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
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
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
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
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
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.
Fantastic Four: The New Fantastic Four Cover Art by Michael Turner
The royal couple of Wakanda briefly filled in for the first couple of the Fantastic Four after Civil War in a story written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie. Black Panther makes sense for the team—he’s about as smart as Reed Richards, was also created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and made his first appearance in the Fantastic Four comic back in the mid ‘60s. And Storm is one of the two or three most important women in Marvel Comics, so it’s hard to argue against her inclusion. Their short, six-issue tenure was unremarkable, though, resigning them solidly to the second tier of FF members.
FF #5 Art by Mike & Laura Allred
Medusa isn’t just one of the Inhumans—she’s their queen. She also debuted as a villain in the Frightful Four, several years before the rest of her family were introduced. She first joined the Fantastic Four in the early ‘70s, as a temporary replacement for Sue Richards, and has remained a recurring supporting character in the comic throughout the decades. Her longevity within the Fantastic Four comic is the main reason she ranks so high—she simply has a longer and more substantial connection with the team than most of the other fill-in members.
FF #1 Art by Mike & Laura Allred
One of the few fill-in members to have more than one stint in the team, Scott Lang has a surprisingly deep history with them. With his scientific and technical knowledge, Lang has served as a de facto stand-in for Reed Richards twice, and was the leader of the team’s handpicked replacements when they disappeared into the Negative Zone. Lang is also a core figure in the Future Foundation, the Fantastic Four-related think tank that tries to better the world while also mentoring the various children and young creatures the team has taken under its wing over the years. Lang is a charismatic everyman trying to overcome a checkered past, which makes him a unique figure within the FF’s history.
FF #17 Art by Mike Choi
Despite teaming up with every single new character within three issues of their debut, Spider-Man, at heart, isn’t a joiner. He works best as a solo character, and has always seemed out of place in the Avengers. Family is important to him, though, and since family has been the driving force in Fantastic Four throughout its entire history, his close relationship to the team powerfully reinforces crucial tenets for both him and the FF. Peter Parker basically is a member of the Richards-Storm family at this point, in the same way that Ben Grimm is. His official time with the team has been short (mostly confined to the same New Fantastic Four gimmick as Wolverine and Ghost Rider), but unofficially Spider-Man’s been a major part of—and partner to—the Fantastic Four for over 50 years.
Fantastic Four #81 Art by Jack Kirby
As the first replacement member, and one of the few who has filled in on the team twice, Crystal of the Inhumans has a long history with the Fantastic Four. She appeared in the comic for dozens of issues in the ‘60s, first as Johnny’s girlfriend and then as Sue’s replacement during her pregnancy with Franklin Richards. Historically Crystal is a top-tier, first-echelon Fantastic Four supporting character, with probably only Dr. Doom and Namor ranking above her (yeah, it’s not too much to say she’s on the same level as Spider-Man when it comes to her connection to the team.) She’s also, unfortunately, kind of a bland character, and who might be better known for her close connections to the Avengers and Quicksilver at this point. You shouldn’t ignore what Crystal has meant to the Fantastic Four over the decades, but it’s still easy to forget.
Fantastic Four #275 Art by John Byrne
For a gimmick character created largely for copyright reasons, She-Hulk is a surprisingly versatile player in the Marvel Universe. With the possible exception of Crystal, she’s the only one of these temporary fill-ins to really feel like a full member. As a top-flight Avenger, that means she’s also the only character to feel totally at home in both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (something Crystal, who’s also been a member of both, can’t pull off). Part of that is the even keel with which Jen Walters is written, to differentiate her from her angrier and more famous cousin; she has a confidence, intelligence and wit that allows her to excel in situations in which other characters might feel out of place.
Human Torch #1 Art by Skottie Young
Obviously the top four was pretty predictable. Johnny Storm comes in last among the original members simply because he has the least depth out of the bunch. He’s not just the cocky, immature playboy he was in the comic’s earliest years, but he’s also not always that much more than that. It can be hard for a family to let its youngest member truly grow up—if you’re always the baby in your family’s eyes, no matter how old you are, it’s too easy to keep acting like a child. There’s a bit of that happening with the Torch; despite being an adult, despite not even being the youngest in the family after Franklin and Valeria are born, he’s still the perpetually irresponsible and fun-loving uncle. We love him all the same, but he’s just a hair beneath the other original three.
Fantastic Four #579 Art by Alan Davis
Why has Reed Richards gotten such a bum rap in the comics over the last 15 years or so? Is it part of the wave of anti-elitism that has swept over America? Or is it because his character flaws are so deeply engrained in the very concept of the FF? After all, they only have their powers because Richards was too confident in his own knowledge, and too willing to prioritize science over the well being of his loved ones. You’d think the comics would let him work through those issues over its 50 or so years, but since 2006’s Illuminati one-shot, it seems like Richards has had more ideas backfire on him than work out. Sure, it might make him a more interesting character, with greater dramatic potential—and okay, yeah, that’s a good enough reason. Mr. Fantastic is at the center of almost every major development in the Fantastic Four’s history, and if he doesn’t always have a complete grasp on how his goals and initiatives will impact people in the real world, well, that’s the price you have to pay for science—and storytelling.
Marvel Knights: 4 #5 Art by Steve McNiven
Of the original team, Sue Storm has grown the most, by far, since Fantastic Four #1. Not only was her official superhero name the Invisible Girl, even after getting married and having a child, but she was basically written like the typical early Marvel love interest, despite having powers. She was too demure, too squeamish and not always competent enough to feel like a true superhero. That’s changed so much that she’s basically the strongest member of the team today, emotionally, morally and in terms of her superpowers. That says a lot about how cultural perceptions of the role of women have shifted since 1961, and also about how Marvel, as a company, has never been afraid to reexamine its characters when the larger story demands it.
Fantastic Four #61 Art by Mike Wieringo
A strong argument can (and should) be made that Ben Grimm isn’t just the best member of the Fantastic Four, but the best superhero, period. His power might be a personal curse but he doesn’t let that stop him from doing what’s right, no matter how greatly his monstrous outer appearance separates him from society. Even if you don’t think he’s the most interesting character, hopefully you recognize that he’s the most decent one, at least this side of Steve Rogers. Imbued with the personality of Jack Kirby, The Thing retains a guarded respect for his fellow man and a conditional optimism about the human race despite knowing firsthand how evil humanity and its systems can be. Ben Grimm has to fight every day to remind the world—and even himself—that he’s human, and that struggle against cruelty and dehumanization is at the heart of the entire superhero experiment. He’s also just an incredibly fun character with an amazing design. Really, The Thing should still be Marvel’s mascot, like he was back in the ‘60s.