The FF In In-Continuity Media

By | Friday, September 03, 2010 Leave a Comment
It's still extremely busy here at Kleefeld Headquarters, so I'm going to pull out an article I wrote a few years back concerning how the Fantastic Four have been portrayed in media outlets within the Marvel Universe...

One of the things that made the Fantastic Four stand out from other superhero comics was that the characters were, if not media-savvy, at least very aware of the media from early on. This document will highlight some of the Fantastic Four's appearances in the Marvel world of media exploitation.

Shortly after the Fantastic Four gained their powers, Reed Richards began to feel guilty for having "destroyed their lives." So he made a very conscious decision to make them all into celebrities, hoping that their fame might make up for their hopes of having normal lives.

Being the first of a new generation of heroes for the Marvel Universe, the FF naturally attracted a great deal of media attention early on, including front page headlines on the Daily Bugle and Daily Globe. (Fantastic Four #2, Human Torch Vol. 2 #1) Their first encounters with the Miracle Man and Dr. Doom saw the front pages of the Bugle as well. (Tales of the Marvels: Inner Demons, Fantastic Four #238, 294) The Human Torch received more coverage in both news and gossip columns from the Daily Chronicle and IBC television for some of his solo exploits. (Strange Tales #102, 103, 119) The FF were even awarded a trophy of gratitude at a televised ceremony from the Capitol. (Fantastic Four #7)

With the fame they already generated, it came as little surprise that when S-M Studios released a film featuring the Fantastic Four battling a cyclops, a tribe of fire-proof Africans, and the Sub-Mariner himself, their stardom skyrocketed. (Fantastic Four #9) Further ensuring their celebrity status, Marvel Comics managed to acquire the rights to publish the FF's adventures in comic book form which continue to this day. Although Reed personally oversaw the authenticity of the comic magazine early on (Fantastic Four #10) the group eventually gained enough confidence in the Marvel Bullpen to allow a greater degree of flexibility. (Thing #7, Fantastic Four #176, 262)

Before gaining her super powers, Susan had tried her hand at acting, but was only able to land small and infrequent parts in television commercials. (Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Vol. 2 #6, Before the FF: The Storms #3, Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #50) It seems most likely that this was only the fault of a poor agent, as she began receiving sizable movie and television offers once her name became known. (Fantastic Four #14) She soon decided on the leading role in Lost on an Unknown Planet, which evidently had enough set problems to convince her not to pursue acting again for some time. (Fantastic Four #15) If not that, certainly the subsequent talk-show tour didn't leave her very impressed. (Fantastic Four #16)

The Fantastic Four's lives continued to be reported in various media outlets as the news events they generally were. (Fantastic Four: Fireworks #2, Fantastic Four #23, 38, 78) They also began having lead magazine features being done on them in well-respected magazines like Life. (Fantastic Four #24, Marvels #2) But once Reed and Sue publicly announced their engagement, "the world's press goes wild!!" (Fantastic Four #36) with coverage in all the major media outlets, including every magazine from Redbook to Seventeen. (Marvels #2) The wedding itself was even more of a media event with full page headlines running in the Daily Bugle, Daily Globe and Daily Press. (Marvel: Heroes and Legends, Fantastic Four Annual #3)

With the exception of regular media coverage, the FF spent their time saving the world, instead of being celebrities. (Marvels #3, Fantastic Four #78, 112, X-Men: The Hidden Years #20) That changed during a New Year's Eve celebration when Thundra publicly challenged the Thing to a battle in Shea Stadium. The event was billed as the "Fight of the Century" and warranted headlines in the Daily Ledger, Morning Ledger, Daily Sun, and Daily News. The Off-Track Betting Corporation issued odds and Shea Stadium itself sold out. Television crews undoubtably tried filming the event, only to have the two combatants leave the stadium and complete the fight elsewhere. (Fantastic Four #133) The crowd felt cheated and it was this event that perhaps kept the FF from attempting any significant media events for some time afterwards, letting their names only come out in occassional news event. (Fantastic Four #168, 191, 238)

Shortly after the Fantastic Four broke up, Susan received a telegram from Imperial Studios offering her a new lease on her acting career. (Fantastic Four #191) She starred in Henry's Angels, a generally fictionalized account of King Henry VIII where he was married to all six of his wives simultaneously. Filming was interrupted, however, by the Retrievers of Atlantis. (Fantastic Four #195) It is unclear whether or not the film was completed or if footage of the Retrievers was weaved into the final cut.

