I think Chris Claremont and Salvador Larroca's run on the Fantastic Four is an underrated part of the Fantastic Four's history. I only came onto the book during the tail end of their run, but quickly feel in love with Marvel's First Family - mostly because Chris Claremont was a writer I was familiar with (X-Men), and I already had a passing familiarity with the FF because of the Animated Cartoons. For me this was my first exposure to Salvador Larroca's art as well - and I was deeply impressed. Apparently Marvel was as well, as after this run and a run drawing X-Treme X-Men - Marvel began putting Larroca on higher profile books. Right now it seems like he's an artistic juggernaut, doing the art on Invincible Iron Man.
This appears to have been a precarious time for the FF, coming off the heels of the Heroes Reborn event, where Jim Lee came onboard to help revive the canceled FF series. After Heroes Reborn, the series got a second new #1 in as many years, with the tag-line "Heroes Return". This was the FF finally getting back to having regular adventures. Some things where different, though. The Baxter Building had been destroyed, forcing the FF to live in their Pier 4 Harbor property. This new series was written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by Alan Davis - but it didn't last long. I don't know what happened that forced that creative team to jump ship - but after three issues they where gone, replaced by Claremont and Larroca. Walking in on already begun plot-lines, Claremont and Larroca had their work cut out for them.
Claremont and Larroca brought us some amazing and fresh new plot-lines, while also harkening back to older FF history. New, old, and re-imagined characters where brought out month after month, forging a strong new era for the FF - and not relying on rehashing the same old plots. The characters pictured above are only a few of the fantastic returning and new characters that where brought into the FF's lives; Ronan the Accuser - alien Kree enemy from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's days, Caledonia - an alternate dimensional Scottish Warrior who befriended the FF and became Franklin Richard's nanny, and Lady Dorma - a dark reflection of Namor's wife, coming from another Earth, this Lady Dorma was a powerful Atlantean Warlord who ran afoul the FF quite a few times. Claremont also utilized characters and concepts from previous comics he's done over the years - like Captain Britain from Excalibur. (A lot of Captain Britains, in fact!)
Chris Claremont's run on the FF seemed to culminate when I officially began collecting the series - with a larger over-arching plot-line involving Doctor Doom. The FF got a great addition to their cast, named Marvel Girl - a young woman claiming to be Susan's daughter Valeria. But Sue's daughter originally hadn't been born; the Invisible Woman's second child had been stillborn. Worse still - this Valeria had a disturbing last name "Doom". She claimed the Invisible Woman and Doctor Doom where her parents. And this Doctor Doom was a hero, apparently. What the Heck? Was she from the future? We certainly know it's possible she came from another dimension.
Being naturally cautious, the FF didn't know at first what to make of this new Marvel Girl. At first Susan Richards was incensed at the idea of this impostor claiming to be her dead baby. But Marvel Girl eventually won them over. They still didn't know what to make of her - but she became a great new member of the team.
Doctor Doom made his triumphant return to Earth (he was ruling Counter-Earth at the time) and he brought an army along with him. This army had the power and technology to take over the entire planet, with four different generals at his side. But around this time reality began to go haywire - which eventually boiled down to a begrudging team-up between Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom, in a fight against the Dreaming Celestial. Susan Richards was shocked to see only Doctor Doom coming back from the battle. Where was her husband? Turns out, the Dreaming Celestial changed things around on Reed and Doom at the last minute as revenge. Doom was sent back to Counter-Earth with nothing but his wits to survive. Reed was actually trapped inside Doctor Doom's armor, and couldn't get it off.
A rather large masquerade had to be preformed, with Reed having to make the world think he really was Doctor Doom. They needed to do this to help keep control of Doctor Doom's army, and especially against Doom's generals. It was a tricky balancing act, as Doom seemingly joined with the Fantastic Four, and even took the supposedly grieving Susan Richards to be his wife. This didn't entirely sit well with Doom's generals, but they where eventually brought under control.
The Marvel Universe was shocked by these events, seeing the Invisible Woman marrying the greatest villain on the planet. Yet the masquerade had to be maintained. Without Doom, the Generals would seize power and devastate Earth.
So for a short period the FF was led by Doctor Doom. Reed tried all he could to free himself from the armor - but the Dreaming Celestial, and Doom's own programming, made that impossible. For Marvel Girl, this seemed to be a confirmation of her past - explaining why a good Doctor Doom was her father. Soon, though, it became evident that everything wasn't OK. Reed would often fall into rants similar to Doom's. It call came to a head when Susan, one late night, discovered Reed without the Armor's mask on. See, the Armor had a variety of enchantments and defenses built into it. Anyone who actually managed to wear the armor of Doom - would become like Doctor Doom.
Reed took the family to live it Latvaria, where Reed's duplicity was quickly becoming more and more prevalent. Yet Susan (now the Baroness von Doom) gained an unlikely ally: the real Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom has on occasion said that he can survive anything; Apparently he survived his return trip to Counter-Earth and wanted to get back to regular Earth. Speaking with Susan through dream-time they both collaborated on getting Doom back to Earth and confronting Reed Richards - to force the Armor off of Reed. Susan would get her husband back and Doom would get his Kingdom back. A battle ensued, and everything worked out more or less according to plan.
That was the big final arch of Claremont and Larroca's run together on the Fantastic Four. Together they both went on to write and draw X-Treme X-Men.
Valeria's storyline didn't get to be completed under Claremont's run, but was eventually dealt with by future writers. To make a long story short - Franklin Richards had used his reality altering powers to save his baby sister, and sent her "elsewhere" - to a possible future where Doom and the Invisible Woman where her parents. It was during a large cosmic adventure that things where set right - and Franklin used his powers to restore Valeria back before she died being born - the Invisible Woman was pregnant again, and was given another chance to give birth to Valeria.
While this run didn't seem to get the critical acclaim it deserves (I can hardly find anything on the internet even mentioning this run) - I am wholly delighted to have discovered it, and to have had it as my introduction to the Fantastic Four. It was really the wedding, of the Invisible Woman and Doctor Doom, that was what initially caught my interest. I'm very happy it did.