Sooo…this weekend wasn’t the best for Reed Richards and company. The new Fantastic Four movie not only got terrible reviews (you can read the one I wrote right here), was the subject of much scandal from director Josh Trank and studio 20th Century Fox, but it also pretty much flopped at the box office, making it one of the worst openings of a superhero movie ever. There’s even talk that the film will not be included in the X-Men universe which was heavily touted.
But that’s kind of nothing new; this is the fourth big-screen, live-action iteration of the Fantastic Four and none of them have been good. The infamous Roger Corman-produced rights-retainer from 1994 wasn’t even meant to be released, and the two Tim Story films from the mid-2000s were the definition of “meh.”
These characters have been done well, though, folks, but not in live-action – in animation! Over the years, Marvel’s first family have appeared in several cartoon series boasting their name, and even made guest spots on ones that didn’t. And if you’re looking for ambulatory adventures of Stretchy Guy, See-Through Gal, Fire Dude, and RockaFella, then look no further than these animated treats.
The Fantastic Four first appeared on our screens in 1967, produced by Hanna-Barbera and looking very much like their Jonny Quest series in the same decade. This was when the Marvel Comics characters truly started becoming household names, with a Spider-Man and Hulk series coming out around the same time. This series ran for 20 episodes and remains one of the most fun, if repetitive, versions of the characters.
In 1978, Marvel Entertainment tried again to do a FF series, this time called The New Fantastic Four. This one isn’t what I would call “good” but it certainly is interesting. Why interesting? Well, it’s the characters mainly. You have Mr. Fantastic, sure. And The Invisible Girl; not very feminist, but it was TV in the ’70s. And there’s the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing, of course. And who’s the fourth member? Why surely it’s the Human Tor– nope, it’s H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot. They replaced Johnny Storm, arguably the second most popular character on the team, with a bleep-blooper with an acronym for a name. Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics. Sure. The real reason for this is that Universal was trying to make a Human Torch series and had the rights to the characters, so Marvel made do. Not well, but they tried. It ran for only 13 episodes, so you don’t have to be without Johnny for long.
In the mid-’90s, following the success of Fox’s X-Men series, two seasons of Fantastic Four were commissioned, along with an Iron Man cartoon. Now, the thing about this show is that the two seasons are drastically different from one another. The first season had very exaggerated and cartoony animation and the writing was pretty…well, pretty lame and was based mostly on old comics storylines. Even the theme song (which is the first half of the above video) was just a dumb ’90s nothing song. The second season, by contrast, had a much richer wealth of scripts, more subdued animation, and a theme song that fit a lot better with a comic book TV show. If you wanted to skip right to Season 2, you probably could, though there’s some fun in S1.
The last time the heroic quartet had their own series was in 2006 with Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes. It was a co-production between the U.S. and France and had the heroes in original stories that seemed to blend the Lee/Kirby original run with the John Byrne/Chris Claremont and Mark Waid versions. It was actually a pretty cool show, and steeped in Marvel lore, though it wasn’t helped by a super inconsistent release schedule, and the fact that it went from Toonami to Cartoon Network proper to being cancelled to showing up on Boomerang and Nicktoons. Still, with a cool espionage title sequence like this, what’s not to like?
Though they never had their own series again, the Fantastic Four did make some memorable appearances on the super excellent and late-lamented animated series Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in 2010 to 2013. They appeared several times, though rarely with much to say. First they helped fight Doctor Doom, and they appeared in the final episode of the series helping the Avengers fight Galactus. The Thing even got made a member of the New Avengers alongside Spider-Man, Wolverine, and the Heroes for Hire.
Any and all of these versions of the characters will give you a lot more joy than the film versions. Except maybe the cartoon with H.E.R.B.I.E. That was just a silly idea.
IMAGE: MoonScoop Group and Marvel Entertainment