Once the team re-formed, Dino Lorenzo took a stab at making a Fantastic Four film, which Reed authorized only to earn some money they owed to the IRS. Lorenzo took a great deal of liberty portraying the FF and the group considered themselves fortunate that special effects supervisor Luigi Cantalopé accidentally caused his 15-foot Thing robot to run amok. As an interesting side-note, the Thing's battle with his robotic counterpart stumbled into the set of The Gong Show and was believed to be one of the acts. While the "act" was not gonged, the winner was "Annabelle and her Singing Appendix Scar." (Fantastic Four Annual #12)

Not long afterwards, director Joseph L. Jusko began his Incredible Hulk television series starring Bill Bixby, Sonny Bono, Charo, Howdy Doody, Roger Stern, and Karen Page. Although the series was cancelled after the Hulk and the Thing wrestled through several active soundstages, Ben was still offered a key part in his own television sit-com series: "Thing in the Family." (Marvel Two-in-One #46)

Although Johnny was "out of town the day the contracts needed to be signed" NBC went ahead with the production a Fantastic Four cartoon using the newly-designed HERBIE the Robot as the fourth member. Reed had designs for the robot already and offered them as an alternative, given that robots -- which are legally treated as property -- would have no need to sign a contract in the first place. (Fantastic Four #209) The show, however, was unsuccessful as the representations of characters were decidedly flat and only superficially represented the FF.

Not much later, producer Ted Silverberg convinced Simon Williams to star as the title character in his new ABC series: Monster Man! The show was VERY loosely -- and unofficially -- based on the Thing but included sidekick Kid Monstro and his pet Monstie. As lawyer Matt Murdock pointed out, "whoever thought this show up is a master at treading the line between plagiarism and public domain." The show's concept and real backing, however, came from Xemnu the Titan, who intended to subliminally plant messages in the show to be able to conquer the world. The alien was stopped by Wonder Man and the Thing but Silverberg was still able to take the footage and promote it as The Xemnu the Titan Show. (Marvel Two-in-One #78)

Given the general lack of success the Fantastic Four had in dealing with fictionalizations of their adventures, they began dealing with more documentary aspects of the media. Susan appeared on an hour-long special Woman to Woman with host Barbara Walker. The show was part of a series dedicated to the five most influencetial women in America. (Fantastic Four #245) Ben was recruited for an exhibition boxing match against the Champion that fueled headlines in the Daily Bugle, London Times, Sports Illustrated and Time. (Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7) Johnny had his profile featured in Celebrity magazine and the entire group was spotlit on an episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. (Fantastic Four #285) The team was invited to speak at a meeting of the Adventurers Club. (Contest of Champions #1) And, although not exactly intentional or approved, She-Hulk was the centerfold for the best selling issue of T.J. Vance's The Naked Truth. (Fantastic Four #275)

Meanwhile, Ben, while not still an actual member of the FF became one of the original members of the Unlimited Class Wrestling Foundation. Ed Garner, the U.C.W.F. promoter, still played up the Thing's association with the Fantastic Four to help promote the sport on national television. (Thing #28) Although Ben continued to downplay his former role in the Fantastic Four, his unbeatable winning streak kept him very much in the public eye and Garner continued to use the FF angle until Ben's last fight. (Thing #33)

During a brief respite, while the U.C.W.F. made some technological modifications to the arena, the Thing went to visit then stunt-woman Sharon Ventura on the set of Devil Dinosaur. The film experienced any number of technical problems (not the least of which being Godzilla) and ended up not being completed; however, the footage was sold to Ripley's Believe It or Not who most certainly also played up the FF and U.C.W.F. angles. (Thing #31)

