"THE FANTASTIC DOZEN OR SO..."
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first foisted the Fantastic Four on
beFuddled Fandom in 1961, making the FF franchise one year older than...
well, me. Their core book has come out once a month since then, they've
had numerous back up features, crossovers, team-ups, spin-off books,
guest appearances, mini series, alternate universe versions, books,
cartoons and movies. That makes for one hell of a lot of back-story for
Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, which is why I decided to avoid it and not
talk about them.
Instead I'll be talking about the rather large number of people who have
also been members of the Fantastic Four. I'm only going to talk about
other characters that have been official members. If I included
folks who fought alongside the FF for reasonable chunks of time, I'd be
here all day. And nobody wants that, least of all me.
So why have there been so many FF members over the years? Well, the FF
is, above all, book about family. It's not an elite team like the
Avengers; it's not a book about class and race like the X-men or a bunch
of misfits like The Defenders or a group of poorly defined, badly
written Z-listers like the New Warriors. It's about family. You've got
one. You know what they're like. Could you stand spending all your time
with your immediate family? I know I can't, and two of them are my
children. It's the same with the many, many people who've written the FF
over the years. You can only write a squabble between Ben and Johnny or
Reed inadvertently hurting Sue's feelings by being cold and intellectual
so many times before you go nuts. It's new members or you end up writing
Reed walking in on Sue with Willy Lumpkin.
"Hoop-dee-doo, Ol' Willy Gots a 'special delivery' for Mrs. Richards!"
So let's get to it. Here's who's subbed in over the years when one of
more core members (or sometimes none) have taken a leave of absence, or
gone missing, or been pregnant or presumed dead or had to take a really
long leak or whatever.
Crystal has pronoun gender trouble.
Crystal is an Inhuman. The Inhumans were introduced to the marvel
universe in FF # 45, 1965, presumably because the idea of mutants didn't
offer Marvel enough chances to come up with freaky-ass, odd looking,
super powered characters. Basically, the Inhumans are descended from
primates that the Celestials genetically enhanced, and then the Kree
came along an did experiments on them and then left them to develop on
their own for hundreds of generations. Why? My theory is Jack Kirby did
a lot of acid back in the hippie days. Don't believe me? Check out the
work Kirby did at DC after shaking off the slightly more sober Stan Lee.
Try "The Forever People" and then tell me I'm wrong.
Anyway, Crystal is part of the royal family of the Inhumans, she can
control Earth Wind and Fire but not well enough to keep them from
singing for the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton
in "Sgt. Pepper".
I'm kidding of course; she controlled Earth, Wind, Fire and Air, the
classical elements. Her control was poorly defined as a concept, which
came in handy since a writer could have her do pretty much anything as
the need arose, but also get clonked on the head and kidnapped. She was
The Human Torch's main squeeze for quite some time and filled in for The
Invisible Girl when she took maternity leave. Crystal and Spiderman Girl
Friend Gwen Stacy had a long running rivalry over who introduced the
flat black, totally light absorbing headband to Marvel womanhood.
"Okay, which one of you put Rogaine in my Garnier Fructis?"
Also an inhuman. In fact, their Queen, making her the first Queen to
take time off of being a Queen to pinch-hit for the Fantastic Four. (See
also Storm and Luke Cage. I'm kidding of course. Luke's long time
association with 'Iron Fist' should not be taken that way.) Medusa had
long, flowing red hair, which she had total muscular control over. Can I
just say, when I was a twelve-year-old boy the only reason we didn't
talk more on the playground about exactly what hair Medusa could control
was because we were laughing too hard about Mister Fantastics' Elastic
Weiner? She subbed in for the Invisible Girl when she took leave to care
for her son Franklin, who was in a coma for a good long time, which is
maybe the best way to write him. On a side note, I'd have stopped
calling Sue Richards the Invisible 'girl' around the time she got
married to a guy with graying hair, Let alone before she had a kid, but
Stan Lee (who was also gray at the temples and continues to dye it that
way) saw it differently. I think the whole idea of 'girls' married to
guys who are going gray is an itsy bit creepy, invisible or not. I mean,
it's the Baxter building, not the Baxter doublewide, know what I'm
LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE
Straight out of Compton? More like straight out of The Village People,
Say what you will about Brian Michael Bendis, you have to give credit
where credit is due. He rescued Luke Cage from a very bad place, i.e. a
blaxploitation character written exclusively by 70's honkies. Every hero
needs a catch phrase. Where The Thing has always said "It's Clobberin'
Time!", Luke Cage used to say "Sweet Christmas!" This gives me a chance
to use my catch phrase, "I shit you not." Cage was hired (yes, hired,
'cause he's the hero for 'hire', and also because when 70's honkies
think Black folks are only in it for the money.) to replace The Thing
during one of the many, many, many times The Thing lost his Thingness
and was just plain 'ol human Ben Grimm, which is supposedly what he
always wanted but then he went back to being the Thing. Luke had two
super powers, titanium hard skin which he got from allowing himself to
be experimented on in the slammer, and being a huge badass mutha, which
he got by being a blaxploitation character written by 70's honkies. Luke
lasted about two issues and then Reed built Ben a Robotic Thing suit,
which I think makes it pretty clear that Mister fantastic is a Fantastic
In space, no one can hear you scream that you are on fire.
