Tribute to the Fantastic Four

Widely regarded as the first family of comic book superheroes, the Fantastic Four carry a legacy which is just as, if not more, important than any stories they have ever been featured in. Created by the legendary team of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Fantastic Four are different than their superhero peers in a variety of ways. In fact, merely classifying the Fantastic Four as ‘superheroes’ is somewhat of a misnomer. Although they fit the basic classifications of being superheroes (they have superpowers and are heroes) the title itself is not nearly descriptive enough.

Whereas the X-Men can be viewed as a social movement, or the Avengers as a global peacekeeping force, the Fantastic Four have always managed to walk a fine line between being the prototypical nuclear family, superstar celebrities and the planet Earth’s leading explorers into scientific regions of the unknown. Family, celebrities, and explorers: they have transcended the roles of superheroes, becoming something much more significant in the process.

The Justice League of America would never been seen sitting around the table to enjoy a meal together, but with the Fantastic Four it’s commonplace, it happens every night. When one is given amazing cosmic powers, things such as crime and super villains become old hat very quickly. The really fantastic thing about the Fantastic Four is how the jet setting and considerably sexy life of a superhero seems almost mundane in comparison to many of the other adventures they’ve gone through -- first and foremost the trials and tribulations of raising a family.

One could cite their travels to alternate universes, but if one were to ask Reed and Sue about their greatest accomplishments (if they were real, duh) they’d likely respond with the names Franklin and Valeria: their two children. Between several changes in the team’s roster, and the deaths (and subsequent resurrections) of its members, the Fantastic Four have found a niche for themselves. Reed and Sue have the closest thing to domestic bliss one could ever hope to find in the pages of a comic book. If nothing else, the Four are fighting for a highly idealized version of the American dream, which seems perfectly fitting for a group whose origins can be directly linked to the great space race with Russia. It’s that strong family bond that America loves, so it comes as no surprise that in their respective universe the Fantastic Four are some of Earth’s most famous celebrities.

What makes many of Marvel’s heroes appealing to us, the reader, is that in many ways they are anti-heroes. However, this same reason is what makes the world around them so hostile to those characters. With the mutant movement slowly overcoming Homo Sapiens as the dominant species on Earth, the X-Men are and always will be far too controversial for the public to ever truly accept. A world without an Incredible Hulk is undoubtedly a safer one, and with J. Jonah Jameson’s crusade against Spider-Man, it’s easy to see why your average citizen of New York would fear the idea of a man with amazing spider-like powers roaming the streets.

Perhaps only for lack of better alternatives, the Fantastic Four are the darlings of the general public. First and foremost they are human beings, and gained their gifts by accident, while attempting to be of service to their country. Secondly, and most importantly, they have no secret identities -- the Fantastic Four have nothing to hide. So it’s no surprise that while even attempting to leave their Baxter Building headquarters for a trip to the grocery store, the team is swarmed by enough paparazzi and gossip columnists to annoy Britney Spears or Queen Elizabeth.

This is only a small price to pay, as celebrity status gives Johnny Storm the fame and adoration he has always dreamed of, and offers Ben Grimm a level of public acceptance he could never find elsewhere given his physical appearance. Certainly it’s a distraction to have photographers at your doorstep every day, but the Four bask in the glow of camera flashes more often than they attempt to hide from them. More importantly, by selling action figures and other Fantastic Four merchandise to the world, they are providing a steady line of income for Reed’s experiments.

As stated earlier, the "secret identity" question is never raised with the Fantastic Four, even though in many other comic book titles it is a huge problem with severe consequences.

They are above the basic problems of a superhero, because like any situation the group faces, Reed has carefully thought through the alternatives and found a clear and logical solution. Superman takes action, and as such those actions are often not as well thought out as they should be. By definition, the Fantastic Four's actions are often the result of countless hours of planning or brainstorming by Mr. Richards. Why is this? Because in every battle he chooses to fight Reed is not just putting his life and the life of his super-team on the line, but those of his wife, his brother-in-law and his best friend. The stakes are higher, so there is no room for failure.

One should note that while Mr. Fantastic and company have been known to save the world from the occasional super villain, the team never goes out on ‘patrol,’ actively searching for evil to stop. Because the Four are strong proponents not being killed, they more often than not let the evil come to them. In their free time, the group tests Reed’s various experiments. Traveling to other dimensions and universes often causes a great deal of trouble for the group, but it’s all for the greater good and in the great spirit of exploration.

Rather, Reed Richards spends much of his free time perfecting experiments, inventing new technological wonders, or spending some quality time with his wife. These universe-shattering problems and situations are never the central focus of their lives. They are a beacon of hope, not because they are somehow distance themselves from more controversial struggles, but because they simply overcome them without hesitation. The group never falters, since they are not tied together by their superpowers or sense of duty, but unconditional love and respect for one another.

That’s really the key difference here. Without their powers or a sense of justice, the Four would still be living together. While Batman’s and Superman’s legacies seem to be bogged down in an endless string of ethical dilemmas, often the biggest problems facing the Four are those daily challenges suburban life confronts us with. It’s their greatest struggles that are our greatest struggles. We’re able to lose ourselves in Ben, Johnny Sue and Reed: we can relate them, even if we can’t turn invisible or spontaneously burst into flame.