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Four Once More…

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Reed and Sue are (technically) out, but this isn’t the first time the Fantastic Four has been shorthanded.  Just in time for the debut of the new FF, Broken Frontier looks at past substitutes.

The classic roster of the Fantastic Four debuted in Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961).  Consisting of Reed Richards, his future bride Susan (Storm, later Richards), his close friend Ben Grimm and Susan’s younger brother, Johnny, the Fantastic Four brought a unique dynamic to comics. 

Following an accident involving cosmic rays, the four gained fantastic abilities -  as Mr. Fantastic, scientist Richards was able to stretch his body; the Invisible Girl, Susan, could become undetectable to the human eye (she later gained the ability to create invisible force shields and rechristened herself The Invisible Woman); hotheaded Johnny could burst into flame and fly as the Human Torch; and gruff but lovable Ben transformed into the super-strong, rocky hided monster known as the Thing.  Although the powers are a key component, few fans would argue that the longevity of the Fantastic Four rests on the unique aspect that the team is also a family. 

It’s true that Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are the Fantastic Four, but like any family, they have faced their share of change. As members have temporarily left for various reasons over the years, there have been several additions and modifications to the roster...

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The first change to the Fantastic Four came when creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby replaced the Invisible Girl with Crystal.  A member of an advanced race who had the ability to control the elements, Crystal was a long time associate of the Fantastic Four and the girlfriend of Johnny Storm.  Beginning with Fantastic Four #81 (December 1968), Crystal filled in during the Invisible Girl’s first pregnancy.  Following the Invisible Girl’s return, Crystal remained a uniformed member of the team, until she departed Earth due to illness in Fantastic Four #105 (December 1970).

In issue #130 (January 1973), Reed and Sue separated, with the Invisible Girl leaving to care for their son.  For several issues, the FF was a trio, until Medusa (another long-time ally) joined the team in #132 (March 1973).  Also a member of the race that Crystal belonged to, Medusa had super-resilient, prehensile hair.  As with Crystal, Medusa was forced to leave the team when the pollutants in the atmosphere began adversely affecting her.  By the conclusion of Fantastic Four #159 (June 1975), Medusa was gone and the core family was once again the Fantastic Four.

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It wouldn’t be long until the Fantastic Four added another replacement member.  In issue #168 (March 1976), Luke Cage (aka Power Man), was hired by Mr. Fantastic to replace a powerless Ben Grimm.  Although there was initially a great deal of friction between Grimm and the new FF, he soon learned that Cage was a temporary replacement until Reed completed an artificial Thing armor.  By the conclusion of #170, Cage was gone and the Thing resumed his rightful place.

Frankie Raye was the next to join the Fantastic Four.  Unlike other additions, Frankie did not replace a team member but worked alongside Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben, effectively making the team The Fantastic Five (as of Fantastic Four #238, January 1982).  A longtime supporting cast member, Frankie was also another of Johnny’s girlfriends.  Upon learning that the young woman had super powers similar to that of her boyfriend, Frankie was invited to the team and adopted the name Nova.  Nova turned out to be a short-term addition however, as she became the new herald of Galactus (issue #244, July 1982) and left Earth.

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Following the events of Marvel’s Secret Wars crossover, the Thing elected to remain behind on an alien world.  His surprise replacement turned out to be She-Hulk (issue #265, April 1984), a former member of the Avengers and cousin of the incredible Hulk.  Unlike previous additions, She-Hulk proved to be a successful and lasting contributor to the title, remaining a part of the squad through the last portion of John Byrne’s landmark run on the book (she stayed with the team following the Thing’s return, departing after 1987’s landmark issue #300). 

