January 30, 2006
Capitalizing on the theatrical release of the live-action Fantastic Four movie, Buena Vista has released the animated TV show that aired in 1994 and 1995. The Fantastic Four was a popular comic book created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s. It concerned the adventures of four people: scientist Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm, her kid brother Johnny and Reed’s college friend Ben Grimm. Reed convinces them to take a mission into outer space. While out there, the four people are bombarded by cosmic rays.
Upon returning home, they discover that each one of them has been endowed with super powers. Reed can stretch his body to incredible lengths. Sue can turn herself invisible at will. Johnny can turn himself on fire while Ben is transformed into a super strong, tough, rocky being. They decide to become a team and fight crime. Reed is the noble leader a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic. Sue is the peacemaker when everyone else is at odds with each other and becomes the Invisible Woman. Johnny is the young hot head a.k.a. the Human Torch and Ben becomes the curmugeonly Thing. Together, they act as a dysfunctional super hero family but band together when it matters.
The show’s cringe-inducing theme song does not bode well initially. While the opening credit sequence does succinctly sum up the FF’s origins it also puts their faces on Mount Rushmore (?!). Things improve once the show starts. Unlike the recent movie, this cartoon is quite faithful to its comic book origins. Included is the Thing’s trademark battle cry, “It’s clobberin’ time!” as is the antagonistic relationship between him and the Human Torch.
The cartoon’s faithfulness to the comic book continues to impress by including important supporting characters like Alicia Masters, the blind sculptress who falls in love with Ben the man and not his rocky exterior. The show also takes almost all of the FF’s antagonists from the comic book. There are staples like the shape-shifting aliens, the Skrulls who are bent on conquering Earth. Most significantly there is Galactus, the destroyer of worlds and his herald, the Silver Surfer.
Galactus travels from planet to planet, draining them of life to feed his endless hunger. The Surfer searches the universe for suitable planets and stumbles across Earth. The FF also meet the Watcher, a malevolent alien who observes life on other planets but is not allowed to interfere—until he warns our heroes about Galactus’ impending arrival.
The show wisely mines the comic book’s vast history for its source of stories and characters, including the Negative Zone, a planetary system with a black hole instead of a sun as its centre. The FF meet Annihilus, an insectoid endowed with super powers and Blastaar, another powerful alien that can shoot energy bolts from his fingertips.
However, the FF’s greatest nemesis is Doctor Doom and he even gets a three-episode arc. Doom and Reed were college roommates but Doom was always jealous of Reed’s intelligence and his relationship with Sue. Instead of letting it go and moving on, Doom captures the FF and takes them to his castle, located deep in the country that he rules, where we find out about his past.
The Fantastic Four cartoon works so well because it sticks very close to its source material. Fans of the comic book will be delighted at all the characters that are carried over with complete faithfulness, unlike the live-action movie. However, the tone of the show is a little too goofy for its own good placing it below the 1967 Hannah Barbara cartoon but above its 1979 incarnation. It’s a shame the show didn’t last too long because it would have been interesting to see what other characters would have been brought over.
In “Stan Lee’s Soapbox,” the legendary comic book creator talks briefly about the origins of the FF and their enduring legacy and how it went on to inspire the Avengers and the X-Men. He also talks about his favourite villain, Doctor Doom, and how he was the king of his own country but had aspirations to rule the world.
Lee also introduces each episode which can be toggled on and off.