Unstable Fashion Sense Part 1: The History of the Fantastic Four’s Costumes in the Comics

With the first trailer for Fox’s Fantastic Four hitting the internet this week and giving us our first look at the titular heroes, we figured this would be as good a time as any to take a look at the team’s comic-based costumes over their long and storied publishing history. The trailer didn’t give us a good look at what the Fantastic Four will be wearing and certainly didn’t show us anything like a superhero uniform for the quartet. That being said, while the FF’s costumes in the comics have generally changed only very subtly over the years, these subtle changes still provide a number of different options from which Josh Trank and his team could have pulled.

Without further ado, let’s jump straight into the mix with…

The Proto-Costumes

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It’s not the most widely known fact that when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby originally created the Fantastic Four, they didn’t intend for them to wear costumes. The images above show what they wore in issue one (1961) when exploring the “fabled” Monster Isle. Far from the well-known blue tights with “4” symbols, one can see that the four are wearing fairly plain getups, almost what one would expect from a mechanic of the period, Reed notable for a baseball cap and Ben for a trench coat, hat, glasses, and gloves that obscure as much of his form as possible. In fact, the second issue shows them entirely in civilian clothing without even putting the quartet in this sort of generic “action-wear.”

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One should also note the look of the Thing. It took Jack Kirby a number of issues to work his way from a lumpy, orange humanoid mass to a figure composed of more well-defined scaly, rock-like plates. While this was almost certainly simply a matter of Kirby defining Ben Grimm’s look as he became more comfortable and familiar with the character, it was eventually firmly established as canon (prior to or during John Byrne’s run on the title) that Ben’s body gradually evolved or mutated following the accident with cosmic rays to achieve its eventual familiar appearance.

The Classic

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By Fantastic Four #3 (1962), Stan and Jack had ostensibly bowed to reader demand and introduced “colorful new” costumes for the Fantastic Four right on the book’s cover along with the iconic Fantasticar. These costumes were shown in the issue to have been designed by Sue Storm herself. They feature the “4” chest symbol, deep blue tights, black belts, black gloves, black boots, and a black ring serving as a kind of collar to the ensembles. It’s worth noting that Sue decided that her costume should have heels.

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Another lesser-known fact is that Sue was thoughtful enough to design Ben’s costume to cover the entirety of his then-despised form and included a helmet.

the-thing-helmetUnfortunately, in the outfit’s first outing, Ben lost his patience with the constricting duds and ripped them down to his trademark blue hot pants.

the-thing-breaks-freeIntroduced in issue three, this costume would forever define the Fantastic Four’s look and though subtly modified over the years, would not undergo radical revision until the late 1990s.

Blackbeard Benjy

blackbeard-thingNot a superhero outfit in the traditional sense, issue five of the team’s series found Reed, Johnny, and Ben sent back in time to retrieve the treasure chest of Blackbeard the pirate. In their efforts to locate it, the trio decided to play buccaneer and go undercover. This costume change is classic and corny enough that it bears mentioning here.

The Incredible Shrinking Collar

shrinking-collarIssue six (1962) featured both the first villain team-up that the FF would face, Doc Doom joining forces with Namor the Sub-Mariner, and introduced a subtle costume adjustment in the form of a minimized back collar for the quartet’s outfits. Whereas previously the collar appeared to be several inches wide and worked its way a good deal up the wearer’s neck, this collar appears to be about an inch wide and sit around the neck’s base. This costume would remain essentially unchanged save for the occasional short-lived deviation for years to come.

Homage to the Android Human Torch

johnny-stormA notable deviation would come in issue 132 (1973) when Johnny unconsciously redesigned his costume to resemble that of the original android Human Torch named Jim Hammond. Johnny had been shot by an Inhuman electro-weave ray which instantaneously reconstructed his damaged costume along these lines based on his memories of Hammond from Golden Age comic books. While striking, this outfit would only last until issue 159 (1975) when Johnny simply abandoned it with an offhand remark in favor of his classic attire.

