It’s a lot longer than I would’ve expected, considering how small the actual changes are. But I blame that on (perhaps unwilling and unwitting, at times) coconspirators Sébastien Andrivet, Vinnie Bartilucci, Phil Dixon, Sean MacDonald, and Jay Myers.
In fact, I hereby elevate Vinnie to “genius” status, for figuring out how the heck you cram the Storms into an otherwise “traditional” hero group.
The “design goals” (differing significantly from Sébastien’s version) were basically to keep both the DCU and the FF as close to their standard, modern histories as possible. The major points of change are basically to reconcile the fact that the FF:
- Bears great superficial similarity to the Challengers of the Unknown, in both composition and history.
- Holds an equivalent status in the Marvel Universe to Superman’s status in the DCU.
Thus, Superman is re-established as the first superhero, with the FF being the first of the Silver Age , and also direct successors of the Challs. Their origin has also been “DCed up,” with the involvement of an annoying corporation and bunches of irrelevant ties to contemporary characters.
The Fantastic Four’s DC Universe History
In the DCU, to make room for the Fantastic Four, we return Superman to his status as the first superhero, making his appearance in the summer of 1938. Thus, he re-replaces Arnold “Iron” Munro in the All-Star Squadron, and perhaps the Young All-Stars, if he’s young enough.
When, in 1951, the Justice Society disbanded, Superman retired alongside his friends and allies. He married Lois Lane, became managing editor of the Daily Star, and continued to protect Metropolis, though under a heavy veil of secrecy.
After decades, his powers began to wane. Even the people of Metropolis began to think that the post-war Superman was as much a myth as the bat-creature rumored to protect Gotham since the 1920s.
Challenging the Unknown, part 1
A quarter-century later, the multi-billion-dollar Tri-Corp found the top men in their fields. Then they formed the Challengers of the Unknown, a group meant to inspire the youth of America as heroes.
The team consisted of:
- Undersea and chemistry expert Walter “Prof” Haley.
- Crack pilot Kyle “Ace” Morgan.
- Star wrestler and ex-Marine Leslie “Rocky” Davis.
- Electronics expert and mountain climber Matthew “Red” Ryan.
However, they diverted from the first leg of their tour to observe a strange phenomenon in the upper atmosphere.
Morgan was more than able to take the plane high enough. But the engine suddenly failed, presumed due to the radiation emitted by the silvery mass.
The Challengers, through means unknown even to themselves, survived and concluded that they were living on “borrowed time,” when they noted that their watches had stopped. This inspired them to become true heroes and adventurers, rather than corporate-owned “pretty faces,”. Still, they endeavored to fill their void at Tri-Corp by helping to choose their own successors.
Challenging the Unknown, part 2
The process began quite well. Haley’s choice, the brilliant scientist (and ex-Army man) Reed Richards, was more than Tri-Corp could have hoped for. The other choices, however, would need some work.
Morgan’s first suggestion, top test pilot Hal Jordan, was unavailable due to contractual obligations at Ferris Aircraft, as well as his rather checkered history of being a difficult employee. His next choice, USAF Col. Larry Trainor was more palatable to the Tri-Corp executives, but likewise unavailable.
It was here that Richards intervened. He suggested the pilot he had worked with in the Army, old friend Benjamin Grimm. Morgan was resistant, at first, fearing an Army pilot could never hope to match up to the likes of Jordan or Trainor. But he was soon proven wrong when he got to see Grimm in action.
With two men welcomed firmly aboard, it was time to fill out the remainder of the new team. In particular, some corporate concerns needed attention.
Fouring the Fantastic
Young aspiring actress and hopeful fashion designer Susan Storm was brought in to give the team a public face. She would act as public liaison for the team. While initially resistant, Richards quickly warmed to the idea after meeting the enchanting young woman.
Reed’s change of heart served to bolster Tri-Corp’s decision, and also change the nature of what they were looking for on “their team.”
With an obvious couple and old family friend, the face of the team became “family.” The pressure fell, then, to Davis and Ryan to choose an “acceptable” fourth member. Rocky gave in fairly quickly. He chose to support Storm as his choice, thereby sidestepping the entire issue. Having grown up with Ben Grimm, his choice was already on the team, anyway.
Meetings began at Tri-Corp, with Challengers both new and old, with all eyes on “Red” Ryan. His choices, ranging from circus aerialist Boston Brand, to reclusive child-star Garfield Logan, to talented investigative reporter Jack Ryder, to college football stars Henry Johnson and Henry “Hank” Hall, were each methodically discarded.
Reasons given were mostly that their prior careers made them unsuitable for the heroic image Tri-Corp was looking for. But Ryan quickly saw that the “family” image is what they were really trying to push.
So, in a fit of frustration, history was made. He indicated Storm’s young brother John, who had been attending the meetings with “big sis”. He sarcastically recommended him as “the next teen idol.” After little deliberation, Johnny Storm was inducted as the fourth and final member of the new team, much to everyone’s shock.
Later, in analyzing the data from the Challengers’ ill-fated experiment, Richards realized that the phenomenon they were sent to observe had been noted by witnesses for decades. Thus, its appearance was predictable through a complex formula.
Recognizing that this object would have great theoretical value, he insisted that Tri-Corp make interception of the phenomenon’s next appearance a corporate priority. When this failed, Reed studied business culture. He wanted to climb the Tri-Corp ladder until he had the authority to fight for his idea and win, which he did in record time.
The Tri-Corp executives, however, were more than a little concerned about the “crew,” which consisted of a pilot, a scientist, and an untrained woman and child. So, they created a “shadow” project, with a team to replace the Challengers on the actual flight.
