first appearance of Doctor Doom, arguably the defining villain of the Fantastic Four. Doom captures Sue Storm as a hostage, forcing Reed, Johnny, and Ben to travel back in time to recover Blackbeard’s treasure, which Doom will use to make himself invincible! (Yes, seriously.) Through some quick thinking and bit of trickery, Reed switches out the treasure with junk, foiling Doom’s plant. After a quick fight, the Fantastic Four escape Doom’s castle, but not before Johnny burns it down.
With Fantastic Four #48-50, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced Galactus and the Silver Surfer, who you may vaguely remember from the 2007 Fantastic Four sequel. At this point, comics just didn’t come quite that big in scope. No longer was the Marvel Universe just those heroes of Earth and some aliens, but now there were giant galactic demi-gods eating planets all over the cosmos. While these Lee/Kirby comics may seem dated to some, it’s worth remembering that these comics helped to build the Marvel Universe as we know it, with Lee and Kirby constantly reinventing what comics could and couldn’t do.
A bit more recent is the Mark Waid/Mike Wieringo run of Fantastic Four from 2001 through 2006, encompassing issues 60-71, 501-526 (Marvel went back to original numbering at one point). Waid and Wieringo understood better than most that the Fantastic Four are truly a family. They may fight, but they still come together in the end. They also played up the original idea of the group being explorers first, putting them into fun stories involving giant insects, evil living equations, and much more. Another highlight of Waid’s run was his focus on Doom, in particular, the look into what lengths Doom would go to hurt his enemies in the “Unthinkable” arc. Of particular interest is issue #511, where we find that God may just look a lot like Jack Kirby in the Marvel Universe.
Possibly the most praiseworthy run of Fantastic Four since Lee and Kirby handed it over to others is Jonathan Hickman’s run as writer from 2009 to 2013. Hickman, like Waid before him, truly captured the family aspects of the characters, making the action less important than the characters involved. Though Hickman often changed up the status quo during his run on Fantastic Four and its spin-off FF, even “killing” Johnny Storm at one point, he was still telling heartfelt, poignant stories that reminded the reader that these characters were a family rather than just a team.
If the movie still has a sour taste in your mouth, just remember that Josh Trank said the movie isn’t actually based on the comics, so this can be an all new experience for you.