At its best, the Fantastic Four is written as a family. Not a group of superheroes like the Avengers or Justice League. Not a group who came together to combat a world that doesn’t understand them like X-Men, Teen Titans, or Young Justice. No. The Fantastic Four is unique in the world of comics. At least, they should be. Quite a few writers don’t agree and write them as constantly saving the world or defeating the villain of the week like a normal superhero team.
One of the best examples of how the Fantastic Four is a family can be found in Mark Waid’s excellent run back in the early 2000s. He took the team back to their roots, emphasizing how the team unites around Reed Richards and goes on crazy adventures in the pursuit of scientific knowledge and exploration. The Fantastic Four comics focused on everyday life, and it was magnificent. Johnny Storm took over day-to-day business for the team. Reed focused on his experiments. Susan Storm was an active mother trying her best to look out for everyone. And Ben Grimm had wacky adventures like smashing alien bugs and battling aliens on the back of an atom. Oh! Johnny kept on playing tricks on Ben. It was amazing!!!!
Of course, you cannot have a great Fantastic Four storyarc without Doctor Doom making an appearance. Mark Waid had a different take on Victor Von Doom. To him, Doom was a villain. He wasn’t a guy who would save the world if he had a chance. No…. Doctor Doom was petty, jealous, and willing to sacrifice everything he holds dear to defeat Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four.
So, how bad was Doctor Doom? Well….his Doctor Doom sacrificed his true love to a group of demons for mystical power. They gifted him with leather armor made of his love’s skin. He then possessed Valeria Richards, Reed’s and Susan’s daughter, to give them a warning. Following that, Doom sent Franklin Richards to hell. Literally. It gets worse from there. So much worse. Doom captured the Fantastic Four and tortured them all in unique ways. For Susan, he gave her Johnny Storm’s fire powers, though he made sure she felt like she was burning to death, while keeping her daughter close by so she’d know she couldn’t save her. Ben Grimm was beaten day and night by a group of Mindless Ones (things that are on par with Hulk’s strength). The Mindless Ones were knocking out teeth and taking huge chunks out of Ben’s body. Johnny was given Reed’s stretching power and was being stretched to a point to where his body would snap like a rubber band. Reed was put in a room full of magical tomes and scrolls that could save his family if he could figure out how to use them. Reed was the smartest man in the Marvel universe, and he was given all the knowledge he needed to save his family, and he wasn’t smart enough to save them. They were all helpless and being tortured in ways they never have been before (or since, for that matter).
After Doctor Doom’s defeat, the family needed to heal. Issues 501 and 502 largely dealt with that. Johnny Storm coped with everything surprisingly well, taking Reed into the past in order to help him deal with his depression. Franklin Richards was in a much worst situation. What he went through caused him to mentally shut down, only able to express himself through drawings. Reed and Johnny took a few unexpected twists and turn. What happened with Franklin, however, is worth looking at.
It’s what makes Fantastic Four issue 502 so brilliant.
The healing happens in three stages. The first stage is played out between Franklin and Susan Richards. Susan tries to convince her son that she can protect him from everything and anything. She can make all the problems disappear.
Franklin doesn’t believe her. Ben explains it in the most perfect way I’ve ever seen in a comic. The world’s a dangerous place. You can’t guarantee safety. It’s impossible. Part of growing up is learning to accept that.
Art is at its best when it reflects something about the human experience. What Mark Waid did was explain how to cope when horrible things happen. After all, we live in a world where unimaginable horrors occur on what feels like a daily basis. His explanation on how also hits at the very heart of the Fantastic Four.
Family and hope. Hope for a better tomorrow and family to love and support in times of need. That’s exactly what the Fantastic Four is all about. When one of them is in trouble, they all rally to help. They are a family. But they do also offer hope for a better future. Reed dedicates his life to exploration and scientific discovery in order to improve humanity as a whole. His goal, and by extension the Fantastic Four’s goal, is to make the world a better place.
I thought Mark Waid hit the nail on the head. He managed to capture the essence of the Fantastic Four in this issue. It’s well worth picking up. Most comic stores should have it in their back issues collection. If not, you can find it in graphic novels.