Things being what they were, the plug was pulled on the project on the eve of the launch. The “shadow” team was disbanded, and Richards was informed that the project was “postponed” for a few days. This would of course lead to the phenomenon being missed.
Refusing to be beaten, however, Reed used his clearance to break back into the base that night, and take the still-unfinished spaceplane Constitution, along with his new partners, to intercept the twisting silver thread.
Fateful flight redux
The launch, of course, was fine, if rushed. However, like their predecessors, their craft suffered an engine failure, causing them to plummet right toward the city of Metropolis. Unlike the first group, however, the four crewmen would not merely have “fate” intervene to save them, but the first of heroes, Superman !
The aged and mostly retired Man of Steel, unwilling to allow such a disaster in his city, pushed himself beyond his limits. He brought the team to a safe, if bumpy, landing just on the outskirts of Metropolis.
Depowered, though, Superman was no match for the monstrous creatures, led by a mole-like humanoid monster, that lived in the region’s caverns. Te same caverns would one day be utilized heavily by the Cadmus Project.
With the Man of Steel near death, the team of adventurers attempted to help. Thus, they learned quickly that their trip had bestowed fantastic powers on them! The five fought off the monsters, but at the cost of the last of Superman’s powers.
Dawn of a new age
Seeing that the world was potentially in very good hands, the Man of Steel convinced the foursome to become heroes, as he and his contemporaries did decades before. The four quickly agreed, and Sue created uniforms based on the Man of Steel’s. These were primarily blue, with a pentagonal crest containing a stylized number four.
Touched, the elder hero then made a simple request, that “Superman” be allowed to die in the incident. The elderly Clark Kent and his wife Lois would finally retire to the family farm in Kansas, should the team ever desire his advice, but his adventuring days were clearly over for good.
Richards and company returned to Tri-Corp, and convinced the board of directors to bankroll not a team of adventurers, but a team of superheroes. These were the Fantastic Four, a group based firmly in the traditions and legacy of the Man of Steel. They even declared the supposedly-deceased Superman to be an honorary fifth member.
In the months to come, Reed would come in conflict time and again with those steering the company. Eventually, by necessity, he took it over, piece by piece, rechristening it Fantastic Four, Inc.. He relocated it and the team to Superman’s home town of Metropolis.
In time, he would come into conflict with Gotham City’s Batman on a dangerous case (with whom they would develop a professional working relationship, if not a grudging friendship), Lex Luthor and LexCorp in both the corporate and metahuman world, the imp Mxyzptlk, and a host of other heroes and villains.
In addition, the appearance of the Fantastic Four would inspire many new heroes to make their appearances within just a year. The group even helped a handful of them form the original Justice League of America during the Appelaxian invasion, though they declined formal membership when finally asked.
The team would also come to feel a part of Superman’s extended family. Discovery of the Phantom Zone, the enigmatic Cleric, and other people and artifacts of Krypton’s past found their ways into the path of the Fantastic Four.
Disaster would strike, however. The space anomaly, now known from information supplied by Hal Jordan (now adventuring as “Green Lantern”) as the “Silver Twist,” was due to appear again. Another team of four was recruited by Richards, to gather more solid data on its nature. This one was headed by USAF Lt. Col. Hank Henshaw.
More precise foreknowledge of its appearance and superior engine technology allowing Henshaw and his crew to come closer than any prior team. Henshaw’s shuttle came in direct contact with the Silver Twist. The ship was never seen again, banished to another dimension where it was presumed destroyed.
Disaster of a different sort would strike again, just barely a year later. The monster known only as Doomsday cut a swath of destruction across the country, tearing through the heroes from the Justice League International, among many others.
Only through astonishing teamwork, innumerable technological devices, and a refusal to back down, was the monster stopped in downtown Metropolis by the Fantastic Four. This, however, was at great cost, as all four members fell into a deep coma.
This was not to be the end, though. One device used by Richards, a Kryptonian artifact given to him by a lone Cleric on a space expedition, temporarily posed as Superman (along with the Cadmus Project’s Superboy and the newly-returned Hank “Cyborg” Henshaw).
It later found the real Superman, rejuvenating he and Lois, and restoring the last son of the House of El to far beyond what was once his full power.
The restored Superman would go on to join the Justice League, finally. Howbeit, the public at large is not aware that this is the same hero of generations past. He also works closely with the (recovered) Fantastic Four, as does John Henry “Steel” Irons, and other heroes whose careers were inspired directly by the Man of Steel.
Further Potential Links
In maintaining the competition between the Fantastic Four and the opposing Communist group, it seems generally agreed that the Communists should be led by Ivan Kragoff, in a plan partially masterminded and funded behind the scenes by Gorilla Grodd.
Kragoff and his crew of intelligent gorillas, through exposure to the Twist, become the Red Ghost and the Soviet Super–Apes, possibly after a short stay on an alternate future Earth where the apes have conquered and enslaved humanity, as in Planet of the Apes.
Introducing the movie as continuity also suggests adding yet another expedition to the Silver Twist, which permanently strands the team in that future.
Lex Luthor would undoubtedly find out what Richards knows about the Twist. He would later send his own team to analyze its metagene-enhancing aspects, creating the U-Foes.
With that many expeditions, already, it’s also tempting to get Larry Trainor’s (and Valentina Vostok’s) negative-energy being from the Silver Twist, as well. Though that’s hardly necessary. But, after all, once there are six trips out, what’s one or two more?
It is also conceivable that, in a more fully-merged DC/Marvel Universe, that those such as James Rhodes, “Happy” Hogan, and many others would have been suggested as potential replacements for the Challengers of the Unknown.
The additions of Doctor Doom and/or Franklin Richards are left as an exercise for the reader. Though it’s a safe bet that the latter had something to do with the revelation about Hypertime in the DCU rather than Jon Kent II.