You think you know Marvel's First Family? Think again.
Q: I saw the movie. I don't need you to tell me about the Fantastic Four. I know everything.
A: You may think you know everything about the current lineup, but that's a moot point, as it's about to change.
Q: Wait, they can do that?
A: Can and have, with a somewhat alarming regularity. About once a decade or so, the team goes through a brief membership change, as one member or another drops out. And it's been about 10 years since the last one, so it's time once again for the team
Q: You're going to give me a rundown of the changes, aren't you?
A: Yes, I am. The first replacement FF member was the Human Torch's then-girlfriend, Crystal of the Inhumans, who briefly filled in for Sue in 1966 when she was on maternity leave for the birth of her and Reed's son, Franklin.
Q: He was born in '66? But he's like, seven!
A: Don't get me started. Shortly after that, the Thing left to pursue a wrestling career (don't laugh)…
Q: I'll try.
A: … and was replaced by Luke Cage, Hero For Hire.
Q: Bwa-hahahahahahahahahaha! I'm sorry.
A: S'okay; it happens to the best of us. Those were the roster changes of the '60s. (Actually, Luke's fill-in was in the '70s, but it feels '60s for some reason to me, so I always lump it in there.) In the '70s, Sue and Reed separated briefly, and her place in the team was filled by the Inhumans' Medusa, who had separated from her own husband, Black Bolt.
A: You should see Johnny's suit from then. Actually, no, you shouldn't. No one should. Anyway, the '80s had the longest replacement period, when the Thing left the book for three years following the Secret Wars mini-series; his replacement was the She-Hulk, For some reason, her place in the team was accepted more easily, and a lot of fans consider her an honorary member even today.
Q: I always liked her. She's got spunk.
A: No comment. Almost immediately after Thing's return, Reed and Sue left to join the Avengers, and Ben and Johnny were joined by Crystal and Ben's girlfriend, the second Ms. Marvel. That didn't last long, and the team was soon reunited (although Ms. Marvel stuck around, mutated into a new She-Thing).
Q: It gets confusing.
A: Wait, the best part is yet to come. For three issues (347-349), Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider were conned by a Skrull impersonating Sue into becoming the New Fantastic Four.
Q: That's… ridiculous.
A: Yes, it is. Fortunately, that's how they played it, with the new team bickering their way to the bottom of the Mole Man's domain, while the Skrull played a dangerous game with Reed while searching for a Skrull weapon that had been… adopted by one of the Mole Man's monsters.
Q: Wait, what?
A: You have to read it. It's actually great, with Walt Simonson writing and some gorgeous Art Adams art. (Boy, that feels weird to type.)
Q: What about the '90s?
A: For about two years, Reed and Dr. Doom were both missing and presumed dead. During this time, Reed's spot was filled by several scabs, including Sub-Mariner, the second Ant-Man, Johnny's Skrull ex-wife Lyja (don't ask) and Doom's protégé Kristoff Vernard. Although that's not the weirdest part; the weirdest part is that Sue's mourning process included donning a costume that was essentially a one-piece bathing suit with the "4" emblem cut out.
Q: But… the emblem is over her…
A: Exactly. That all ended in 1995/1996, so as you can see, it's time for another group of pinch hitters.
Q: So who's coming in this time?
A: Most of the money right now is on Storm and the Black Panther.
Q: No, really.
A: I'm serious. During this summer's big crossover, Civil War, one member will be hospitalized, and another will leave (probably Sue or Reed), and two new members will fill in. According to Wizard, the new members will either be She-Hulk and Hawkeye, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Silver Surfer and Galactus, or the aforementioned Stomr and Panther (who get hitched in the upcoming Black Panther 18).
Q: That's… weird. Why do they do this?
A: To shake things up, get people talking. Personally, I think it's a silly and pointless gimmick (we all know that the team works best when it's the family unit of Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, and it will always return to that), but it always bumps sales up temporarily. And it makes for nice trivia fodder for future generations of nerds.
Q: Still, seems wrong somehow.
A: Like Charlie Sheen said in Hot Shots: "[It's] like kissing your sister. Sure, she's a hot piece of tail with an ass that won't quit, but man, it's just illegal."
Q: Thank you for that.
A: I live but to serve.