There’s a reason the Fantastic Four is considered Marvel’s First Family. Created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the group is symbolic of everything that makes comic books great. Larger-than-life personalities? Check. Cosmic origin? Check. Fantastical stories? Check. Incredible archnemesis? Double check.
For years, Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic), Sue Richards née Storm (The Invisible Woman), Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) and Ben Grimm (The Thing) successfully bridged the gap between showcasing family values and embarking on superpowered adventures. They paved the way for other superhero teams and groups in the decades to come, demonstrating how the drama isn’t always the battle between good and evil but also the issues that plague any ordinary family.
As one of Marvel’s most prized properties, the Fantastic Four received its fair share of animated shows, toys, video games and movies throughout the years. Extraordinarily, the group’s films are the main reason for the declining popularity in the past 25 years.
From the unreleased 1994 film to 2015’s critically thrashed FANT4STIC, the team hasn’t exactly set the world of comic book movies on fire. Of course, with the franchise now under the Marvel Studios banner, there’s hope that the Fantastic Four will find glory in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The problem is, Marvel Comics has largely ignored the group for years as well. It’s common knowledge that Marvel’s comics division has pushed the MCU characters over its other properties because of corporate politics. In fact, Marvel didn’t publish the Fantastic Four comic book series for three years over a dispute with Fox.
While this has changed and there’s a regular comic book series now, the harm done to the property has been irreparable, considering all the factors. There’s a generation of newer fans who don’t see the big deal about the group and why they should care about it. After all, if Marvel didn’t care enough to push the FF, why should they?
As other characters are thrust into the limelight, it feels as if the Fantastic Four sits in the background, hoping to receive another moment in the sun. There’s a lack of excitement and innovation, as Marvel settles on recycled storylines and forgetting what made the team special.
Weirdly enough, the best on-screen representation of the Fantastic Four was a non-FF property: The Incredibles. Director and writer Brad Bird got it. He knew that there are tons of superpowered teams around—some with better powers and origin stories—but what makes his version stand out is the family dynamics. How does a group cope with saving the world and being a close-knit family? It’s like mashed-up episode of Boy Meets World and Stargirl.
Nothing is ever lost, though, and the Fantastic Four could rise again. All it would take is for the editors and decision-makers to recognise there’s something different and to act on it. Lee and Kirby struck magic almost 60 years ago, and it’d be a shame to see it forgotten. The first step is for Marvel to acknowledge that its First Family deserves a place at the top of comics again.