By ANDREW A. SMITH
When "Fantastic Four," the movie, premieres July 8, it will be based on characters from the same-named, long-running comic book. Here's a handy primer on those characters in their comic-book incarnations:
THE FANTASTIC FOUR
First appearance: "Fantastic Four" No. 1 (November 1961)
Background: The Cosmic Quartet isn't necessarily a superhero team; they're more a family of explorers and adventurers -- "imaginauts" -- who happen to have superpowers that they use to investigate the farthest reaches of the multiverse. In their first two issues they didn't even wear uniforms, and they are world-famous celebrities who don't hide behind secret identities. They are:
1. Mr. Fantastic: Reed Richards (played by Ian Gruffudd)
A brilliant scientist whose knowledge encompasses dozens of disciplines (including quite a few esoteric ones), it was Reed who took his best friend, girlfriend and his girlfriend's brother into space, where exposure to cosmic radiation gave them superpowers -- and turned them into freaks. It's guilt that motivates Reed to work so hard at making the FF rich and famous, as compensation for his error.
While Reed's superpower (and most annoying characteristic) may seem to be his amazing intelligence, it is his ability to warp and stretch his body like rubber that is attributed to the cosmic radiation. It's money from Reed's patents that finances the team and their headquarters/living space in New York's Baxter Building, and he is their uncontested leader.
2. The Thing: Benjamin J. Grimm
Ben was a rough-and-tumble Jewish kid from New York's Lower East Side who became Reed's college roommate and best friend at Empire State University, where he had a football scholarship. Ben went from gridiron success to being an ace fighter pilot and was tapped by Reed to fly the spaceship that resulted in the quartet gaining superpowers.
Ben gained tremendous strength from the cosmic rays, but also grew a rocky, orange, dinosaur-like hide that makes him unable to live a normal life. Ben is the heart of the team; his never-say-die attitude and gruff, avuncular humor make him a fan favorite. However, he's also never far from clinical depression over his disfigurement -- which often results in explosive temper tantrums and resentment toward Reed.
3. Invisible Woman: Susan Storm (Jessica Alba)
Originally, Sue was simply Reed's much-younger girlfriend who could only turn transparent, but over the years she's grown in power and importance. Now her role as the "invisible glue" that holds the team together is more obvious, and she can turn other people/objects invisible and project force fields of any size and strength. In the comics, she is married to Reed and has two children -- and is the mother hen who keeps her "boys" on the team out of trouble (and on speaking terms).
4. Human Torch: Johnny Storm (Chris Evans)
Sue's younger brother and Reed's brother-in-law, the impetuous and hot-headed Johnny gained a power to match: He can turn into an incandescent fireball, fly, throw and control flame, and generally lives up to his nom du combat (borrowed from a '40s superhero). Johnny is the member who most enjoys being a celebrity, and has tried his hand at acting, racecar driving ... and just about every starlet in Hollywood. He also plays juvenile practical jokes on Ben, who generally reacts with equal immaturity.
Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon)
First appearance: "Fantastic Four" No. 5 (July 1962)
Background: Von Doom was a persecuted gypsy in the fictional Eastern European country of Latveria, who by dint of his genius gained a scholarship to Empire State University. Handsome, haughty and arrogant, schooled in both science and sorcery, he spurned fellow student Reed Richards' help with an experiment to contact his deceased mother in the afterlife -- an experiment that went awry and scarred von Doom's face. Kicked out of ESU (and blaming Richards for the accident), he returned to Latveria and took it over, built high-tech armor and equipment, and has dedicated his life to taking his "rightful place" as ruler of the world ... and to destroying Reed Richards.
Dr. Doom is also kind of connected to the family, Reed's "evil twin" of sorts (he even named their youngest child in a devil's bargain). He's just as smart as Reed, and as king of his own country he has enormous resources -- and diplomatic immunity.
Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington)
First appearance: "Fantastic Four" No. 8 (November 1962)
Background: Alicia is a blind sculptress who met the FF when her villainous stepfather, the Puppet Master, attacked them. Alicia loves Ben's "inner beauty," but he's constantly worried that it's only her blindness that allows her to be kind to "a monster."
Willie Lumpkin (Stan Lee)
First appearance: "Fantastic Four" No. 11 (February 1963)
The FF's elderly and long-suffering mailman, Lumpkin is a bit player who will provide a cameo for FF co-creator Stan Lee. (The other co-creator, Jack Kirby, died in 1994.)