Honey, I Blew Up the Collar

blew-upThe next change of any note would come with issue 232 (1981) and John Byrne’s start as writer/artist on the series. As can be seen above, Byrne immediately brought back the classic wide collar not seen since 1962’s issue five. By this point, Ben Grimm had long-since achieved his well-defined look and been through several evolutions generally tied to changes in artists. This return to the classic costume fits perfectly with what has generally been termed Byrne’s back-to-basics take on the team. In addition to returning the costume to its roots, Byrne would re-explore and reinvigorate aspects of previous FF canon to great effect while helming the title. This costume change is not remarked on by the characters and does not appear to have an in-universe explanation.

The Byrne Bunch

byrne-bunchThough hinted at in previous issues, 236 (1981) was when the Byrne Bunch or the Byrne Bagginess really became apparent. Note Reed’s costume in the image above. Rather than being perfectly formfitting, one can see creases in the fabric. While the gloves, boots, and belt appear to be skintight, the bodysuit itself appears to be loose enough to show the fabric bunching slightly where it tucks into the gloves and boots, and pulling at the waist. This is the case for all of the non-orange members of the team. This bagginess would only become more pronounced in subsequent issues. Also note that the classic collar is still in effect. Once again, this is a subtle and gradual change that is not remarked upon by the characters.

The Negative Costumes

negative-costumesIn issue 256 (1983) during the Byrne run, the Fantastic Four made a somewhat turbulent trip from the Negative Zone back to the normal Marvel Universe. As a result, the FF found their costumes made into “negative” versions of themselves. As one can see, the colors are reversed to a degree. Whereas previously the bodysuits themselves had been lighter and the gloves, boots, and belts darker, these costumes have a dark bodysuit and white accents. Again, the wide collar is still in use. At the time, this is had been most significant change made to the costumes and would stick for quite a number of years.

Malice… Ugh…

malice-ughThat’s Sue in that getup in Fantastic Four issue 280 (1985). The villainous Psycho-Man, teamed-up with a version of the character known as the Hate Monger, manipulated her mind to create a dark side which apparently liked to dress up in BDSM gear. The less said about this, the better. Personally, this has always been my least favorite aspect of Byrne’s time with the characters and was a mercifully brief detour in Sue’s look, only lasting two issues.

The 1990’s Part I

fantastic-four-90sIssue 358 (1991) during the tenure of artist Paul Ryan, finds the fabulous foursome suiting up to go into outer space. Because it’s the 90s, one can see that Reed and Sue are wearing Fantastic Four-branded leather jackets. Oddly enough, Ben shows up in the scene depicted here wearing a full bodysuit for what I believe to be the first time since 1962. Neither the introduction of the jackets or Ben’s suit appears to be remarked upon by the team save for Johnny’s “Nice flight jackets” remark as seen above.

Revenge of the 90s: Sue’s “Stripper” Costume

stripper-sueIn issue 371 (1992) still under artist Paul Ryan, Sue decided she wasn’t showing enough skin and cut big sections out of her outfit. This is “affectionately” referred to among FF fans as her “stripper” outfit for obvious reasons and is pretty much universally reviled as being just another symptom of 90s excess. The in-story explanation for this out-of-character abomination is that Sue had reabsorbed her alternate persona, Malice, and this is her acting out as a result. The costume was, like Malice’s original BDSM-wear, mercifully short lived and actually sparked a few arguments with her husband Reed Richards.

Attack of the 90s!

ff-90s-attackMore leather jackets! Stripper costume! Bandoliers! Giant guns! Metallic cover! Helmet! Superfluous belt! Issues 374 and 375 (1993) saw a few changes. Aside from additional generic 90s trappings, two big changes were Ben’s tank-top costume and helmet. You might recognize that helmet as resembling the one Sue tried to give him with his original costume way back in 1962. Here, he’s wearing it to cover a brutal wound to the face received from Wolverine’s claws. Given that frustration over his appearance is a fairly core aspect of Ben’s character, occasionally something will be done to revive his insecurities. This is just one fairly well-conceived iteration of this phenomenon. While the helmet only lasted until Ben’s face was fixed by the villain Hyperstorm, this version of his costume has had a fairly significant impact on his future attire. For instance, his eventual Future Foundation costume appears to be a differently colored, redesigned riff on the basic concept.

