FIRST FAMILY1 of 12
The Fantastic Four are considered Marvel’s First Family for a reason. Not only did the original Fantastic Four #1 mark the start of the Marvel Universe, that title was also home to the supreme talents of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, both of whom did arguably their best work together on Fantastic Four.
Over the decades, the “First Family” of creators has grown – but this week it got a bit smaller with Stan Lee’s passing at age 95.
In honor of Lee’s legacy, and the world he helped create through the Fantastic Four, we looking back at the greatest FF creators of all time.
Matt Fraction2 of 12
Matt Fraction's run on the core Fantastic Four title isn't exactly fondly recalled - but on the other hand, his work on its sister title FF is a modern Marvel classic.
Predicated on a replacement team that were meant to occupy the Baxter Building for only four minutes while the Richards family traveled through time, what happened instead was that the team went missing for an entire year, leaving Scott Lang, She-Hulk, Medusa, and pop-star-turned-hero Darla Deering as the Fantastic Four.
An exploration of family, both by relation and choice, grief, and redemption that was at once heartwarming and hilarious.
Mike Allred3 of 12
Spoiler alert - this list is going to contain a lot of artists. Comics are a visual medium after all. But when it comes to the Fantastic Four in particular, there's an artistic legacy that drives the series.
Enter Mike Allred, a veteran comic book artist with slightly psychedelic pop art style that once again flipped the script on the FF.
Working alongside writers Matt Fraction and Lee Allred (Mike's brother) and his longtime wife and colorist Laura Allred, the artist went back to the FF's roots with a classic silver age style that grounded FF, a spin-off title focusing on a replacement Fantastic Four, in a sensibility that reflects the team's most iconic days.
Joe Sinnott4 of 12
To see an inker listed as one of the most influential creators on a title is rare - but in the case of Joe Sinnott, it's more than deserved.
See, when Fantastic Four launched, Jack Kirby didn't have a consistent inker (in fact, there's debate over who actually inked the first issue, since no one was even credited), which often led to inconsistencies in the portrayals of some of the characters - namely the Thing. Kirby drew Ben Grimm as if he had, in his words "dinosaur hide." However, this was interpreted differently by different artists.
It wasn't till Sinnott became Kirby's regular inker on the title with #41 that Thing's rocky, plated look was fully realized - and in fact, Kirby liked Sinnott's interpretation so much, he began changing his pencils to reflect Sinnott's inking style (Kirby was never shy about penciling things his own way, regardless of how his inker interpreted it).
But beyond just codifying Ben Grimm's now iconic look, Sinnott was also the glue that held the title together for years after Kirby's departure, inking several subsequent artists.
Long story short, when you think of the visual language of the original FF, Kirby's name comes to mind first - followed closely by Sinnott's.
Walt Simonson5 of 12
The story of Walt Simonson's tenure on Fantastic Four is a little odd - he inherited the book after writer Steve Englehart quit thanks to editorial interference. Simonson had been writing Avengers, and was given editorial approval to add Reed and Sue Richards, who had recently departed the FF, to the team. When editorial reversed course, Simonson took over Fantastic Four instead, and the rest is history.
Like John Byrne before him, Simonson was both writer and artist for the bulk of his tenure on the title. And in that time, Simonson brought his trademark bombast and eye for detail to the stories he created.
Maybe most enduring in his run, Simons also replaced the team for an arc with a quartet of unlikely fill-ins - Wolverine, Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. Designed as a lark on how those characters' presence was guaranteed to make any comic they were in fly off the shelves at the time, the concept managed to stick around as a cult classic artifact of its time.
Jonathan Hickman6 of 12
Like Reed Richards, writer Jonathan Hickman is a big picture guy. His architectural writing style builds a lattice work of plot points that close into a long-form narrative - in other words, it's perfectly suited for the Fantastic Four.
In a years-long run on the title, Hickman crafted a Shakespearean drama of twists and turns that involved the death of Johnny Storm, the ascension of Franklin Richards, Reed's father, Galactus, Doctor Doom, Spider-Man, and basically everything that is encompassed in the mythology of the FF. He even redefined the Black Panther's powers, aligning him with the ancestral Wakandan spirit realm, and introduced the concept of the Future Foundation.
And when he moved on to writing New Avengers, Hickman even continued his massive narrative into Secret Wars, a crossover that pitted Reed Richards against Doctor Doom for the fate of all reality - and which took the FF off the board until their recent return.
