The Virtues of being Fantastic #1: the Look
If there’s one team in comics that can only be imitated but never ever be emulated, that has its place solidified in the annals of the greatest four-color creations in the history of the medium, it’s the Fantastic Four. And we’re not just talking about the brand here, as most of you know that the whole F4 has gone through several roster changes throughout its decades-long run – which most famously included the likes of the Inhuman Queen herself, Medusa, and the gamma-irradiated lawyer of the Marvel U, She-Hulk. No, we’re talking about the original line-up here: Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. Those four characters are THE Fantastic Four, and there just isn’t any other way to have it.
Marvel’s first family was, and still remains, one of the most unique creations in all of comics; we mostly have Jack Kirby to thank for that. From the blue suits emblazoned with the number “4” (those sexy tight cycling shorts/boxers for The Thing) right down to the host of villains they faced, such as the Mole Man and Victor Von Doom, the original superhero team’s innovations at a time when superhero comics were dominated by the more archetypal designs and concepts of rival DC Comics’ characters may not be overstated.
For one, let’s talk about Spider-man for a minute. Yes, it is common knowledge to mainstream comic book fans everywhere that our old pal Peter was the first teenaged superhero to ever grace the funny books, but there’s one facet of the character that is often attributed to him most of the time but is rather inaccurate: we’re talking about none other than physique. If you’ll notice, Spidey’s original design is supposed to be that of a pubescent man with superpowers, which explains why he’s skinnier and more lithe as compared to other superheroes of the time (we won’t count characters like Deadman or the Phantom Stranger here, since they arguably weren’t really meant for the superhero genre. And heroes like the silver age Flash are still relatively toned compared to Spidey’s physique). But preceding the wall-crawler is, of course, Reed Richards. In Mr. Fantastic himself, you have the most unlikely build for a superhero at the time, which was mainly populated by the buff, circus strongman-type designs of other heroes like Batman. With the brains of the Fantastic Four, however, you have a figure that’s even thinner and scrawnier than how Marvel’s resident web head was designed.
When it came to the Fantastic Four, we see Jack Kirby at his most imaginative. Of course, we can’t discount Stan Lee’s input toward the concept – he was, after all, the one who told Jack that he wanted to do a team book after hearing from then DC Comics EIC Julius Schwartz about the success of their Justice League title – but we’re talking about the whole look of Marvel’s First Family here, so it’s only right we attributed it to Kirby himself.
And this is just the beginning of it; wait until we talk about why the Thing is one of the most beautiful characters ever created in comics and other facets of the Fantastic Four in the articles to come.