Fantastic Forty1 of 12
Just about everyone can think of a superhero character or story that directly pulls on tropes from an earlier idea (often intentionally, and to great effect) like a story where a hero is the last survivor of a dying alien planet, or a vigilante was inspired to fight crime by the death of his family.
But one of the most repeated - and potentially least obvious - tropes that gets repeated is the story of the Fantastic Four, a family of adventurers united by strange powers they gained through a sci-fi accident.
There's something about the FF that makes them prime grist for comic book homages - so much so that they often seem to cross company boundaries and pop up as "blink and you'll miss it" analogs in other media.
Marvel Comics even likes to get in on the fun - writer/artist John Byrne once surreptitiously established that Superman's enemy Mr. Myxyzptlk and the FF's confounding foe the Impossible Man are one and the same. The publisher is even getting in on the fun by "copying" the FF themselves with "The Fantastix," a new team taking over the Baxter Building in the pages of Fantastic Four.
So without further ado, here are the top ten "Fantastic Fours" of all time.
The Herculoids2 of 12
Hanna-Barbera's Herculoids are a bit of a stretch (get it?) from the Fantastic Four, but they've got some core similarities - and some behind-the-scenes connections - that make the Richards family's influence on the Herculoids more clear.
Set on the distant planet of Amzot (or Quasar in the 80s revival), Herculoids focuses on three humans named Zandor, Tara, and Dorno and their monster friends embarking on sci-fi fueled adventures.
In its late 60s incarnation, the cartoon ran back-to-back in a block with -what else? -Hanna Barbera's Fantastic Four, making the parallels between the two shows all the more clear.
But wait, there's more - the 80s revival was part of a block of Hanna-Barbera shows called Space Stars - on which none other than Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby worked as a character designer.
The Powell Family3 of 12
The Powell Family aren’t exactly world famous (their show No Ordinary Family only lasted a season on ABC), but the premise of their story is all too familiar.
The show focuses on a police sketch artist who must navigate crime fighting with his family when they all get super powers – just a slight squint away from the Fantastic Four’s story.
And if you want a more direct connection to the FF, No Ordinary Family actually starred Michael Chiklis in its lead role – as in, the same Michael Chiklis who played Ben Grimm in 20th Century Fox’s first two Fantastic Four movies.
The Impossible Family4 of 12
It’s only natural that The Venture Bros., which started out lampooning the tropes of 60s, 70s, and 80s cartoons and comic books, got around to its off-kilter take on the Fantastic Four rather early.
Debuting in the show’s first season, the Impossible Family, led by Dr. Richard Impossible, are Richards family analogs with strange (and sometimes admittedly problematic) twists on their iconic powers.
Richard Impossible played a bigger role in later seasons, turning to villainy after his family fell apart.
The Four5 of 12
There’s one big difference between the Fantastic Four we know and Planetary’s The Four – The Four are out and out villains.
While venturing into “The Bleed” (the space between realities in the WildStorm Universe), The Four journeyed to an alternate Earth where they were granted superpowers in exchange for preparing their own home Earth for a invasion.
Fortunately for their Earth (and unfortunately for The Four themselves), the agents of Planetary discovered their scheme and thwarted the invasion.
The First Family6 of 12
The First Family – the superhero team comprised of Dr. Augustus Furst and his family – are Astro City’s answer to the Fantastic Four archetype.
The Fursts are a multi-generational family (with, yes, more than four members) built around patriarch Augustus Furst, his children, and grand-children, many of whom are super-powered.
The First Family is somewhat unique among FF analogs because they’ve explored one of the Fantastic Four’s oddest recurring tropes – the familial nature the team has even with its villains such as Doctor Doom, Lyja, and Puppet Master – as several Fursts are directly related to the team’s arch-enemies.
The Incredibles7 of 12
The Incredibles are one of the most currently relevant Fantastic Four analog families running around at the moment thanks to a recent film sequel.
Led by the super strong Mr. Incredible, the rest of his fantastic family around rounded out by his wife the super-stretchy Elastigirl and their children the super-fast Dash, invisible Violet, and cosmically powerful baby Jack Jack.
The FF similarities aren’t lost on the public either – many fans often cite The Incredibles as the film that best captures the spirit of the Fantastic Four.
The Terrifics8 of 12
The Terrifics are one of the most recent “palette swap” style riffs on the Fantastic Four concept – this time anchoring their own currently ongoing series at DC Comics.
Comprised of the super-smart Mr. Terrific, the intangible Phantom Girl, the stretchy Plastic Man, and the element-shifting Metamorpho, their play on the FF’s archetypes clearly follows in the tradition of aping the Richards family’s classic dynamic.
The Doom Patrol9 of 12
The Doom Patrol aren’t exactly direct copycats of the FF model – they all got their powers in different accidents and misfortunes and there are often more than four of them. But they are an ersatz family (who later became an actual family when two of their members married and adopted a third) who each have their own unique powers.
One thing the FF and the Doom Patrol have in common is pushing the boundaries of both sci-fi concepts and comic book storytelling, with transcendent but wildly different approaches to the medium.
The Challengers of the Unknown10 of 12
Survivors of certain death scenarios who band together to use their unique knowledge and skills to challenge the idea of what is possible through super science and adventure.
Sound familiar? That’s the Challengers of the Unknown, sci-fi adventurers published by DC Comics starting in 1957 – four years ahead of the Fantastic Four’s debut.
But lest anyone cry “rip-off” at the FF, it’s important to note that the Challengers were created by none other than Jack Kirby, who refined and elevated his concept alongside Stan Lee – adding super powers and even greater sci-fi leaps to the equation along the way.
The Fantastic Four11 of 12
And of course, there’s no greater Fantastic Four than, well, the actual Fantastic Four.
Often called “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four launched the Marvel Universe and redefined superhero storytelling with Lee’s humanized characterization and Kirby’s envelope-pushing art.
The FF weren't created in a vacuum - the archetype of a family of explorers goes back to Lost In Space's Robinson family (and the Swiss Family Robinson before that), but there's a different heart to the FF and the Richards family.
The legacy of the Fantastic Four is one of inspiration – both in their ever farther reaching stories and in the way their tale has added to the fabric of the comic book mythos.
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