are a group of fictional comic book supervillains
from the series Planetary
by Warren Ellis
and John Cassaday
. As with most characters in Planetary
, they are analogues of previously created characters, in this case Stan Lee
and Jack Kirby
's Fantastic Four
from Marvel Comics
. Unlike their heroic counterparts, however, The Four are unabashedly evil and serve as the primary antagonists
of the series.
Much like Planetary, they explore, document, and collect the strangeness and secrets of the world. However, instead of using the technology they find in order to benefit the world, they keep it for themselves and protect it with absolute ruthlessness. In the words of their resident hotshot William Leather, they are "on the human adventure...and you can't all come along." Their headquarters in New York is reminiscent of the Baxter Building, full of their treasures, weapons and technology. Their influence and power is so great, they covertly influence major world governments and have managed to kill many emerging super-beings on the planet in order to circumvent any threats to their power. Planetary has been spared, presumably because their leader, Randall Dowling, finds their actions amusing.
The Four were part of a secretive U.S. government attempt to land on the moon in 1961
. However, their rocket intersected The Bleed
, and they returned transformed into superhumans. Using their involvement in private corporations and covert government projects, they began to create their own conspiracy
of world domination
. Along with the mystery of the Fourth Man's identity, the unrevealed nature of the Four and their true motives is a major subplot running through the series.
In Planetary #25, John Stone revealed the origin and goals of the Four.
Dowling had succeeded in contacting a parallel Earth with his earlier launches into space. He described this Earth as being ancient and populated entirely by unique superhumans (a pastiche of various Jack Kirby creations including Apokolips and The Inhumans.) This world, while being immensely powerful and technologically advanced, was also deeply paranoid. Seeing the potential for the Wildstorm Earth to become a threat, with the emergence of various superhumans and their tentative encounters with the Bleed, they were willing to make a deal with Dowling.
Dowling and his three crewmates gained access to the technology that would rebuild them into superhumans. In exchange, they would return to their home reality where they would suppress any advances that could allow humanity to defend themselves (this also had the effect of suppressing anything that would improve people's lives). They had 50 years in which to bring their world to heel, after which the inhabitants of this parallel world would invade and destroy the Wildstorm Earth. The Four would be spared from this invasion and free to travel the multiverse, vastly empowered with their superhuman abilities and the technologies they had stolen over the years.
The Members of the Four
- Dr. Randall Dowling: An analogue of the Fantastic Four's Reed Richards, but lacking the morality and humanity of his counterpart. Dowling has been involved in much of the secretive scientific research conducted behind the scenes in the last 50 years, including an American concentration camp called Science City Zero where political dissidents were used as guinea pigs. He also has connections to the Hark Corporation. He is distantly related to the Dowling Gang, enemies of the Dead Ranger (a Lone Ranger analogue), who was the father of William Leather's adoptive father. His power is the ability to "stretch" his mind, which spreads out and colonizes the minds of anyone within one hundred feet of him. The full implications of this power are unknown, but this "stretching" of his mind is the analogue to the flexibility of Mr. Fantastic. He met his end, due to a well-laid trap set by Elijah Snow, whereby he fell to his death when Elijah summoned a shiftship from the ground beneath them.
- Kim Süskind: The counterpart of the Invisible Woman, she can generate force fields, become invisible, and has some degree of superhuman strength. Süskind is Dowling's lover. She is described as the most dangerous of the Four, capable of instantly bursting people's heads. She is the daughter of a Nazi rocket scientist. Suskind may be named after real-life physicist Leonard Susskind, who is considered the father of String Theory (Ellis often uses themes of advanced and experimental physics in Planetary). Her physical appearance is apparently based on the X-files character Dana Scully. She, too, along with Randall, was killed in their meeting with Elijah. Unlike her Marvel Comics counterpart, Süskind cannot see without special goggles (created by Dowling) when she is invisible (consistent with physics, light passes right through her eyes.)
- William Leather: The counterpart of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. Leather can fly, generate destructive energy bursts and surround himself with an aura of what appears to be blue flame. He can also regenerate from injuries and appears to possess some degree of superhuman strength, easily besting Jakita Wagner in one encounter. Formerly a daredevil, he seems to be the most active and visible member of the Four, often venturing along with their clean-up crews to take care of any problems. William Leather's mother, Miriam, was the wife of Bret Leather, The Dark Millionaire, one of the Century Babies and son of the Dead Ranger. However, Miriam cheated on Bret with a loan shark, William's biological father. Cheated of the awesome powers Leather would have passed on to his son, William joined Dowling. Leather was recently captured and placed in Planetary custody. Snow mercilessly tortured and eventually blinded him during an interrogation (Given Leather's regenerative capabilities, it may be assumed that this is temporary). Leather confessed to Snow that he had become more distant from and resentful of Dowling and Süskind in recent years, believing that they only allowed Leather and Greene to join them because they needed them to do their "dirty work."
- Jacob Greene: The Thing's analogue, Greene was a fighter pilot during World War II who flew secret missions for the Allies. Greene was transformed into a rock-like being on the ill-fated spaceflight, his hideous mutation making him the least seen, but also the most deadly of the Four. Unlike the other three, Jacob Greene appears to be a straightforward killing machine, used on missions in which the objective is simple destruction rather than anything more subtle. Currently, Elijah Snow has stranded Greene in deep space in order to remove him as a threat without having to fight him.