No, not the crappy Chevy sports car with the name that means 'doesn't
move' in Spanish. No, not the equally crappy Marvel Superhero with the
bucket on his head. This Nova is Frankie Ray, girlfriend of The Human
Torch. See, Johnny Storm totally can't keep his li'l candle in his
pants, and every chick he goes with gets superpowers and hangs around
the FF and some of them even get to join up. Okay, check this nonsense:
Frankie Ray, normal human woman, is AFRAID OF FIRE! So she dates the
HUMAN TORCH! IRONY! But wait!!! Turns out, Frankie is the stepdaughter
Phineas Horton! The guy who invented the original Human Torch Android
back in WWII, who fought alongside Captain America back when my Granddad
was readin' comics. And see, Frankie got 'splashed' with some of the
same 'chemicals' her old man used to make his burny uppy robot! And it
gave her HUMAN TORCH POWERS! And see, her step-dad HYP-MO-TIZED her to
think she was fire phobic so she wouldn't use her powers! Ladies and
gentleman, I give you the amazing writing of JOHN BYRNE! A man justly
known for his ability to draw. Wait, it gets better. Nova didn't sub in
for anybody, she just made the Fantastic Four have five members as of
#238, 1982. She didn't last long though, ditching The Human Torch to
become the Herald of Galactus, making her comicdoms first confirmed size
queen. Oh, and then she dated the Silver Surfer. And then she got
croaked this alien guy Morg who apparently wanted to be The Herald of
Galactus more than her.
This is why the terrorists hate us. I am completely serious.
My nominee for stupidest Super Hero Name Ever, She-Hulk joined the team
to sub in for The Thing, who was off world pouting after the end of the
Secret Wars, a Marvel Mini series that makes a lump of Possum crap look
like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Added to the team
because John Byrne likes drawing women with ridiculously big boobs, it
turned out lots and lots of lonely, pock marked teenage boys shared his
enthusiasm for ridiculously big boobs, and She-Hulk stayed with the team
for way too long unless you are really into green ridiculously big
boobs. 'She-Hulk'. Say it with me ladies and gentleman, 'She-Hulk'. And
they say comics are an art form.
They treat sex offenders by making them read this issue.
Did you bet things weren't going to get stupider? You loose. Sharon
Ventura was a super powered lady wrestler called Ms. Marvel. In 1985,
Marvel tried to capitalize on the Hulk Hogan fueled wrestling mania (and
worried that they might never do something stupider than "The Secret
Wars") by introducing the UCWF to Marvel continuity. That stands for
Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation, and I like to think of it as
Marvel's 'bottom'. You know, the way a member of Alcoholics Anonymous
might refer to the time he almost died from eating Sterno while living
under a bridge his personal 'bottom'. It was basically a wrestling
league for people with super powers, and it stunk even worse than you
would imagine from that description. In 1987, Reed and Sue left the team
to 'work on their marriage', and The Thing brought Crystal back in, and
also Ms. Marvel. Wait. It gets stupider. Ms. Marvel and The Thing get in
a shuttle accident, see, just like the accident that created the FF. The
Thing gets even Thingier, which for some reason ends up making him look
like baby Godzilla, and Ms. Marvel turns into... a SHE-THING! Oh yes! At
first she looked like orange doo-doo, just like Jack Kirby drew The
Thing for the first few issues until he clued up that people didn't want
a superhero that looked like orange doo-doo, but soon she got all rocky.
Unlike She-Hulk, a real pretty woman version of The Hulk, She-Thing was
more like a penguin, where it's pretty hard to tell the Ladies from the
Dudes. She-Thing and Godzilla-Thing hooked up for a while and everybody
was so grossed out that most writers pretend this whole story arc never
THE OTHER FANTASTIC FOUR
Caption: Did somebody call for a really bad idea?
