The Fantastic Four are not superheroes. Yet they get lumped in with the superhero genre, which I have said I’m going to try and avoid on this blog. But despite being published by Marvel, which is a superhero comic book publisher, I disagree with this…generalizing of them. They’re adventurer/archaeologists, scientific explorers. Who happen to have super powers and save the world here and then. They’re the nerds, they’re the smart kids, and don’t always get the same respect or accolades that the average super hero does. So if you’ve ever enjoyed Indiana Jones, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who, or anything with a bit of adventure and exploration, this comic is for you.
However, not every creator has understood this, so there’s been plenty of bad takes on the characters as well as good. On top of that, there’s no need to buy into the “collector” mentality and go after every single appearance of the team. Here’s the volumes by the creators who got the FF right. Read these, and you’ll be yelling “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” in no time. Each of these can be read and enjoyed without reading any others.
Essential Fantastic Four, Volumes 1-5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
The original Fantastic Four comics (as well as the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man) display the outsider/outcast “Marvel” feel that early Marvel Comics fans latched onto. Ben Grimm, AKA The Thing, is pretty brutal in early issues. He’s depressed, he lashes out at his friends easily and with minimal provocation. He IS a monster at first because that’s what he believes himself to be.
Fantastic Four 1234 by Grant Morrison and Jae Lee
Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom, engaged in a cosmic chess match. A family broken up by self loathing and jealousy of each other. The day isn’t one by punching (well, there is some punching), but by Reed Richards stretching his mind.
Fantastic Four Volumes 1-3 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo
The first issue of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s run on the title was 9 cents, and summed up the duo’s intentions for the series pretty well. Within the comic, the Fantastic Four is a brand, they have a comic book published by a fictional version of Marvel Comics. Their new PR guy rejects a concept that positions the family as superheroes, and gives a speech that defines these characters and lays out the blueprint for how to do them correctly.*
Fantastic Four/FF (ongoing) by Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham, Steve Epting, Barry Kitson, Juan Bobillo, Nick Dragotta
Hickman’s run** builds off of what has come before with the transformation of the Fantastic Four into the Future Foundation, further seeking to not simply save the world, but to help it to innovate and evolve.
This group travels through time and space. They’re not fighting crime, they’re exploring and experimenting. For science. So if you like adventure, science, or science adventures, read this comic!***
*There’s a patch in the middle with Dr. Doom having armor made of his ex-fiancee’s flesh that is a little…weird. Skip it, or stick with it for an excellent story that answers the question posed oh so long ago by Ms. Joan Osborne, “What if God (Galactus) was one of us?”
**I know I’ve been trying to stress collaborative efforts, but in the case of this modern run of Fantastic Four, I feel that Hickman exercises enough control over and is enough of a driving force behind the series that I can refer to this as “his” run.
***Fantastic Four is my favorite comic.