Mitigation of the 90s

mitigating-the-90sBy issue 387 (1994), Sue had managed to dump Malice and regained a certain amount of modesty. Mercifully, artist Paul Ryan introduced this outfit that took the place of her more showy attire that still shook up her basic look a bit. This is a pretty obvious improvement over Sue’s previous costume and she stuck with this one for some time until…

Onslaught

onslaughtGoing into the “Onslaught” event, the Fantastic Four had probably their most significant costume change up to that point. As one can see in the image above from issue 415 (1996), the team retains the general “negative” costume color scheme of blue body suit with white accents as conceived by John Byrne. However, with these costumes the belts are given some detailing, seemingly sporting pouches, and the chest logo is now off-center for the first time and integrated into the collar section. Ben Grimm in particular is now wearing for the first time a costume that exposes his feet while covering more than just his hot pants normally would.

Heroes Reborn

heroes-rebornChalk this one up to the artistic sensibilities of Jim Lee. These costumes debuted on the cover of Fantastic Four volume two, issue one(1997) and were truly showcased for the first time in the following issue. This isn’t a bad look but it is certainly much more complicated with different colors and shapes, multiple logos placements, and funny wristbands. And what is up with Jim Lee and those collars? If you ask me, Lee is a great artist but should be kept away from redesigning hitherto simple and iconic looks. There is definitely a point at which less is more, and Lee seems not to know exactly where that point lies.

Heroes Return

heroes-returnAfter Jim Lee’s indulgences, this costume design is a breath of fresh air. Debuting in Fantastic Four volume three, issue one (1998) with art by Alan Davis, this outfit is a pretty clear callback to the original classic outfits with the large dark collar, dark gloves, dark belt, and dark boots. Here though the chest emblem overlaps the collar, perhaps showing the influence of the Onslaught ensemble. Also worth noting is the unobtrusive, off-center belt buckle with a double-F motif, easily missed but a nice touch regardless.

the-thingOddly enough, Ben’s outfit comes with a shirt that pretty much matches his teammates. Not a bad look but maybe a bit questionable for fans used to the hot-pants look.

Onslaught Again?

onslaught-againPretty much, yeah. Volume three, issue 12 (1998) sticks the team back into what are pretty much the same costumes they spent a handful of issues wearing during the Onslaught debacle. Don’t ask me why. It wasn’t as though they made a huge impact the first time around.

Everything Old Is New Again

everything-oldYup, starting in Fantastic Four volume three, issue 38 without emblems and gaining the chest emblems in 39, the FF was back in what was pretty much their original classic costumes again, likely thanks to artist Carlos Pacheco. The major differences here are the added seams, and Ben Grimm’s pants and boots as well as the off-center emblem on his belt.

Human Iron Torch Man?

torch-armorIn Fantastic Four volume three, issue 45 (2001), Reed created a suit to help Johnny control his flame after losing his ability to turn it off following an escapade in the Negative Zone. If you ask me, this is a bit of a fashion faux pas and I think Tony Stark was considering suing for trademark infringement.

Maternity Costume

maternity-sueThis one has a REALLY weird explanation behind it. Fantastic Four volume three, issue 49 saw Franklin Richards use his reality-warping powers to restore Sue Storm’s pregnancy that she had lost back in the John Byrne run during the 1980s. As such, she got a special maternity costume to accommodate her burgeoning figure. This is only a subtle and short-lived costume variation but worth noting.

Android Homage: The Revengening

android-torch-2For a brief time right around volume three, issue 50, while Johnny was still having some difficulties with his powers, he once again decided to wear the gold and red of Jim Hammond, the original android Human Torch.

