Fantastic Family
By Neil Sarver

I don't like Superhero teams.

I'm sure that doesn't make me any special friends among comic fans, but seriously.

"Justice League of America", outside a couple of good runs over the last 30-odd-years, mostly just irritates me. It only vaguely follows the continuity of the characters from their normal runs, and somehow it rarely manages to capture the spirit of teamwork that a team book really should have. Each person's specialty and personality coming together to fix problems that they couldn't fix alone. Even when I enjoy a specific run, I find myself remaining uneasy with the overall concept. Feel free to disagree, but that's how I feel.

"The X-Men", again outside a couple of good storylines, is mostly convoluted, bogged down with characters and hard to get into in the first dang place. Great character there, it's just too bad more of them don't have solo books or duo books to keep up on them in a sane fashion.

However, I love the Fantastic Four. Why?

Well, one of the differences came to me as I was watching a block of the adequate, but clearly flawed, '70s animated version of FF on the Cartoon Network recently. If you watch the "Superfriends" series, you'll notice that they regularly call out to one another:

"Superman, I need help!"

"I'll be right there, Wonder Woman, just let me free Green Lantern from these alien tentacles."

However, turn your back on the Fantastic Four series and you'll hear:

"Reed, I'm in trouble!"

"Alright, Sue, I'll be right there. Are you ok, Ben?"

The Justice League in comics and on television, call each other by their titles. I know there are various and sundry good reasons due to the continuity of the individual books and the dynamic of the series itself. It's still true.

Hitchcock said that there's nothing more than to watch people perform their own job. This is why North By Northwest has a normal guy performing the job of a spy, rather than simply being a James Bond movie. The Justice League is mostly just doing its job.

The Fantastic Four call each other by name. They are friends, and by using each other's name, they invite us into their friendship. Admittedly, they are doing their jobs. Fighting off Dr. Doom or Galactus is what they do, however there is more to it than that.

There's an issue of "Green Arrow" during the Mike Grell run where Ollie Queen, the Green Arrow, and Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern, go camping together. It's not, in my mind, a wholly satisfying issue, but when I pulled it off the shelf, I was absolutely psyched up to read it. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adam's "Hard Traveling Heroes" run of "Green Lantern" co-starring Green Arrow had so solidly defined those two as characters and developed their friendship, that the idea of reading about the two of them on a camping trip together sounded amazing.

The same isn't true of "Justice League" or "The X-Men" for me. If those groups all went camping, out of costume, in their flannel shirts and jeans, I'd think, "How are they going to save the world in those?"

If the Fantastic Four went camping, I'd be excited. They wouldn't need to find Doom in the forest somewhere plotting against them or anything like that. That dynamic of the four friends with their different perspectives and their unique chemistry could create a good solid story just among themselves.

Or think of it like this - if Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny had never gotten their Superpowers, but were still out fighting the forces of evil in the world with their smarts and their teamwork, the book would still work just as well. How many other Superhero teams is that true of? Not enough of them, in my opinion.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created something special. It has been built on, some for better, some for worse, but the Fantastic Four is the glue that holds the Marvel Universe in place. They are a true team. They are truly human. They are truly special. In all the years that have passed since it's creation, books have been more financially successful, I'm sure, but none have surpassed it in terms of ability to tell a solid, fun story and none have come close to it in terms of influence on the medium as a whole.

They are a family and they, by their very nature, make us want to be part of their family and celebrate their victories and cry at their losses.

I, along with comic fans the world round, celebrate their creation and hope for many more years of greatness from the First Family of Superhero comics.