Challengers of the Unknown: The First Fantastic Four


The Fantastic Four might be the most famous (or infamous these days) super hero team, but they certainly weren’t the first. Four years before they debuted in the pages of Marvel Comics, the first real quartet of champions premiered in DC Comics’ Showcase #6. The Challengers of the Unknown even preceded the creation of the Justice League.

In 1957, comic book artist Jack Kirby joined forces with writer Dick Wood to bring readers an adventure featuring four daredevils, sired the Challengers of the Unknown, who spent their leisure time investigating the paranormal and battling intergalactic invaders. The group was made up of four men who survived a terrible plane crash. Pilot Kyle "Ace" Morgan, daredevil Matthew "Red" Ryan, strong but slow-witted Leslie "Rocky" Davis, and scientist Walter Mark "Prof" Haley decide they’re "living on borrowed time" and dedicate their lives to fighting crime and saving the world. However, unlike the Fantastic Four, they didn’t get their first female member until later in the series. Her name was Corinna Stark and she was well versed in the occult.

The team of do-gooders even wore similar outfits as the Fantastic Four did. Instead of blue costumes emblazoned with a 4, the Challengers of the Unknown wore purple jumpsuits that featured an hour-glass logo, which symbolized the “living on borrowed time” slogan. Don’t think for one second that all of these similarities were by coincidence. Jack Kirby was also a major factor in the creation of Marvel’s first family of super heroes. He even spoke about it to the press.

"[I]f you notice the uniforms, they're the same... I always give them a skintight uniform with a belt... the Challengers and the FF have a minimum of decoration. And of course, the Thing's skin is a kind of decoration, breaking up the monotony of the blue uniform," Kirby stated in an interview he gave.

Although nowhere near as popular as the Fantastic Four, the Challengers of the Unknown have their place in the explosive and collective DC Universe. The team has mingled with the Doom Patrol, Deadman, Swamp Thing, and others in their career. They’ve also been key contributors to the fight against evil alongside the likes of the Justice League of America and Superman. The quartet even fused with the Fantastic Four for a DC / Marvel mashup in the pages of Amalgam Comics under the name Challengers of the Fantastic.

The Challengers of the Unknown were revived in the pages of the monthly DC Universe Presents book in a three-issue limited series. They were combined in graphic novel form alongside a Deadman story-arc published under the same title. The collection is entitled “DC Universe Presents Volume 1: Deadman / Challengers of the Unknown” and is considered a “primer for readers trying out comics for the first time” by USA Today.

DC and Warner Bros. might also want to consider developing Challengers of the Unknown as a television series. The exploits of a young team of adventurers as they solve crimes and lock horns with supernatural and extraterrestrial forces week after week would go over well in a climate where shows like "Grimm," "American Horror Story," and a recently revived "The X-Files" thrive. As much as my fanboy and fangirl friends will cringe when I say this, it seems perfect for the WB.

You can get more in-depth information on the Challengers of the Unknown right here.

Jump into their adventures by reading "Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown, Volume 1," "Showcase Presents: Challengers of the Unknown, Volume 2," and "DC Universe Presents Volume 1: Deadman / Challengers of the Unknown.”