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by: Max Burbank

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 saying?


Straight out of Compton? More like straight out of The Village People, bee-yotch.

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 racist.


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 happened.


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.


"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 concerned.

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