The Fantastic Four acquired their superhuman abilities after their experimental rocket passed through a storm of cosmic rays. Scientist Reed Richards, who took the name Mister Fantastic gained the ability to stretch his body into nearly any conceivable shape. His fiancee Susan Storm became able to transform herself into the Invisible Girl (later the Invisible Woman), as well as project force fields. Her younger brother Johnny Storm was given the incendiary powers of the Human Torch. Finally, pilot Ben Grimm was transformed into an orange-skinned craggy monster. Filled with self-pity he dubbed himself the Thing.
The team of adventurers have used their fantastic abilities to protect humanity, the earth and the universe from a number of threats. Propelled, for the main part, by Richards' innate scientific curiosity the team have explored space, the Negative Zone, the Microverse, other dimensions and nearly every hidden valley, nation, and lost civilization on the planet. They have had a number of headquarters most notably the Baxter Building in New York city, Four Freedoms Plaza built atop the site of the Baxter Building when the former headquarters was shuttled into space by a villain, Pier 4, and most recently an orbiting satellite version of the Baxter Building.
Though the team is primarily comprised of Richards' extended family they have, on occasion, brought in other members to supplement their ranks when one of the original four happened to be unavailable due to a number of circumstances. These substitutes have included Crystal (comics), Johnny Storm's one-time love interest and member of the hidden race known as the Inhumans, Medusa, sister to Crystal, Luke Cage the super-strong hero for hire, Tigra the were-cat, She-Hulk the super-strong lawyer and adventurer, Ms. Marvel, Lyja the alien Skrull, and the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang.
Over the years, there have been three short-lived TV animated series and one feature-length film adaptation of the Fantastic Four comic book series. The first series was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions in the late 1960s. It lasted for 15 episodes, and it is favorably remembered as one of the better cartoon adaptations of a Marvel comic book series. (This Fantastic Four series was rerun as part of the continuing series Hanna-Barbera's World of Super Adventure.) The second series was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises in the mid-1970s. It is infamous for starting a long-running urban legend that persists in comic book and animation fandom to the present day. The 1970s Fantastic Four series replaced the character of the Human Torch with a "cute" robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. A long-lasting rumor persisted that this change was made by the TV network (NBC) because they supposedly did not want young viewers to imitate the Human Torch by setting themselves on fire. However, this rumor was false; the true reason for the change was because of merchandising concerns. (A movie featuring the Human Torch was in the early stages of production at the time, though the film was never completed.)
In the mid 1990s, the WB network aired a new Fantastic Four animated series, on Sunday mornings as part of the "Marvel Action Hour". The first half of the hour was an episode of Iron Man; the second half an episode of Fantastic Four. Both shows lasted for two or three seasons before being cancelled. The "Marvel Action Hour" usually featured Stan Lee speaking about certain characters in each episode before it aired and what had inspired him to create many of the characters.
A movie adaptation of The Fantastic Four was completed in 1997. However, this movie was never officially released to theaters or video. It is available from various bootleg video distributors, however.
An "official" feature film adaptation of The Fantastic Four is currently scheduled for release in 2004.