After years roaming the publishing wilderness, the Fantastic Four are finally back at the center of the Marvel Universe. Everybody should know the core four members of Marvel’s First Family: Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic, who can stretch and flatten himself out; his wife, Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman, who can turn invisible and create force fields; her brother, Johnny Storm, who, as the Human Torch, can unsurprisingly turn himself into a living creature of fire; and Reed’s roughhewn best friend, Ben Grimm, who’s twisted into a massive but lovable rock creature known as The Thing. These four have been the main members of the team since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four #1 kicked off the Silver Age rebirth of Marvel’s superheroes in 1961. They haven’t been Marvel’s most popular or best-selling characters in decades, but they’ll always hold a special place within the Marvel Universe and the hearts of its fans, especially in light of the sad news that Lee has passed away.
Of course there have been way more than four members of the Fantastic Four. Even if you don’t count versions from the future or from alternate universes, the comics have seen 20 members of the Fantastic Four over the last 57 years. Some of them have long-running relationships with the original members, while others were short blips on the radar when a founding member had to take some time off. Marvel’s recent relaunch of the Fantastic Four comic features a history-spanning story written by the living Marvel encyclopedia Dan Slott, so it seemed like a great time for Paste to dig into the team’s history and decide once and for all where every member of the team would fall in an objective ranking. Or maybe an incredibly subjective ranking. Whatever. We’re not weighing them based on how they are as characters, overall, but specifically in relation to their connection to the Fantastic Four.
One final note before we jump in: you’ll eventually notice that we didn’t include either of Reed and Sue’s children. Franklin and Valeria Richards have long, rich histories within the comic (Franklin has been around for over 50 years, despite still looking like he’s 10 today). They’ve never been true active members, though, no matter how many times they’ve helped their family save the world. It’s a tough call, but we left them off for that reason. If you absolutely must know where they’d rank, though, we’d put ‘em pretty high, as, like the Fantastic Four itself, family is a huge priority here at Paste.
Fantastic Four #349 Art by Al Migrom
As part of the New Fantastic Four, Wolverine’s short stint was basically a metacommentary on the sales gimmick of popular characters making cameos in less popular comics that they have no connection to. Of the four characters who made up the New FF, Wolverine makes the least sense outside of his commercial appeal. His murder-first approach is at odds with the shiny optimism of the comic, and no matter how many times Chris Claremont sent him to the Shi’ar Empire, Wolverine’s always thoroughly out of place in the kind of cosmos-spanning sci-fi epics that Fantastic Four is known for.
Fantastic Four #374 Art by Paul Ryan
19. Ghost Rider
Another New Fantastic Four member, the Danny Ketch version of Ghost Rider makes just as little sense in the Fantastic Four. The only reason he’s one number higher than Logan is because his demonic origin and unearthly appearance are marginally more in line with the comics’ outsized scope than a surly Canadian in a pointy mask. Also, Gary Friedrich (or maybe Mike Ploog) was right: flaming skulls really do just look cool.
Fantastic Four #348 Art by Arthur Adams
From a history standpoint, Hulk isn’t that egregious of a member. He’s been around almost as long as the Fantastic Four, debuting only five months after Fantastic Four #1 ushered in the “Marvel Age” in 1961. He’s the Hulk, though: despite what you might see in those Avengers movies, he’s the ultimate non-joiner, an almost untamable rage beast who might’ve worked in the New Fantastic Four when he was in his more in-control grey incarnation, but who’d never cut it as a real member. For the Hulk to join a team, he needs Dr. Strange there to mystically soothe his anger, as happened in the great Defenders comic throughout the 1970s.
Fantastic Four #43 Art by Carlos Pacheco
Namorita has a long history with the Fantastic Four, thanks to her cousin Namor, but her membership was incredibly short. It’s easy to forget she was ever a member, actually. Although she became a well-defined character in New Warriors, there’s not much to say about her Fantastic Four appearances.
One Month to Live #3 Cover Art by Mike Del Mundo
Marvel’s One Month to Live weekly comic was an earnest, well-intentioned exploration of the grief of cancer. Its hero, Flux, gets superpowers and an incredibly aggressive form of cancer from the same incident, and has only a month to live. In that time he throws himself into fighting crime, eventually becoming an honorary member of the Fantastic Four after helping them out. Depending on your viewpoint, this story’s either poignant or banal; either way, though, Flux’s brief time with the FF makes enough of an impression for him to come in higher than other, bigger named short-term members.
Fantastic Four #239 Art by John Byrne
15. Nova (Frankie Raye)
One of Johnny Storm’s many former girlfriends, and one of at least three different Marvel heroes to use the name Nova, Frankie Raye is another character who has a long history with the Fantastic Four but only a short membership. She develops Torch-like powers during an accident in the lab of the creator of the World War II-era Human Torch, adopting the name Nova and briefly becoming a member of the FF. Eventually she leaves Earth for good to become the herald of Galactus, adding a new thread between her and the legacy of the Fantastic Four. She was a better supporting character than member.
Fantastic Four #168 Art by Rich Buckler
14. Luke Cage
Again, I’m not ranking these folks based on how they are as characters, but on their time with the Fantastic Four. Even in his awkward ‘70s blaxpoitation phase, Luke Cage would place higher on a list like this otherwise. But he was in the FF for three issues in 1976 during one of the Thing’s periodic spells of powerlessness, and he spent at least one of those issues fighting them under mind control. He was the first non-Inhuman to join the team as a fill-in, at least, which probably means something to somebody.
Fantastic Four #321 Art by Ron Frenz
13. Ms. Marvel/ She-Thing
Normally Johnny’s the one bringing his girlfriends onto the team, but for once Ben got to mix business with pleasure. Sharon Ventura was a pro wrestler from the Thing’s short-lived wrestling-themed solo comic in the mid ‘80s who followed him over to the main comic when Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman took some time off. Almost as soon as she joined the team, she got hit with cosmic rays and turned into a woman version of The Thing, complete with Ben’s occasional self-loathing, which gave rise to the She-Thing nickname. Although she had a longer tenure with the team than the other lady Thing, she was hard to embrace as a character—she felt a little too gimmicky and was a little too morose to really enjoy.
FF #6 Art by Mike & Laura Allred
12. Ms. Thing/ Darla Deering
Ms. Thing might be another one of the Human Torch’s girlfriends, but she’s also the only Fantastic Four member who’s almost named for a Monica song, so she’s got that going for her. An international pop star with no superhero experience who donned a Thing suit and stepped in when the original team disappeared, Deering has a backstory and appearance that lives up to the best spirit of comic book ridiculousness. Her time was brief, which limits how high she can make it on a list like this, but she’ll always be one of our cult faves.