Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Fantastic Four

In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics had become something of a joke. They published a small line of magazines that mostly featured monsters with names like Fin Fang Foom or Shagg or Shamoo. But Stan Lee, the writer and editor for most of Marvel's stories noticed the superhero revival going on at DC Comics and decided to copy it. The first attempt was the Fantastic Four, a team title that was something of a knockoff of DC's Justice League of America.

The first issue told the origin of the team. The FF was made up of four characters who had travelled in a space ship to the radiation belt surrounding the Earth. The radiation caused strange mutations to the four. Reed Richards, the scientific genius leading the team, developed the power of stretchability, much like Plastic Man and the Elongated Man. Ben Grimm, a test pilot, turned into the super-strong (and super-ugly) Thing. Sue Storm, Reed's girlfriend, turned invisible, while Johnny Storm, her younger brother, burst into flame as the Human Torch.

The use of radiation as an origin device was new as far as I know, although Marvel would use it several more times in the next few years. Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Hulk would all see their powers result from exposure to radiation in one way or another.

The other novelty of the Fantastic Four was that the members were not "all for one and one for all". They bickered among themselves, especially Ben, who blamed Reed for his transformation into the homely Thing.


Anonymous said...

The use of radiation was new for comic book heroes gaining super-powers. It had been used in science fiction horror movies for creating or reviving monsters, often by mutating people or animals ("The Amazing Colossal Man," "Them," "First Man into Space," "The Quatermass Experiment.") IIRC, Stan Lee mentioned in an interview that the idea had already appeared in 1950's sci-fi movies.

Anonymous said...

I remember Stan Lee saying in a TV interview (maybe the History Channel's 2003 "Super Heroes Unmasked") something like "there had been a lot of sci-fi movies where radiation turned people into monsters." Still, Fantastic Four #1 was probably the first time it was used as an origin device for the heroes.

Anonymous said...

Silver Age Gold (Dec. 17, 2009) said that Captain Flash (1954) got his powers from cobalt exposure. Atomic Mouse (1953) got his powers from U-235 pills. Both characters were relatively obscure and it's possible that Stan Lee never heard of them.