Mike Wieringo7 of 12
Like his creative partner Mark Waid, artist Mike Wieringo's biggest contribution to the FF is the sense of warmth and excitement he brought to Marvel's First Family.
Wieringo drew some of the most brutal moments of the FF's tenure - including the death of Ben Grimm - as well as the tale of the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing's return, which involved meeting a deity not unlike Wieringo's artistic predecessor Jack Kirby.
And through it all, Wieringo never lost sight of the essence of exploration and innovation that has always been the hallmark of the FF.
Wieringo sadly passed away in 2007, but a piece of his previously unused artwork will grace a variant cover for the upcoming Fantastic Four #1 (for which Marvel made a donation to Wieringo's memorial scholarship fund).
Mark Waid8 of 12
When it comes to the FF, there have been many innovators in regards to their sci-fi explorations (see most of the folks on this list), but not as many that have evolved their family dynamic as much as writer Mark Waid did in his run with Mike Wieringo (see above).
Waid did this by actually taking the FF away from super science and into the realm of magic, pitting the First Family against their arch-nemesis Doctor Doom, himself leaning into his oft-forgotten mystical prowess - and eventually even killing off Ben Grimm (and sending the FF to meet God - an artist with a striking resemblance to Jack Kirby!).
Along the way, he explored the very fabric of the FF's relationships, digging into Reed Richards' motivations for founding and leading the FF in a way few other writers have broached.
John Byrne9 of 12
We can thank Lee & Kirby for creating the Fantastic Four, but in many ways, we can thank John Byrne for their endurance in the Marvel Universe.
Byrne came onboard Fantastic Four in the late 70s as an artist - a role he filled with inker Joe Sinnott who had also worked with Kirby. But in 1981, Byrne took over as both writer and artist in a five year run that recaptured the magic of the Lee and Kirby days while also bringing the FF back to the forefront of the Marvel Universe.
Byrne excelled at taking the already boundary-straining concepts behind Lee and Kirby's classic run and stretching them into even deeper philosophical territory. Stories like "The Trial of Galactus" asked deeper questions of cosmic concepts, while back at home the tale of Sue Richards' apparent miscarriage added a level of serious drama that was rarely seen in comic books even in the 80s.
That Byrne's run followed a string of stories by creators who, otherwise legendary, rarely moved the needle with the team can't be missed either; if not for Byrne, the FF may have languished into obscurity - further proof that it takes creators with the exact right combination of heart and ingenuity to make good the premise of the comic's tagline.
Stan Lee10 of 12
We know what you're thinking - Stan Lee's not at the top of the list? But we'll get to the reasons for that in a bit.
First, we're going to talk about the birth of the modern superhero. See, back in the early 60s, superheroes were persona non grata in comic books thanks to an unfavorable (and unfounded) public perception of their morality. When DC Comics brought superheroes back to prominence with the Justice League, Marvel (then Atlas Comics) wanted to follow suit. Publisher Martin Goodman balked at the idea, but Lee stood his ground and went forth with a vision of superheroes that was both more grounded and more exciting than much of what had been published for decades.
And thus was born the Fantastic Four - "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." Working with artist Jack Kirby (more on him later - hint, hint) Lee found ways to bring an element of humanity to his tales of sci-fi adventure while maintaining an almost cartoonish sense of grandiosity in his language and in the scope of the plots he developed with Kirby.
It's that combination - an almost Shakespearean level of grandeur and poetry combined with a human approach to the characters involved that made Fantastic Four an instant success, and kickstarted the Marvel Universe - redefining what superheroes can mean in our culture and the kind of stories they can tell in the process.
Jack Kirby11 of 12
Plain and simple, there's no one more responsible for the legacy of the Fantastic Four than Jack Kirby.
Yes, Stan Lee is neck and neck - he wrote the stories after all - but it was Kirby that took Lee's simple plots and elevated them to classic tales of modern mythology, redefining the language of sequential art in the process.
It was Kirby that gave us Doom. It was Kirby that gave us Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and dozens upon dozens of other characters, concepts, and creations that still define not just the FF, but the Marvel Universe.
It's fair to say that the success of Fantastic Four owes to the specific creative combination of Lee and Kirby - neither of them could have done it on their own - but without Kirby's pulse-pounding, boundary-pushing artistic vision putting wind in the sails for Lee's simple idea of a super-team that was also a family, we might not be talking about the Fantastic Four - or even Marvel Comics - today.
1 of 12
2 of 12
3 of 12
4 of 12
5 of 12
6 of 12
7 of 12
8 of 12
9 of 12
10 of 12
11 of 12
12 of 12