Herald-Wear? Galactus-Garb?

galactus-garbThe lovely ensemble that Johnny here is sporting debuted in Fantastic Four issue 519 while the late artist Mike Wieringo was on the title and only lasted a few issues. The point of the costume was that it was created when Galactus made him a herald while he had Sue’s invisibility powers, long story. Basically, Galactus was hungry and wanted someone with Sue’s abilities to be able to unveil hidden worlds to chow down on. This outfit persisted until the rest of the team saved Johnny from Galactus’ thrall. I considered including an entry here calling out Wieringo’s take on the costumes but it is essentially the same costume they’d been wearing previously only filtered through Wieringo’s signature style and incorporating a slightly more raised and three-dimensional chest insignia.

Bryan Hitch

hitch-ffDuring the Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch run from issue 554 (2008) to 569 (2009), Hitch did a relatively subtle redesign on the FF’s costumes. The major change on Ben Grimm is simply that the insignia on his belt is centered rather than off to one side. On the rest of the team, one should notice the collars with the square notch, the fingerless gloves, the much more detailed shoes, the extra accents, and Sue’s bare arms.

Early Hickman

hickmanLikely designed by Dale Eaglesham, these costumes would have debuted some time in 2009. One should note the lack of v’s or notches in the collars, the short sleeves, the added black seams or accent lines, and the stripes at the ends of the sleeves. This is a fairly subtle but distinct change which still utilizes the classic wide collars.

Future Foundation

future-foundationFollowing Johnny Storm’s death at the hands of Annihilus in the Negative Zone, the Fantastic Four underwent what was possibly the single greatest visual alteration in their history and changed their name to the Future Foundation. This took place in FF issue 1 (2011). Forgoing any variation on the traditional blue outfits, this costume rejects any color in favor of stark black and white with entirely new insignia and design elements. One could make the argument that Johnny being the color and life of the team this was an appropriate shift in the FF’s visual aesthetic.

Johnny’s Alive!

future-foundation-5Another subtle alteration, but once Johnny is back from the Negative Zone and on the team again, the FF decides to put numbers back on their costumes. This is illustrated above in an image by Nick Dragotta from FF issue 16 (2012). One should note that the two individuals in black costumes with white accents are future versions of Reed and Sue’s children Franklin and Valeria who are also in the picture as children. Franklin is numbered as “5” and Valeria as “6.”

Fall of the Fantastic Four

fall-of-the-ffAt the start of James Robinson and Leonard Kirk’s run on Fantastic Four (issue one was released February 2014), the team was given another radical visual revamp. Switching black and white for black and red, the team was given a clear break from what had come before through this stark contrast. In-story, Sue apparently felt that the team needed a change given what they had previously been through and thought the new costumes would help to provide that. Designed by Kirk, the red seems to tie into the danger the team is experiencing and is thematically appropriate with respect to the content of this arc.

Back in Blue!

back-in-blueFor the first time in a good while, the Fantastic Four are back in what essentially amounts to a variation on their original classic costumes. This outfit debuted in Fantastic Four volume five, issue 13 (2014). One will note the blue bodysuits with black accents. Here though, the blue is lighter, more of a baby blue as opposed to the more traditional indigo. Also the accents have more straight-line embellishments than rounded edges. Going even further, the chest icon, rather than being a “4” fully contained within a circular white space, is square with the “4” symbol overlapping its edges. Finally, the “4” itself is uniquely styled with respect to the FF’s usual logo. As far as Ben Grimm’s costume, his shorts may in fact be a bit longer than the traditional hot pants, a relatively minor change all things considered.

Conclusion

So, what have we learned going through all this? Well, we see that Fox certainly has a great many costume variations from which to draw, whether or not they actually use any of them. It’s also worth noting just how many costume variations the team has gone through since the early 1990s. While the team’s costume went essentially unchanged from 1962 to 1983, since 1983 it has been significantly altered roughly 10 times. In recent years, it seems as though the costumes changes have increased in frequency, occurring with more-or-less each creative team that takes a crack a Marvel’s First Family.

So, what Fantastic Four costume is your favorite? Which one do you think Fox and Josh Trank is most likely to go with? Which one do you want them to use? Did we miss any?