The Fantastic Four themselves once again took a respite from the media and limited their media exposure mainly to news events and the inevitable gossip column. (Fantastic Four Annual #22, Marvel Two-in-One #96, Amazing Spider-Man #338, Web of Spider-Man Annual #5, B-Sides #3, Fantastic Force #1, Fantastic Four #299, 300, 362, 377) She-Hulk, on the other hand, became the subject of a Major Motion Pictures' bio-pic detailing her life as a super heroine. Although the script was poor, the effects were cheap, and there were several blatant attempts to disrupt filming altogether the movie was quite successful and ran for at least ten record-breaking weeks. (Sensational She-Hulk #12) It was the success of this movie, combined with the need for extra cash following the destruction of Empire State University, that prompted the Fantastic Four to give the go-ahead for a second attempt at animating their early adventures. The show was done very poorly and, despite a marketing attempt that included action figures, plush dolls and lunch boxes, the show went off the air quickly. (Fantastic Four #396)

It was not long afterwards that Onslaught reared his head. With so many powerful figures rising up to challenge him, it's no wonder that media coverage was so very nearly complete. CNN's Trish Tilby was even on hand to witness first-hand the "demise" of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. (Onslaught: Marvel Universe) The FF continued appearing in the news afterwards, with television stations often using file footage from previous events insterspersed with coverage of tribute ceremonies. (Thunderbolts #1, 2) Of course the media were quick to jump on the story of the heroes' return as well. (Captain America Vol. 3 #1, Thunderbolts #10, X-Men #71)

It wasn't long after the Fantastic Four settled in their new home that they began working the media again. Reed started by arranging a documentary on the FF's life to be filmed by Manoli Wetherell and Neal Conan for NPR-TV. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #9) He also tried to set up bigger press conferences (Uncanny X-Men/Fantastic Four 1998, Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #52), get their names and likenesses in more periodicals (Peter Parker: Spider-Man #53), and even made an appearance on Politically Incorrect. (Inhumans Vol. 2 #4) Meanwhile, Johnny made a very public display of his romance with the Atlantean, Namortia. (New Warriors Vol. 2 #3, 6, 9)

The biggest media commotion, however, came when Susan announced that she was marrying Dr. Doom. NPR-TV and CNN were on-hand filming the event, and papers from New York's Daily Bugle to Spain's El Pais documented everything they could. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #27)

After the marriage was sorted out, Johnny turned his eye towards Hollywood as reported in Vanity Fare. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #35) Surprisingly, of all the members of the FF, he had previously had the least amount of experience with the movie industry. Johnny evidently felt the need to earn some money of his own to contribute to tha Fantastic Four and signed on to star in Hawk Productions' western: Blaze of Glory. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #37) After training with stunt man Bob Diamond (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #40) Johnny attended the official launch party where Hawk revealed the first images of him as the lead character -- Rawide Kid -- and the film's new name: Blazing Star. The event was covered fairly heavily by the press, not only for the usual reasons, but the party (in all likelihood, intentionally) coincided with the Fantastic Four's anniversary. Retrospectives, biopics, and interviews were published by Time, Newsweek, the Sun, the Globe, as well as several unnamed television stations. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #50, 60) Shortly afterwards, the Make-A-Wish Foundation's annual Bachelor Auction, with Rosie O'Donnell as host, was televised. Johnny and Ben collectively raised $30,000. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #50, Second Story) Their success also led them to participate in a similar, Jay Leno-hosted World Trade Center relief auction some time later. (Spider-Man: Sweet Charity #1)

The Fantastic Four, by design, continue to be a market-driven force. T-shirts, bobble-head figures, coffee mugs, snow globes, and comic books featuring their likeness still persist, thanks to the help of a large support staff. (Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #60) Their popularity has led to references by other pop culture icons like Cypress Hill and Linkin Park. While the popularity waxes and wanes with the whims of a fickle public, Reed has gone to extra lengths to make sure that his family maintains a high public profile in some capacity.
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