Did you bet She Thing was as stupid as this article was going to get?
Shame on you. In 1990, a renegade Skrull tricked people into thinking
the FF was dead and recruited four new members, who took over the book
for a three-issue run. Get ready for it... The replacement FF were...
Spiderman... Wolverine... the Grey skinned Vegas Mobster version of the
Hulk, Mr. Fixit and... Ghost rider. It seemed curious that this absurd
combo platter didn't feature a woman with ginormous hooters until I
figured out... some way.... To make a hysterical yet inclusive... gay...
joke wherein this version of the FF was meant to corner the homosexual
comic book reading demographic. Seriously, if anyone can think of any
rational for this line up whatsoever, they probably have a head injury.
How to turn Ant Man into the Human Torch.
In FF# 416, 1996, Reed Richards is presumed dead, killed by Doctor Doom.
I guess the remaining Fantastic Three aren't comic book readers or
they'd have known he was coming back because nobody stays dead in comics
NOT EVEN BUCKY! But they didn't, and the team needed to a brainiac, and
since they couldn't get the Beast or Spiderman or Henry Pym or any of
the other dozen or so existing recognized marvel brainiacs, they went
with Scott Lang, and ex-burglar sort of inventor guy who stole some
stuff from the Original Ant-Man back in the seventies and went on to
become... ANT-MAN II! Can I just break here for a moment to say that I
am WALLOWING in shame that I know all this? Ant-Man II stayed with the
FF even after Reed turned out not to be dead, until ALL the FF were once
again presumed dead in a huge marvel cross over event they called
Onslaught and I called the only thing Marvel ever did that even
approached the crappiness level of the UCWF.
THE BLACK PANTHER AND STORM
"E-bo-niiiiiiiiiiie and IIIIII-Vo-Ryyyyyyy..."
That brings us to today. Reed and Sue are once again 'Working on their
marriage'. I guess a second honeymoon will help Sue accept the fact that
her husband created an extra dimensional gulag Guantanamo where super
powered people are imprisoned indefinitely without charges. So Reed and
Sue called up newlyweds Black Panther and Storm, king and queen of the
African nation of Wakanda to fill in for them. 'Cause, you know, they
aren't at all busy RUNNING A COUNTRY! Is this going to be even more
stupid than what has gone before? Hard to say, because A.) It's going on
right now and B.) I haven't read any of it at all. SO:
"I... am... H.E.R.B.I.E... Of... The... Sucktastic... Four."
I leave you with the most stupidest of all FF replacements. In 1978,
Depatie Freleng productions, the same folks that brought us the "Pink
Panther" cartoons, came out with a Fantastic Four cartoon. They were so
sold on the idea of doing an FF cartoon that they went ahead with it
even after they were told this FF would have no Human Torch. I've heard
several explanations for this over the years. Some say Network execs
were worried kids would set themselves on fire in imitation, like that
Buddhist Monk FF fan did during the Vietnam war. Others suggested it
took too many cells to cost effectively animate the Human Torch. The
most plausible explanation is that the rights for the Human torch were
tied up by the same folks who gave you the execrable live action
Spiderman TV show. If you ever saw their Daredevil, Dr. Strange or Thor
attempts, you can be really glad they never got around to 'The Human
Torch variety Hour' or whatever form of torture they'd planned. So for
the cartoon, the Human Torch was replaced with H.E.R.B.I.E. That stands
for Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics.
Remember that shame I was wallowing in? It's self-loathing now. Just so
you know. H.E.R.B.I.E. was voiced by the late Frank Welker, who also
voiced Freddy from Scooby Doo and a whole stable of other closeted gay
cartoon characters. H.E.R.B.I.E. is an interesting footnote in that he
was the only character actually designed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that
no one on the entire planet liked at all, even a little. So only a
Hitler like hatred of the human race could explain why Marv Wolfman
brought H.E.R.B.I.E. into actual FF comic book continuity. If Luke Cage
was a blaxploitation character written by Honkies, H.E.R.B.I.E. is R2D2
written your extremely uncool parents. The only thing good you could do
with H.E.R.B.I.E. is put him in a mud filled cage with Ms. Lion from
'Spiderman and his Amazing Friends' and have them fight to the death
with chain saws, and then while they were fighting, tumble the cage into
a car crusher.
And you know what? If "Rise of the Silver Surfer" does well enough to
get a sequel? I bet you anything H.E.R.B.I.E. is in it. 'Cause the smart
money and the stupid money seem to be the same thing where the FF is
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