The next incarnation of the Fantastic Four was a major deviation.  Having made the decision to focus on their family, Reed and Sue left the team, with the Thing becoming the new leader.  Debuting in Fantastic Four #306 (September 1987), Ben’s version of the team consisted of himself, the Human Torch, Crystal and the new Ms. Marvel (a former villain and later supporting cast member/love interest from the Thing’s own series).  Not long after, the Thing and Ms. Marvel were both caught in a shuttle accident (#310, January 1988) similar to the one that endowed the original FF with their powers.  Ben’s own rocky mutation was accelerated, while Ms. Marvel became a female version of the Thing (informally dubbed the She-Thing).

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The second shuttle accident proved to be a mixed blessing, as it moved Ben and Ms. Marvel closer together, even as the romantic tension between Johnny and Crystal (who by this point, had both married other people) drove the mistress of elements away.  Following the events of Fantastic Four Annual #21 (1988), the team was down to a trio for a short period.  With issue #326 (May 1989), Reed and Sue returned from a stint with the Avengers, unofficially re-establishing a Fantastic Five. 

The next Fantastic Four has gained what could almost be considered a mythic status.  Manipulated by a renegade Skrull, the amazing Spider-Man, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and the incredible Hulk became the new Fantastic Four in issue #347 (December 1990).  Believing the original team to be dead, this new quartet adventured for three issues, finally teaming with the real FF in #349 (February 1991). 

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Since that time, this unofficial “new” Fantastic Four has popped up occasionally, usual on an informal basis or in imaginary tales.  As 1991 moved forward, the Ms. Marvel returned to human form and the Fantastic Four resumed their traditional roster of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben.

During a battle with Dr. Doom in issue #381 (October 1993), Mr. Fantastic was (presumed to have been) killed.  From that point, the Invisible Woman assumed the role of team leader, recruiting the second Ant-Man (#384, January 1994) to round out the FF’s roster.  Ant-Man remained a minor part of the Fantastic Four even after Reed’s return in issue #407 (December 1995). 

Not long after, the Fantastic Four was involved in the Marvel event, Onslaught, which ended with the Avengers and Fantastic Four apparently giving their lives to save the world.  With Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny “dead”, Ant-Man went his own way, joining Heroes for Hire and a later version of the Avengers.

With the “deaths” of the Fantastic Four, the comic ended with issue #416 (September 1996).  The motivation behind this story stemmed from Marvel Comics recruiting high profile writer/artists to re-imagine the Fantastic Four and Avengers properties for a period of 1 year.  Fantastic Four volume 2 debuted in November 1996, under the creative direction of Jim Lee and Brandon Choi.  These newly updated versions of Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben adventured through 13 issues before the license ended and the four returned to the core Marvel universe. 

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Reed, Sue, Johnny, Ben and the Fantastic Four return with a back-to-basics approach with the launch of Fantastic Four Volume 3 in January 1998.  For the first time in many years, the roster of the Fantastic Four was left untouched, running through several creative teams, as well as a shift from the Volume 3 numbering (which ended with #70 in August 2003) to what the volume 1 numbering would have been without the two relaunches (#500, September 2003). 

In recent months, the events of Marvel’s Civil War have caused great upheaval for the Fantastic Four.  First, the Thing temporarily left the team, refusing to involve himself in the squabbling between pro and anti-superhero registration forces. 

The next split came between Reed and Sue, with their disparate views on the registration act leading to a not-so-amicable split.  By the end of issue #540 (November 2006), Ben had left for France, and Johnny and Sue have gone underground to join the anti-registration resistance. 

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Most recently, the Fantastic Four celebrated its 45th anniversary of publication with Fantastic Four #543 (January 2007).  In coping with the aftermath of Civil War, the four primary characters are reunited, with the Human Torch and the Thing renewing their commitment to the team.  The other half of the traditional quartet, go their own way, as Reed and Sue make plans to try to repair their fractured marriage. 

In light of this development, the last page confirmed what advance solicitations had already spoiled – that the Black Panther and Storm (formerly of the X-Men) will be joining the team for the foreseeable future.  The new quartet will be appearing both in Fantastic Four (with a confrontation with Galactus looming) and in Black Panther (featuring a visit to the now infamous Marvel Zombies universe). 

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